For China Dialogue, Liu Jianqiang speaks with Jiang Kejun, senior researcher at the National Development and Reform Commission’s Energy Research Institute, about China’s so-called “low-carbon cities.” According to China Dialogue, Jiang, “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”:
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.