The Urban China Initiative, a newly-established joint initiative of Columbia University, The School of Public Policy and Management of Tsinghua University and McKinsey & Company dedicated to finding solutions to China’s most pressing urbanization problems, has published China’s first Urban Sustainability Index (USI). The Index was developed as part of an eight-month effort by Columbia and McKinsey researchers to establish a uniform, fact-based methodology for assessing and comparing China’s cities in achieving their efforts to achieve sustainable economic development.
The Urban Sustainability Index:
A New Tool For Measuring China’s Cities
Download Full Report Here
The study, “The Urban Sustainability Index: A New Tool for Measuring China’s Cities”, covered 112 Chinese cities that have been selected by the government as the focus of sustainable development efforts. To measure relative performance over time, data was collected for a five-year period spanning 2004 to 2008, the latest year that complete data was available.
The Index is comprised of 18 individual indicators grouped into five key categories: basic needs, resource efficiency, environmental impact, the built environment, and commitment to future sustainability.
The study shows that over the last few years, cities in China have made noticeable strides toward becoming sustainable by global standards. However, the study also highlights the need for more concerted efforts across several of the key dimensions that comprise the Index and identifies the best practices shown by the subset of cities that are sustainably growing.
While China has marked some of its greatest successes in meeting the basic needs of its urban residents, such as improved access to water, healthcare and education, China’s cities have lagged behind in several other areas. Air pollution and sulphur dioxide emissions remain well above developed world and World Health Organization standards, even as sulphur dioxide emissions continue to decline rapidly.
5 INDICATORS OF URBAN SUSTAINABILITY
1. Basic Needs
China’s cities are highly effective at fulfilling the basic needs of its urban residents. Almost every city increased the number of doctors per capita, with the average growing from 2.5 doctors per 1,000 residents to 2.8 per 1,000 residents between 2005 and 2008. This ratio is aligned with those seen in other developing countries – Sao Paolo, for example, had 2.6 doctors per 1,000 people in 2009.
Between 2005 and 2008, almost every Chinese city increased the amount of living space per capita. 20% of China’s cities had 24 square meters of living space per capita in 2008. This is comparable to more developed Asian countries such as Japan, which had 21 square meters of living space per person in urban areas in 2005, and South Korea, which had 23 square meters per person.
2. Resource Efficiency
Despite the national goal of becoming less energy intensive, rapid economic growth supported by significant heavy industry drove China’s cities to use more electricity between 2005 and 2008. The average for the cities surveyed increased slightly from 144 gigawatt hours of electricity per billion renminbi of production to 149 gigawatt hours during this period.
Urban electricity use in China remains very high compared to other developing markets. Mexico City, for example, used only 10 gigawatt hours per billion renminbi in production in 2008, and Sao Paolo 26 gigawatt hours in 2007. Closer to home, Jakarta used 67 gigawatt hours per billion renminbi of production in 2007.
Even as access to water in China’s cities increased, the domestic demand per capita fell across the board. Between 2005 and 2008, average urban domestic consumption fell slightly from 33,000 liters per person per year to 32,500 liters. China measures favorably against developed countries on this dimension: in France per capita water demand was 58,000 liters in 2008, and in Germany it was 45,000 liters.
3. Environmental Health
On average, sulphur dioxide emissions in China’s cities fell from 100,000 tons per year in 2005 to 87,000 tons in 2008. Considered in proportion to economic activity, emissions almost halved, going from 2,600 tons per billion renminbi of production to 1,700 tons. Yet new technology and policy initiatives have brought emissions considerably lower in developed countries. France produced just 35 tons of sulphur dioxide emissions per billion renminbi in economic production in 2008. Anecdotal evidence suggests that policy changes in China in 2009 and 2010 have brought more widespread use of proven technologies such as sulphur scrubbers.
China’s cities have made significant progress in wastewater treatment, with the average city going from 56% of wastewater treated in 2005 to 72% in 2008. China compares favorably to countries such as South Africa, which treats 78% of wastewater, and Thailand and Brazil, which only treat 50%.
The average annual waste collected per person increased slightly from 279 kilograms in 2006 to 288 kilograms in 2008. In 2007, China’s urban record was on par for developing cities: Rio de Janeiro, for example, collected about 290 kilograms of trash per capita, and Sao Paulo collected 310 kilograms.
China may be making progress in industrial emissions and wastewater treatment, but air quality remains far below world standards. Concentrations of sulphur dioxide in the urban air fell from 50 micrograms per cubic meter to 46 micrograms on average between 2005 and 2008. Concentrations of nitrogen dioxide dropped slightly from 33 micrograms per cubic meter to 32 micrograms, while particulate matter (dust) fell from 94 micrograms per cubic meter to 84 micrograms. These levels remain well above the standards set by the World Health Organization of 20 micrograms of sulphur dioxide or particular matter per cubic meter an 10 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide. Less than 20% of China’s cities meet WHO standards for sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, and almost none meet particulate matter standards.
4. Built Environment
Urban densities in China are on par with or better than those seen in developed countries. If China can maintain dense urban cores and prevent sprawl, it may be able to avoid excessive reliance on automobiles and greatly increase its potential for sustainable development.
At least 30 cities in China have dense urban cores with more than 10,000 people per square kilometer, compared to a density in New York City of 10,600 people per square kilometer. At the same time, China’s metropolitan areas, which include the outlying areas, are often more densely populated than their counterparts in developed countries. Nearly 100 of the cities included in the study had metropolitan densities of about 4,000 people per square kilometer, which compares to 1,800 for New York’s metropolitan area and 3,700 for Berlin.
Ridership for public transportation in China’s cities has grown in recent years, bringing the country on par with levels in developed countries. The average number of bus trips per person in China’s cities rose from 117 per year in 2006 to 150 in 2008. Rio de Janeiro registered 130 bus trips per person in 2007, and New York City about 100 in 2009. Some cities in China boasted very high ridership numbers, with Guangzhou reporting around 600 bus trips per person per year, and Beijing and Shanghai both registering about 300.
Chinese cities have increased their funding for sustainability initiatives in recent years. Cities covered in the study increased funding for environmental protection by 30% between 2006 and 2008, from 220,000 renminbi per billion renminbi in economic production to 300,000 renminbi. Some cities have considerably ramped up investment in environmental initiatives, with 20% of the most “committed” cities increasing funding by as much as 45% to 470,000 renminbi per billion renminbi in production.
URBAN SUSTAINABILITY BEST PRACTICES IN CHINA
In addition to aggregate analyses and comparisons of the 112 cities covered by the study, the report identifies best practices that drive exceptional performance on the index. Interviews with well-performing cities indicate that five levers can drive sustainable growth:
1. Link land use planning to industrial restructuring. Urban industrial restructuring is a critical tool for increasing energy and resource efficiency, freeing valuable downtown land for redevelopment, and promoting the growth of the service sector. In Tianjin, smokestack industries are moving east from the city center into some parts of the Binhai New Development Zone. In Qingdao, manufacturing industries are relocating across Jiaozhou Bay and into rural regions northwest of the city. Shenyang successfully removed all traces of heavy industry from its urban core between 2008 and 2010.
2. Support dense livable environments through transit-oriented development. Cities in China that have successfully balanced sustainability and growth incorporate these objectives when creating mass transit networks and urban amenities such as parks and lakes. For example, Qingdao added bus routes and transit hubs and focused some of its redevelopment work along bus lines to prod city residents and visitors away from private transportation. Between 2005 and 2008, bus ridership per capita increased by 17%. In 2008, Qingdao recorded 259 bus riders per 10,000 persons, compared with just 150 bus riders on average for the cities in the study.
Urban planners in China have begun introducing a variety of measures to improve air quality. Nanning in the southwestern province of Guangxi created a “green city” during a ten-year program that included planting an average of 2 million trees a year. In 2009, Nanning proposed a new environmental design concept to integrate river and marsh systems in the urban landscape by engineering two dams on the Yongjiang River that would split the river into 18 smaller waterways and create 80 lakes within the city.
3. Use transparent standards and pricing to incentivize behavior. Cities that create transparency around their goals and establish public accountability for meeting them are more effective at managing sustainable development. When Shandong Province began requiring companies to monitor and report water quality every two hours, Qingdao, wanting to maintain its status as the province’s leading environmental city, mandated monitoring every half hour. In addition, Qingdao sends staff from the Environmental Monitoring Department to check first-hand the accuracy of the data being reported digitally. Shenyang raised electricity tariffs in 2006 and 2007 to encourage polluting industries to move away from the city center.
4. Invest in cyclical economy projects. The best performing cities create efficient links between industrial outputs in different sectors – what is known as a “cyclical economy.” The four case study cities boasted exceptionally high wastewater treatment levels, with Shenyang, Nanning and Qingdao treating 77%, 79% and 82% of their wastewater in 2008, respectively, compared with just 70% overall for cities covered in the study. City officials cited Tianjin’s Beijiang Power Plant as an example of resource efficiency. The project links water, power, sea salt production, waste reuse and land conservation into an elegant desalinization system. The whole system is expected to provide 400,000 tons of fresh water a day, 11 billion kilowatt hours of power annually, 450,000 tons of salt a year, and 60,000 tons of minerals a year. Fly ash and other waste will be sold cheaply to construction companies as building materials.
5. Restructure local government bodies to enable coordination. Interviews with urban officials highlighted that successfully executing sustainable development projects is largely a factor of coordinating among city agencies and other bodies. First, city governments must make sustainable development a top-level priority, as Nanning did when it crafted a vision of becoming a “Green City.” Incentives promote coordination: in Qingdao, the performance assessments of local officials are tied to project implementation, which increased the motivation to cooperate among departments. The effort was supported by administrative resources and a new accountability system.
“Because of the enormous scale and unique challenges that China faces in pursuing sustainable urban development, we chose China as the test bed for the development of the Index. The Urban China Initiative hopes that the Index becomes the ‘gold standard’ for measuring China’s urban sustainability initiatives, and leads to the formulation of pragmatic, actionable solutions” says Jonathan Woetzel, a director in McKinsey & Company’s Shanghai office and founding board member of the Initiative.
“In line with the Institute’s mission to find solutions to China’s most pressing urbanization challenges, the intent of this report is to provide a robust fact base for assessing and comparing where China’s cities stand on their path toward sustainable development. It also provides a basis for identifying and sharing best practice examples of sustainable urbanization within China”, says Professor Xiao Geng, Director of the Columbia Global Center for East Asia and founding board member of the Initiative.
“As the report highlights, China already has several examples of successful urban sustainability policies and initiatives. It’s imperative for policy-makers at all levels of government to work hand-in-hand with the business sector and various social organizations in sharing and applying the learning from these cities with other cities throughout the country ,” says Professor Lan Xue, Dean of the Tsinghua University School of Public Policy and Management, and founding board member of the Initiative.