Cities and Climate Change

The vast majority of European population lives in cities and towns. Decisions on land use planning and management – usually made at local or regional level – have key implications on climate change. Effective regional planning as a major tool supporting sustainable development needs cutting-edge evidence from researchers and policy makers. Coordination of regional and local governments’ low-carbon initiatives in Europe is mainly achieved through the Covenant of Mayors, an initiative launched by the European Commission (DG Energy). The Covenant is the mainstream European movement involving local and regional authorities, voluntarily committing to increasing energy efficiency and use of renewable energy sources on their territories. Nearly 5.000 Covenant signatories aim to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% until 2020. City policy makers and practitioners are committed to learning from each other, looking to construct effective and integrated citywide, city-region models – including “sustainable energy action plans”.

The consequences of climate change could hardly affect Chinese cities, challenging dry areas in the Northeast. In addition, water-related natural hazards could become major challenges to Chinese cities, especially as the majority of China’s cities are located in coastal areas. A major issue of concern is the quality of air. As noted in February 2014, Beijing’s air pollution reached unprecedented values forcing authorities to limit economic activities. China has cities exposed to high concentration of particulate matter. Coal-burning energy plants are the major energy source for Chinese factories and for private heating, but they also spew out toxins into the air. Although the government has taken significant steps to combat pollution in the last decade, there is still a lot to do including improving monitoring and inter-municipal cooperation.

Chinese authorities have established measures at national, provincial and local level. It is though clear that environmental problems are still a serious threat to sustainable growth.

A fundamental aspect of sustainable urban and regional planning for Chinese provinces is the aspect of land use in compliance with the water availability and water quality. In this context, the cooperation across regional and provincial boundaries, especially in terms of coordination and management by residents at the lower and upper reaches of rivers. This is particularly relevant for the regions of the Yellow, Yangtze and Pearl River delta.

Selected activities:

Seminar for Chinese experts in the EU in June 2013