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Turning grey to green

A recent project helped Chinese city mayors learn valuable lessons in sustainable development, reports Sun Xiaohua.

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After every lecture, Chang Yongguan was the first person to ask a question. And he used the short breaks between lectures to talk with the speakers. But Chang is not a university student trying to improve his academic record. He is the deputy head of Dadukou district in Chongqing, one of the most populous cities in southwest China, under the direct jurisdiction of the central government.  

The lectures were part of a week-long training session at the National Mayoral Training Centre, organised by Joint US-China Cooperation for Clean Energy (JUCCCE), which gathered 25 mayors in Beijing to discuss how to establish “resource conserving and environmental protecting” cities. 

Chang became deputy district head last year after spending around 20 years at Chongqing Environmental Protection Bureau. Along with his record of administrative performance, Chang’s strong background in environmental protection helped with his promotion.

He hoped the training session, which featured lectures from leading experts in China and other countries, would help illuminate his search for solutions to the increasing pressures of an urbanising population and deteriorating natural resources.

One of 12 districts in Chongqing, Dadukou has a population of more than 240,000. This will grow to 450,000 by 2020. According to the eleventh Five-Year Plan, the city will maintain an annual economic growth of 12% from 2006 to 2010. The district is the city's industrial base, with large-scale iron and steel plants. It has long been affected by emissions of sulphur dioxide and other pollutants, resulting in acid rain and health problems for residents, including asthma.

Chang has to seek a balance between maintaining economic growth and ensuring a clean environment for a growing population. His colleagues at the training course face similar problems, whether they are from rich cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, or from poorer areas, such as the provinces of Gansu and Guizhou.

The speedy pace of China’s urbanisation will see some 400 million people move to the cities over the next 15 to 20 years, the equivalent of two New York Cities every year. This is likely to mean constructing 50,000 skyscrapers, 170 new public transport systems and 12 megapolises of 60 million people or more. 

Rob Watson, founding chairman of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system, says China's fast urbanisation is a challenge similar to a war, with mayors the “warriors at the frontline of the battlefield.”

This is no exaggeration, as China attempts to support 21% of the world’s population with 7% of its arable land and water, 4% of its oil and 2% of its natural gas.

Qiu Baoxing, China’s vice-minister of housing and urban-rural development, gave the first lecture, which focused on solutions, but also the difficulties that face the orderly urbanisation of China.

“Some mayors have historically made mistakes about common sense in urban planning. For example, reclaiming land from rivers and lakes,” Qiu said. “It really destroys the local ecosystem. It also shows the importance of a mayor updating his or her knowledge about urban planning.”

Zhang Chunxiang, deputy mayor of Xinyang, in Henan province, said: “The lectures, especially those given by the foreign speakers, are very inspiring and helping us broaden our horizons, although importing the ideas into China demands some localisation.”

After listening to lectures by Nicky Gavron, the former deputy mayor of London, and Stephen Hammer, professor at Columbia University, Zhang was inspired but also confused.

“It would be good to integrate energy planning into urban planning, for instance,” said Zhang. “But the lectures made it clear that any high-profile urban plan will require 10 to 20 years to complete. Since Chinese local government officials are subject to reshuffles every four years, there is question of how to ensure the continuity of an urban plan through several cycles of government.”

Some mayors had long-standing misconceptions about energy-saving and environmental protection corrected during the course. For instance, although Chang was an environmental expert, he still discovered he was mistaken to have believed that a central air conditioning system was an energy-saving solution for office buildings.

“It looks like we need to retrofit our office buildings with separate air conditioners, because it is a flexible way to meet varied demand,” he said. “On the weekends or holidays, for instance, no energy will be consumed.”

China’s current Five-Year Plan aims to build a resource-conserving and environmentally friendly society, with targets to cut energy consumption per unit of GDP by 20% and reduce emissions of major pollutants by 10% from 2006 to 2010.

But mayors do not have detailed guidelines from the central government on how to implement the plan, since the situation varies from city to city. Each mayor must determine a path tailored to the city’s unique situation. This is why the mayors showed such enthusiasm for the course, which also provided an opportunity to talk with leading environmental experts and professionals, and help the transition to a low-carbon future.

Sun Xiaohua is a senior journalist at China Daily.

Homepage photo by kindsir


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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Put into practice

It is a good beginning. The importance is connecting theories with practice.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Good trainings

This kind of training for the grass-root officials is very essential as both economic construction and environmental protection are implemented by the officials. The quality of the present grass-root officials varies. Many of them lack the basic economical and environmental knowledge, and thus produce the wrong policies giving rise to immense impacts. If the scale of officials' training can be expanded, the trainings will be beneficial for all city officials, especially those working in the smaller cities.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



The issue of promotion

I agree with Comment 2. Such training really deserves to be promoted. One point to note is that many grass-root officials lack knowledge and the awareness (just care about money-making and job promotion). It is important to carefully explain to them the necessity of environmental protection during training. The training content should also be simple and understandable.
Translated by Zhang Liang.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Focus on supercials instead of essentials

Some local officials focus only on economic development while they neglect environmental protection. The lack of common sence or related knowedge is not the fundamental reason. The key points lie in the alteration of the system, forcing a balance between the local economy department and environmental protection department,and promoting participation of locals. Those training programs are no other than superficial behavior which distracts the focus on essentials.
translated by diaoshuhuan

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



1. 体制的改革是一个漫长而艰难的过程(特别是在中国),指望政府在短期内改变制度来解决问题是不现实的。特别是你所说的制衡,如果能实现当然好,可惜现在环保部门很弱势,发挥不了这么大的作用。地方政府似乎都没有环保部门,就算有也多半是空架子,听命于当地政府而不是真正想保护环境的。




Some comments on Comment#4

You are quite right, the alteration of the system is the fundamental solution. However, in my opinion, it is difficult to be realized in the near future. The training programs would therefore be meaningful as a short-term alleviation during this transitional period.

1. The alteration of the system would take a long time and might be harsh(especially in China). It is not realistic to depend on the government to alter the system in solving the problems within a short period of time. In terms of the "balance" you mentioned, it would be great if it could be carried out. However, environmental departments are inferior and their contribution is limited. The local governments seem not equipped with environmental departments, or otherwise, most of them are under command of the local governments instead of initiating environmental protection actions.

2. Public participation is great but may not be feasible around the country. Citizens in big cities are aware of citizenship, knowing how to defend their rights. However, people in small cities have no idea about these and they are used to be submissive. Take my hometown (a small town in Northeast China) for example, the locals do not have the awareness of environmental protection. There was once a clear river ten years ago, which becomes muddy and stinky due to the unprocessed waste water from factories. Air used to be fresh, but rice straws are burned as fuel in recent years. The results is, smudge floats around, irritating people's noses. It makes daily life nearly unbearable. People living in such condition are aware of the poor water and air quality, but they don't realize the induced serious pollution, nor do they know the current situation can be changed via protest. It is not the only city having this situation. The implementation of public participation still needs a long way to go.

3. Undoubtedly, some local officials lack the awareness or knowledge concerning environmental protection. Again, take my hometown for example, those local officials also live in the same place, drinking polluted water and breathing polluted air. Don't they feel uncomfortable? Then why do they refrain from taking any actions? It is attributed to the lack of environmental awareness. For such ignorant officials, monitoring them is one thing, educating them with relevant knowledge should also be done.

4. Some local officials are willing to devote in environmental protection while developing the economy. For such potential officials, offering them relevant training programmes and education will prompt them to make more contribution.

translated by diaoshuhuan