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Sustainable futures

Low carbon: the world joins forces with China

Whatever aspirations the world may hold for addressing the critical issue of climate change, one thing is for sure: it needs China on-side.

With a ‘cooling’ GDP growth that is nevertheless still growing at around 6.5%, and with its carbon emissions rising once again in 2018, it remains the world’s largest contributor to climate change.

But there are also positive signs. China recently announced it is aiming for renewables to account for at least 35% of electricity consumption by 2030. The nation is also investing in major planning projects, as it searches for new ways to live and work.

One flagship project is Shenzen’s International Low Carbon City (ILCC). Launched in 2012, its aim is to become a national model for all future low-carbon planning.

In a new study, the University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) has been researching the international involvement in helping to tackle pollution in China’s major cities. The study is part of a wider collaborative project, Smart Eco Cities. The first of its kind, it gives a comparative analysis of the green economy, and in particular smart city and eco-initiatives in China and Europe.

The study is led by UNNC’s Professor May Tan-Mullins: “The remarkable difference about the ILCC is that there are multiple international partners with varying influences on the project. This is possibly due to local and national incentives, which attract multi-partnerships throughout the project’s development process.”

"These international partnerships and subsequent knowledge transfer are vital in order for China to work towards its low-carbon goals."
Professor May Tan-Mullins

Using stakeholder mapping, the UNNC team found three categories of international stakeholder groups: foreign governments and agencies that have worked with the Chinese Government or helped with knowledge transfer; foreign research institutes; and foreign enterprises, engaged in construction projects.

The ILCC marks the first collaborative project between the Netherlands and China. And as it has progressed, Australia, Germany, France, Italy and the US have all joined to contribute knowledge, experience and expertise.

Each country’s involvement varies, depending on their method of investment and collaboration. For example, Australia is focused on social investment education and research. Whereas Germany is creating an industrial zone that will act as a knowledge transfer platform, showcasing their technological innovations. The US, meanwhile, is concentrating on new low-carbon community areas, and adopting a more marketing and business-orientated approach to their involvement.

As for the project itself, despite some delays it is shaping up into a low-carbon city: retrofitting buildings, new zones with low-rise, high-density development, and improved infrastructure have all been progressed. And the international partnerships’ impact will soon be tangible and clear, with industrial, education and low-carbon community zones due for completion in 2020.

Professor Tan-Mullins comments: “It is clear that these international partnerships and the subsequent knowledge transfer are vital in order for China to work towards its low-carbon goals.”

Other findings by the UNNC team

The level of investment and policy/planning processes are significantly lower than that required for the technological knowledge transfer

The ‘gathering stage’ of the project is vital – in collecting knowledge and collaborations for the latter phases of the project

The importance of political relations between China and different European partners, and the fact that the EU is 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

May Tan-Mullins

May Tan-Mullins is a Professor in International Studies, specialising in the political ecology of rising China, environmental and energy justice, poverty alleviation, and building resilience for the poorest and most vulnerable.

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