Take a tour of China’s fast-growing megacities and you’re likely to come away astonished. Those of us who joined Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr.’s historic trade and investment delegation last week were struck by the sheer size and rapid scale of development in dozens of cities, from Beijing and Shanghai to Huangzhou and Guangzhou. But a closer look, past the infamous veil of air pollution, reveals a lesser-known reality with incredible potential: China’s vast efforts to build sustainable, low-carbon cities from the ground up and to massively retrofit existing ones.
What Chinese Cities Want From US Cities and Investors
In every city I visited, Chinese local government leaders expressed their hunger for solutions on air quality, greenhouse gas reduction, and renewable energy. They have the swagger of Silicon Valley venture capitalists—willing to experiment and gamble on bold ideas, and to make mistakes and learn from them. In particular, they want to learn from US cities, who are far ahead on climate action, but they also want to share their own groundbreaking approaches to sustainability.
The take-home is the same for cleantech investors and city leaders in the United States: China’s burgeoning urban landscape represents an unprecedented opportunity for trade, information sharing, and the proliferation of clean energy and energy-efficiency investments.
Over the past 10 days, Gov. Brown’s trade mission has generated national headlines with new trade and investment partnerships, and agreements for California and Guangdong Province—both the economic powerhouses in their respective countries—to share tools and strategies to address climate change and accelerate low-carbon economic growth. California will also share the technologies and policy approaches it has used to slash the type of noxious air pollution that used to plague Los Angeles.
At the city level, Chinese officials are ready to partner with US cities and with my organization, ICLEI, to obtain the necessary technical resources to reduce carbon intensity and meet their long-term goals. Right now many Chinese cities lack the type of national protocols and step-by-step guidance that US cities and counties have relied on to measure their GHG emissions, set reduction targets, and develop climate action plans.
What Chinese Cities Can Share: Innovative at a Gigantic Scale
China’s environmental challenges remain enormous: awful air quality, reliance on coal, an unrelenting increase in energy consumption and growing greenhouse gas emissions due to economic expansion. Yet Chinese city leaders aren’t sitting on their hands. Nearly every major policy or technological approach to sustainability happening across U.S. cities and communities is also underway in China—but on a much larger scale that is hard to comprehend if you can’t see it firsthand.