The role of Cities

As the main hubs of economic activity and as the bearers responsible for the vast majority of the world’s energy consumption and global greenhouse gas emissions, cities worldwide face multiple challenges. The way cities will develop and perform can be both part of the climate problem as well as part of the solution to reduce the gap between business-as-usual emissions and what is needed to stay below 2°C by 2020. Local governments and municipalities play a key role in the implementation of measures on infrastructure, buildings, transport and energy systems. Supporting local and regional governments is therefore essential, as any measures to avoid “high carbon” lock-in effects will be taken at the local level. Cities and municipalities are in the position to steer their communities on a sustainable low-carbon development path by integrating climate change as a cross-sectoral issue within a citys’ agencies and day-to-day operations.

Developments in China

In its new, 12th Five-Year-Plan from 2011, China has set ambitious environmental goals. The Chinese government defined long-term low carbon development as a strategic goal. Analogue to the very successful economic development of China’s ‘Special Economic Zones’, the Chinese central government designated five provinces and eight cities as ‘Low Carbon Development Zones’. The government’s expectations of these cities are high and the implementation of the goals is a great challenge for the municipalities.

The success of sustainable low-carbon urban development is crucial for China – where an annual increase in urban population of ca. 15 million people is observed and the trend is upwards – and the world, as cities are responsible for more than 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This rapid, continuing urbanisation in China demands for a consequent implementation of low carbon and climate protection strategies in urban development, in order to mitigate a CO2 intensive path-dependency in the areas of energy supply, transport infrastructure, buildings and infrastructure. It can be expected that the knowledge gained in the model cities and regions are following a typical pattern of Chinese development and can provide an example for other cities/regions.

Perspectives of EU-China Cooperation

For Europe and European businesses China’s effort can be a challenge and/or a chance with regard to their current pioneering role in environmental technologies and their leading role in the race in the main markets of the Green Economy. A closer collaboration and a strong strategic partnership between Europe and China can be fostered by innovative platforms between partner cities or by cooperation with Low Carbon Zones (LCZ), especially with regard to the challenges in the implementation of low carbon pilot programmes in China and in the transformation of the energy system in Germany.

The recent EU-China Summit has strengthened the framework for cooperation in the field of climate change, energy and urbanisation. Agreed outcomes include the enhanced exchange of climate change policies and legislation, practical cooperation on the Emissions Trading System, and on energy development strategies and plans. In addition, China and the EU have also announced the establishment of the “EU-China Partnership on Sustainable Urbanisation”, which promotes exchange and cooperation in different areas of sustainable urban development. Within these cooperation frameworks, there is great potential for Europe, Germany and China to take their cooperation to the next level.

All these initiatives are aimed at making the EU-China relationship more strategic. This project will use their momentum for its objectives in regional low carbon and sustainable urban development. China’s local and regional activities within the low carbon strategy and cooperation framework also provide an invaluable opportunity to deepen fruitful EU-China cooperation on climate policy. Effective cooperation between the EU and China has the potential to revive international Climate Diplomacy.

Project approach

The overarching goal of the project is to accelerate sustainable low carbon urban development in strategically designated cities, in order to set an example of successful climate cooperation between Germany, the EU and China.

The City of Bonn and the City of Chengdu have set ambitious objectives and outlined work programmes to reduce carbon emissions and to promote sustainable low-carbon development. For instance the Federal City of Bonn set the target to reduce the city's total GHG emissions by 40% by 2020 and by 90-95% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. In its low carbon work programme, Chengdu set the target to reduce carbon intensity to less than 1.15 tons per 10000 RMB by 2015 and increase the city’s non-fossil energy accounts for more than 30% of total energy consumption.

Hubei Province had been identified as one of the five provinces and eight cities to accelerate the low carbon development in China. As such a low carbon pilot province Hubei will implement a carbon emissions trading scheme. Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, has committed to develop a low carbon development plan, accelerate the establishment of a low carbon industry structure and actively promote low-carbon lifestyles and consumption patterns. The city of Wuhan, a heavy industry center in central China, is still one of the biggest iron and steel industry bases in China. The government needs to overcome the difficulties of structural adjustment of its economy towards clean technologies and a low carbon economy.

These targets reflect the national current strategies in China as well as in Germany. The transformation of the German energy system (‘Energiewende‘) and low carbon development pilots in China require the energy system to be fundamentally restructured, presenting especially the cities and municipalities with economic and technological challenges. The economic and technological challenges around the most critically observed "large scale experiments" can make the cities in China and Germany key partners. Only the joint action and cooperation on the local and the international level can achieve the progress that is needed.

Supporting and building on city partnerships is a very promising approach in order to expand cooperation and promote knowledge exchange about practical strategies at the local level, build trust and confidence, and place climate protection firmly on the agenda. Thus synergies and cooperation can be generated in support of the transformation to a low-carbon development pathway in the two cities and initiate mutual learning processes.