With the Copenhagen Summit on the horizon, environmental organizations and leaders are hard at work to develop a viable multilateral framework for climate policy coordination. In their January 2009 release of a new report: “China’s Low Carbon Leadership in Cities”, the Climate Group has distilled the goal down from a national to municipal context, highlighting the critical role that local government can play in establishing and promoting low carbon strategies for economic development in China’s cities.
The report, published in Chinese, highlights case studies of exemplary leadership in low carbon development in 12 Chinese cities – including innovation and deployment of solar energy, LED lighting, and electric cars technology – in what appears to be a rally cry for support from China’s power base and attempt to broaden understanding of the issue. The tone of the report is set out in its first paragraph: all countries should be viewed as equals, and developing countries’ policy choices for tomorrow shall be given equal respect as the advances that industrialized countries have already made in this area.
Why cities? The report’s Executive Summary argues that cities, responsible for a higher proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions than the percentage of the world’s population they support, have a responsibility to lead the way in addressing climate change issues. It also refers to energy insecurity and a heightened threat of natural disasters as two results of climate change that particularly affect cities.
Through this lens, the report presents low carbon development as both challenge and opportunity, arguing that a low carbon economy would be a win-win for the environment, citizenry, leaders, and businesses alike. And in an effort to reach out to China’s second- (and third-tier) cities, the report clearly points out that the scope of initiatives China’s first-tier cities have undertaken are extensive; and serve as a “best practice” model, if not one readily accessible to all Chinese cities. Finally, it outlines strong leadership as a critical catalyst of low carbon development, with four central components of low carbon leadership identified: policy incentives, technology innovation, financial mechanisms and international co-operation.
What is the likelihood that this report will rouse China’s leadership to sign on to a path towards low carbon development? Alongside the report, the Climate Group has launched its city program, aimed at engaging 20 Chinese cities in a five-year effort to transform and reorient the market towards energy efficiency and climate concerns. Already, two cities in China – Guiyang and Dezhou – have pledged support.
While it’s still too early to tell, advancing the notion that low carbon development is attainable in a developing country context while illustrating exemplary local level leadership and initiatives already underway in Chinese cities may prove just the right strategy for bringing China on board in Copenhagen come December.
Image credit: Jean Ku and NREL/DOE
China and India both need to push for a low carbon economy, especially during this time of low economic activity. It’s time to introduce new policies and technology that are known to be sustainable. The worse case scenario is to use existing environmental practices when the worldwide economy begins to heat up again in a year or two.