Sustained growth difficult to achieve

08:18, November 02, 2010      

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The rapid pace of urbanization in China has left cities challenged by air pollution, shortages of energy and water resources, and limited space for growth, according to a report released on Monday.

The research by the Urban China Institute (UCI), a new think tank, examined data from 112 cities across China between 2004 and 2008 to assess their progress toward sustainable development in areas such as environmental impact, resource efficiency and commitment to future sustainability.

The research was based on published data from statistics bureaus at both city and national levels.

The 112 cities were selected for the study because they were listed as key cities in terms of environmental protection and sustainable development in the country's 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010).

While 33 of the cities improved their sustainability and maintained rapid economic growth during the period, the average city continued to record severe pollution problems and poor energy efficiency, the report said.

Despite China dramatically slashing its sulphur dioxide emissions between 2005 and 2008, concentration levels in cities still "remain well above the standards set by the World Health Organization", the report found.

Most of the cities also used more electricity to support their economic growth between 2005 and 2008, although the country recorded a nationwide drop in energy intensity during the same period.

The amount of electricity consumed in the 112 cities for each billion yuan of economic production slightly increased from 144 to 149 gigawatt hours during the period, suggesting a heavy reliance on energy-intensive industries.

The overall level of resource efficiency in Chinese cities is not only lower than those in developed nations, but also worse than in some cities in other developing countries, such as Mexico, Brazil and India, according to the report.

However, China's cities have made significant progress in other areas of the study, including providing basic needs such as healthcare, education and living space.

The cities have also increased their capacity to treat urban sewage, rising from 56 percent in 2005 to 72 percent in 2008.

More than a quarter of the cities have a better spread of urban density than those in developed countries, which helps prevent unchecked growth and avoid excessive reliance on automobiles, the report said.

Use of public transportation also soared in Chinese cities, bringing the country on par with levels in developed countries.

For instance, the average person in Guangzhou reported taking around 600 trips on public transportation per year. The number is 300 in both Beijing and Shanghai, while only 100 in New York City.

"Our report finds that a city's economic status does not have much impact on its sustainability. Rather, government policy and incentives play a bigger role," said Jonathan Woetzel, a director at McKinsey & Co, a consultancy in Shanghai.

McKinsey is a founder of the UCI along with Columbia University's Global Center for East Asia and Tsinghua University's School of Public Policy and Management, both based in Beijing.

By Li Jing, China Daily

(Editor:梁军)

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