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From sham to reality

Liu Jianqiang

Readinch

China’s existing “low-carbon cities” are mostly fakes, energy researcher Jiang Kejun tells Liu Jianqiang. For the sake of future economic strength, the government must give meaning to this slogan.

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Jiang Kejun, senior researcher at the National Development and Reform Commission’s Energy Research Institute, was one of the first Chinese academics to study the concept of low-carbon cities. With his colleagues, he is currently producing a low-carbon programme for Shenyang in north-east China. During the recent climate-change talks in Tianjin, Liu Jianqiang spoke to Jiang about low-carbon cities.

Liu Jianqiang: “Low-carbon city” seems to have become a buzz word, with many places in China adopting this label. Are these cities really low-carbon?

Jiang Kejun: These so-called “low-carbon cities” are actually high-carbon. Per-capita emissions in Chinese cities are two or more times those of western cities. What’s low-carbon about that?

LJ: Why are per-capita emissions so high in Chinese cities?

JK: Because, in developed nations, cities are used primarily for living – emissions come mainly from transportation and buildings. But Chinese cities are home to a lot of industry, and the associated emissions are high. There isn’t actually much residential energy consumption.

China’s strategic promotion of low-carbon cities is a good move, but many cities have gone about it the wrong way. They have all piled in to become “low-carbon cities” and it’s been disastrous.

For example, the conference centre we’re in now looks modern and luxurious – that’s why the [UN-led climate-change] talks are here. But if any of the attendees want to cross the road outside, then they’re in trouble: it’s too wide, it’s a waste of land. This is what Chinese people think modern is, but actually it’s a rural view of modernisation.

You can describe our current approach to city building as entirely mistaken. Look at Beijing – it’s all wrong, from the buildings to the roads to the planning of zones. We build huge buildings but use little of the space. From the 1990s to 2005, Beijing encouraged car use. “Transportation development” just meant increasing average traffic speeds, for example from 14 kilometres per hour to 15 kilometres per hour. Another target is road surface area: officials are judged on how much the area devoted to roads has increased, and the more that happens, the less space there is for bikes and pedestrians.

But Beijing’s city leaders still say that having more cars is a sign of modernity. Beijing once demolished its city walls. Now it’s knocking down the 798 art district [an artist community in decommissioned factory buildings in Beijing’s Chaoyang district]. It is making the same mistake all over again. But this approach represents the way of thinking of most Chinese people.

LJ: What about Beijing’s neighbouring city, Langfang? The environmental authorities once took the media there to do a report on low-carbon cities.

JK: That isn’t genuine either. Langfang wants to be named a “model low-carbon city”, but how is it going about it? It’s just trying to look beautiful and modern. It’s only got a population of 300,000, but several of its roads are as big as Chang’an Avenue [a major route through Beijing]. City greenery includes areas of grass that were actually carbon-intensive to create.

We’ve been telling our colleagues at the Ministry of Environmental Protection to change the standards for model cities to reflect actual low-carbon practices, otherwise it gives the impression that everyone is environmentally-friendly, despite still being high-carbon.

We can’t blame Langfang or any other city – they were working to the ministry’s standards. But now that “low-carbon” is the thing, the ministry is calling “environmentally-friendly” cities “low-carbon” instead. Langfang is a small city, you can normally bike from home to work in ten minutes, and drive in three or four – but car usage is higher than in Beijing. Why? Because parking is free and the roads are wide.

The most frightening thing is that, in the future, half of China’s urban population will be in cities like this. If they all copy Beijing, our low-carbon cities are done for.

LJ: When everyone is trying to create low-carbon cities, why are they instead turning out to be high-carbon?

JK: Because nobody knows what a low-carbon city actually looks like, so most are just using their imagination. A lot of researchers don’t even understand the idea.

LJ: Is it really the case that China doesn’t have a single low-carbon city?

JK: No, it does have one – Shenyang [in Liaoning province] is planning to become a complete low-carbon city. My colleagues and I are helping in the design, from overall industrial makeup to buildings, transport, land use and lifestyles. The first aim is to have a good ratio of pavements and bike lanes to roads, with the best parking spots given to buses and bikes.

There is also a targeted rate of use of public transport and mandated percentage of dedicated bus lanes and bus speeds. Building a subway is just a matter of freeing up local-government finance, it’s not very hard. There’s also going to be an environmentally-friendly taxi fleet – Shenyang has an automobile manufacturing industry, so it can do that. It is also adopting higher energy-efficiency standards. For example, vehicles sold in Shenyang need to be more energy-saving than those sold elsewhere in China. And buildings need to meet energy-saving rates of 75%, the highest standard nationally.

LJ: Does the government have sufficient funds for low-carbon projects like this?

JK: We’ve worked out the costs for Shenyang – what the government will have to pay for and what others will cover. For example, property developers will cover the costs of meeting the 75% energy-saving standard, while other expenses such as transportation development can be met by the state. Government income is more than 50 billion yuan (US$7.5 billion) a year, so it can afford to use more than one billion of that on low-carbon cities.  

LJ: Why is Shenyang so active in this field? What’s the motive?

JK: Two members of the Central Political Bureau’s Standing Committee used to work in Liaoning, and they want to see Shenyang as a successful trial. One of those leaders once visited Japan, where he was very impressed by their low-carbon cities, so he requested that Shenyang become a low-carbon city.

LJ: And besides requests from superiors, is there any other motive? Many officials are at least saying they want to build low-carbon cities.

JK: Local officials compete on GDP growth – if your economy grows 12%, I need to reach 13% and beat you. That’s the thinking and they wear each other ragged. But China’s GDP has been growing rapidly for three decades and there’s not that much growth potential left. For example, where will Beijing’s economic growth come from once Shougang Corporation [one of China’s largest steel companies] has relocated? If you can’t compete, change the game – come up with new standards, like “livable cities” or “low-carbon cities”. And these local officials are smart. They want to keep up with global trends and central-government targets.

LJ: Will cities that take low-carbon choices, such as limiting energy-intensive industries, lose economic competitiveness?

JK: For cities such as Shenyang, it will actually increase competitiveness and make them money. Shenyang is a manufacturing hub and its precision machinery for example is – at the demand of central government – extremely energy efficient and very competitive. The world’s 28 key low-carbon technologies, once they go into production, will need to be manufactured. And Shenyang has a strong advantage here.

But cities like Shenyang don’t just want to be low-carbon themselves, they also want to help the nation – even the world – to become low-carbon, because only then will the nation and the world need their energy-saving technology.

This should also be one of China’s strategic aims. Currently China is being pushed to reduce emissions, but in the near future it should be China pushing the world, because we’ve got advanced low-carbon technology and we’ll want our standards to be used globally. In the future, economic competiveness will belong to those with the key technologies.

Our research team tracks several hundred technologies relevant to low-carbon development, and we have found that many of the most advanced ones are in China. If other nations don’t develop their low-carbon economies, they will have no choice but to buy these products from China. For example, all of Indonesia’s [clean] coal technology is imported from China – it’s half the cost of the US equivalent, and the impact on India is huge. A Malaysian once told me that his country would need to come to China to buy electric vehicles.

The pattern of the future will be technological competition between industries and nations. It’s time for the negotiation game to end.


Liu Jianqiang is the Beijing-based deputy editor of chinadialogue.
 
Homepage image from Stuck in Customs
 

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不停的建

有研究说,中国房屋的平均寿命只有三十年,也就是说改革开放初期的房子基本都拆了。拆了盖,盖了拆,你那材料纵使再环保,怎能低碳的了?

广州政府最近办亚运更可笑,居然为了让开幕式拍的好看,鼓励市民把家里的灯都打开。

中国很多城市喜欢搞灯光工程,搞面子工程,比如在旧房子上糊一层纸在画上窗户之类的,结果搞的越来越没有面子。

Non-stop building

Studies have said that the average life expectancy of a house in China is just 30 years, which means that basically all the houses from the beginning of the Reform and Opening up have been demolished. Demolished and built, built and demolished, even if the materials used were environmentally friendly, how low-carbon can it be?

Even more ridiculous is recently at the Asian Games, the Guangzhou government encouraged residents to turn on all the lights at home so that the opening ceremony would look better when filmed.

Many cities in China like to do lighting projects, in other words "face-saving" projects, such as pasting a layer of paper on the painted windows of old houses, which results in more face being lost.


“天下的乌鸦”和“面子工程”

“广州政府最近办亚运更可笑,居然为了让开幕式拍的好看,鼓励市民把家里的灯都打开。”:更可笑,或者更可悲的是,即便没有政府的鼓励,一些发达国家(包括美国和日本)民众“自愿”把自己的灯打开,以便让google地图上自己的家的夜色看起来更美好,体现自己了不起的“living standard”。Google上这样的卫星照片很多呢!

"Crows under the sky" and "face-saving projects"

"Even more ridiculous is recently at the Asian Games, the Guangzhou government encouraged residents to turn on all the lights at home so that the opening ceremony would look better when filmed.": What is funny or sad, is that even without the government's encouragement, the people of some developed countries (including the United States and Japan) "willingly" turn on their lights so that their house looks more beautiful in the night scene on Google maps and reflect on their great "living standard". There are so many satellite pictures on Google like this!

知之为知之

悲哀的是我们连我们不知道什么都不知道,那还叫做“是知也”嘛?在强烈的民族主义的背后是无知。
世界上哪儿实现了所谓的低碳城市,取决于你对低碳城市的定义如何。而这个定义呢,还犹抱琵琶半遮面。搞减肥,还有个什么公式可以对照自己高矮胖瘦,弄个轰轰烈烈的低碳竟然什么“公式”都没有,可见这个世界已经到了多么“高级的愚昧”程度了。
低碳社区在哪儿呢?农村嘛,自行车都不要,更何况自行车道了,自己走路。自己种菜。上班10分钟,中午还能睡个午觉,晚上8点钟漆黑一片,8点半上床,早上6点起床(睡不着嘛),过着日出而作日落而息之惬意生活,谓之低碳也。中国之低碳,地摊之别称也。悲乎?

We know what we know

The sad thing is that we don't even know what we don't know, can we still say "that is knowledge"? Behind strong nationalism, is ignorance.
Where in the world are these so-called low carbon cities, depends on how you define low carbon city. And this definition is still obscure. For losing weight, there are formulas to compare your height and weight, but no "formulas" for getting low carbon. It goes to show the high level of ignorance in this world.
Where are the low carbon societies? In rural areas, they don't even want bicycles, let alone bicycle lanes because they walk. They plant their own crops. It takes ten minutes to go to work and they can even take a nap at noon. It is dark by 8pm so they go to bed at 8:30 and wake up at 6am (they can't sleep). They live comfortably, working at sunrise and resting at sunset, which is also low carbon. Another name for this is China's low carbon. Is it sad?


美好的设想?

有趣的文章,只是不太明白文章最后的大转弯。突然间(不久的将来)中国拥有了推动世界走向节能减排的所有低碳技术?是的,将这作为战术的一部分是个很好的愿景,而这又将如何实现呢?

目前为止,可能只有沈阳进行了真正的低碳尝试吧?

据我所知中国还在建造大量建筑,尽管过去的10年内他们已经建造了未来50年可使用的建筑,并占用了低碳排放的大量指标,他们该如何减少碳排放呢?

+大多数建筑的质量不高,比如说绝缘层质量很差,从而在室内保温时浪费了大量能源。

+大多数的设计都忽视了节约空调耗能的因素。看看从地板到天花板,很多玻璃材质外立面的建筑,特别是朝南面,几乎没有任何遮光或者挡板以抵消阳光直射产生的热量。

不要从运输业开始做起,我想大多数人已经从日常生活中吃够了苦头。

Wishfull thinking?

Interesting article, just do not understand the U-Turn at the bottom. Suddenly (in the near future) China has all the low-carbon technology to push back the rest of the world? Yes, a nice dream to have this as part of the strategy, and how is this going to be delivered?

So far it maybe is only Shenyang that is making a genuine low-carbon attempt?

I know China still has to build a lot of new buildings. However the stuff that has been build over the past 10 years, and comprises already a very large part of the buildings to be used in the 50 years to come, are of such low standard that they are total carbon / energy wasters. How can you reduce emissions?

+ Most construction is of low quality: e.g. insulation is really bad and energy wasted due to heat / cold loss are tremendous

+ Most design is in such a way it is a total energy waste on airconditioning. Look at the floor to ceiling glass buildings facing south without even the slightest bit of tinted glass or other way to keep out the heat from sunlight?

Will not start on the transportation issues, I think most people suffer enough from this on a daily basis...


Copy Curitiba, why not?

The success at Curitiba, capital city of Parana, Brazil offers us and the world the opportunity what good intention, good design that is centered around people will work in a perfect way towards low carbon. Curitiba first pioneered the concept of Bus Rapid Transit, and it is the second thing only to football maybe, a huge success yet so few people knows its existence. We turned to the West so often for a solution that does not exist at all, but we should really turn to the humble small city, a population of about 2 million.It is located in a standard developing country ( although grows very fast recently afetr decades of mess before 00s), and it is not that rich which will be good enough to inspire other bold cities like Shenyang. So why don't copy Curitiba, is a question I leave to dear readers.

为什么不学习库里提巴呢?

位于巴西巴拉那的中心城市库里提巴的成功经验给我们和全世界展示了,以人为本的好的目标和设计,是可以完美实现低碳之路的。库里提巴更先锋性的开创了巴士快速公交系统的理念,这可能是他们的足球之后的另一大骄傲,然后这一巨大成功却鲜为人知。我们常常着眼西方国家,寻找根本不存在的解决方法,可是也许我们应该转向这个大约两百万人口,更小更平民的城市寻找答案。它坐落于一个典型的发展中国家(虽然在结束了2000年前的混乱后,这个国家最近增长迅速),而且它并不富裕,但这对于启发其他类似沈阳这样大胆创新的城市而言,反而是件好事。所以,留给亲爱读者们的问题是,为什么不学习库里提巴呢?


只要努力的方向对了。。

低碳城市作为政治口号,能有效呼吁百姓改进城市的能源浪费和环境污染。当然,并不能完全提供一个标准,除非各国的城市定义不一样(城市以行政管理和人口密度来定义?)在中国,很多城市有广大农村,有些则没有,工业的基础也都大不相同。主要的问题是每个城市(政府或人民)必须被激励去主动采取措施削减将来的碳排量,例如加强公共交通和自行车,高能效建筑,智能测量仪和工业的巩固。每几年,每个城市都需要重新调整行为准绳以避免因强制减排产生的分配不当。

As long as it works in the right direction...

"Low-carbon city" may be useful as a political slogan that motivates people to improve their city's waste of energy and atmospheric pollution. Of course, it cannot provide absolute standards, if only because the definition of a "city" (by administrative control or by population density?) may differ between countries. In China some municipalities may have large rural areas, while others have not, and their industrial basis may differ greatly. The main thing is that each city (both its administration and its people) should be motivated to take measures that reduce future carbon use, such as emphasizing public transport and bicycles, energy-efficient buildings, smart meters and industrial consolidation. Every few years, one should adjust the yardsticks of performance in order to avoid misallocation resulting from chasing targets.


提神的直率

欣赏姜克隽的直率,一语道破了“低碳城市”的用途。

请问在沈阳的案例中,能否展示一些具体的项目成果?或者具体的目标,例如能在旧的污染模式中实现多少减排?

Refreshing candor

Appreciate Jiang Kejun's candor about use of "low-carbon city."

In case of Shenyang, any suggestions for specific Shenyang projects to see? Or specific goals, for example reductions we should see in old-fashion air pollution?


这个答案很有趣

刘老师的问题“为什么沈阳这么积极建低碳城市?他们有什么动力?”
姜克隽的答案非常有逻辑--
放之四海而皆准的原因啊:长官意识嘛!
“低碳城市”这个概念什么时候能被专家们、长官们好好解读成对老百姓有益的概念,才会真正发动起更广大的群众加入。否则都是空谈。

Interesting response

Liu's question "Why is Shenyang so active in this field? What’s the motive?"
Jiang Kejun's response is very logical --
The universal reason is official conciousness!
When the concept of a "low-carbon city" can be interpreted by experts and officials to be a concept that benefits the people, only then will it mobilise the masses to join in. Otherwise it's all just talk.


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