International collaboration vital to reduce pollution in Chinese cities

30 Apr 2018 00:15:00.000

A new study from experts at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC), looks at whether international collaboration will help to tackle pollution in some of China’s biggest cities.

In the research, led by Professor May Tan-Mullins from UNNC, a group of experts looked into one of the most promising low carbon planning initiatives in China – Shenzhen’s International Low Carbon City (ILCC).

‘The role of international actors in low-carbon transitions of Shenzhen’s International Low Carbon City in China’, which is published in the journal ‘Cities’, looks at  the influence of a group of international partners involved in the ILCC.

Click here for full story

The research is part of the wider collaborative project – Smart Eco Cities – which is a comparative study of Europe and China. The project is the first of its kind and provides the first comparative analysis of the green economy, and particularly smart city and eco-initiatives in China and Europe.

The Shenzhen ILCC is a national pilot low carbon project in China. It was launched in 2012 with the aim to become one of the national low carbon city planning models for all future low-carbon planning.

It is the first collaborative project between Dutch and Chinese partners, which then expanded to include other countries including Germany, France, Italy, Australia and the US.

In this study, experts from UNNC investigated the influence of these international groups in the development process of the ILCC, and the benefits of such partners in the long run, through knowledge transfer and gathering resources. 

Located in the northern edge of the Longgang district in Shenzhen the ILCC is a transit-orientated development (TOD) and is located between three main cities of Shenzhen, Dongguan and Huizhou.

Similar to many other Chinese eco city or low-carbon city projects, international partners play a major role in the development of the ILCC.
The team used stakeholder mapping to identify three categories of international or foreign stakeholder groups; including:

  • Foreign city governments/government agencies, that worked with the Chinese Government or helped with knowledge transfer
  • Foreign research institutes
  • Foreign enterprises , who are engaged in construction projects

This stakeholder mapping of the project shows that, while Chinese stakeholder play major and leading roles in initiating and planning the projects, foreign partners are also heavily involved in the ILCC.

Professor May-Tan Mullins from UNNC, said: “The remarkable difference about this ILCC is that there is not only one, but multiple international partners from various countries which have differential influential roles in the project. This is possibly due to the substantial amount of local and national incentives, which attract multi-partnerships throughout the project’s development process.”

The study found that while the roles of these countries are visible in the early stages of the project, their involvement varies depending on their method of investment and collaboration.

For example partners from Australia, Germany and the US are involved through investment but their mediums of interaction are different from each other:

Australia is focused on the education and research (social investment); Germany is focused on the development of a new high tech industrial zone which will showcase some of their technologies and may be seen as a knowledge transform platform,  and the US is focusing on new low carbon community areas – which has a more marketing  and business-orientated approach of involvement. 

The mapping and analysis carried out by experts indicates that the relationship between the international partners’ involvement and the stage in which they initiated their collaborations and partnerships is significant.

Other key findings show:

  • That the two key partners – the Netherlands and the US, have both engaged in the ILCC’s development at an early stage of the project.
  • The level of investment and policy/planning processes are significantly lower than the technological knowledge transfer. This clearly highlights the initial level of gathering as a coherent method of collecting knowledge applying knowledge from multiple international experts into policy and practice.
  • The ‘gathering stage’ of the project is vital – in gathering the knowledge and collaborations for the latter phases of the project.
  • The importance of political relations between China and different European partners, and that the EU as a regional organisation plays a stronger role in coming to agreement with their Chinese counterparts. 
  • The importance of this project at the national level in China and how the development process was affected by this bilateral agreement.

The findings were based on a combination of sources, including existing research findings and new research findings from UNNC’s conducted interviews and surveys carried out in 2016 and 2017.

The current state of the ILCC, although slightly delayed, shows progress as a low carbon city. There has already been progress with technologies including retrofitting buildings, low-rise but high dense development of new zones, and better infrastructure as part of the whole planning process. 

Projects with international partners include - anew industrial park (in partnership with Germany), and the new low-carbon community zone (in partnership with the US), and the new education zone (in partnership with Australia – that are due to complete in 2020.

Professor Tan-Mullins said: “Some of the ongoing projects of the ILCC are directly benefitting from the involvement of ILCC’s international partners. Whilst it is too early to judge its progress, it is clear to see that these partnerships and subsequent knowledge transfer, are vital in order for China to work towards its low-carbon goals.”

The ILCC’S venture with multiple international partners is an attempt to grasp new opportunities of low carbon development, to provide a continuous marketing plan and engage with external partners and restructure the industrial sector of Pingdi, from a heavy polluting industrial zone, to low carbon new development zone. 


The University of Nottingham is a Russell Group UK university, providing a British education in China.  We provide excellent, internationally-recognised qualifications, with all courses taught in English. We support students to develop valuable transferable skills and a global perspective, and our students have an exceptional graduate employment or further study rate of 98%. Our research improves lives pushing the boundaries of knowledge to impact on our world for the better. 
For a truly global University, experience the University of Nottingham, for Ningbo, for China. Discover our world.

Story credits


Charlotte Anscombe – Media Relations Manager (Arts and Social Sciences)

Email:  Phone:+44 (0)115 74 84 417 Location: University Park

Additional resources

No additional resources for this article

Related articles

New growth for research that improves lives in China

Published Date
Monday 9th April 2018

Powering China's future with clean coal technology

Published Date
Monday 23rd April 2018

Media Relations - External Relations

The University of Nottingham
YANG Fujia Building
Jubilee Campus
Wollaton Road
Nottingham, NG8 1BB

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5798