To get a
better view of what was happening at the local level in terms of China’s new
national low carbon and ecological planning, I recently traveled to Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province. Jiaxing (above–click on photos for full size) is a
“small town” of about four million that is now only 21 minutes (80 kilometers)
from metro Shanghai on a new high-speed electric train line, the fastest in the
world–the line, which will eventually extend to Beijing, recently set a test
record of 259 miles per hour.
I was traveling with other strategic advisers from the Institute for Strategic Resilience, Irv Beiman and Daniel Zhu. Jiaxing is Zhu’s hometown, and he helped arrange our two-day visit.
Jiaxing sees itself as a “Garden
City” (with more than 40 percent forest cover), and truly it felt
that way thanks to extensive landscaping and forests planted on the site of
former rice fields. Jiaxing is also billing itself as the “Oriental Silicon
Valley,” which embodies China’s plans to transform its economy, particularly in
eastern coastal areas such as the Yangtze Delta, from manufacturing to service
industries, such as IT and green technologies, to supplant its product-export-dominated
the home of the first official Communist Party of China meeting. It occurred in
1921, with Mao Zedong and a few others from Shanghai on a boat playing Mahjong
for cover out in the middle of the city’s South Lake.
South Lake and a replica
of the famed boat (above) have long been the site of pilgrimages from Chinese
citizens, which may account for the town’s relative superior level of historic
and cultural preservation.
South Lake still hosts traditional fisherpeople who
rhythmically clap boards on the gunwales of their sampans in order to scare fish
into awaiting nets.
Jiaxing has been engaged in careful restoration and reuse of its city center’s large 500+ year-old historic district (above). Starting with the canal that encircles its ancient district, the city is attempting to restore the ecology of its deltaic
landscape and waterways through applied research of the Yangtze Delta Research Center of Tsinghua
University, which is also located in the city. Jiaxing was a north-south node on the great Beijing-Hangzhou Canal, parts of which date back to 2,500 years, the longest engineered water body worldwide.
City Hall, a five-story building passively daylighted with great artistry (above) and
surrounded by acres of naturally looking forest planted eight years ago, we met
with officials. City leadership included the mayor and representatives from the
National Development Reform Commission, or NDRC, to which the mayor reports. They explained
how the city wants to improve its environmental management and clean industry attraction.
They read us
the new goals being dictated from the draft 12th Five Year Plan for 2011-2015,
including how they will need to reduce carbon emissions and decrease fossil
fuel use, SO2, CO2 (and other more toxic emissions), water pollutants (measured primarily through chemical oxygen demand levels, or COD) and acid
rain, while maintaining or restoring forests. While the United States regulates about 1,200 chemicals or pollutants, China currently only regulates about 200.
Water quality is a key national initiative,
especially in the Yangtze River and Pearl River deltas. Poor water quality–at the Fourth World Forum on China Studies that I also presented at, Zhu spoke of water quality in some regional lakes as being 2,000
times over national standards for heavy metals–has been impacting not only the
industry and residents, but also is degrading the estuarine fisheries of the
East and South China Sea. The NDRC party official told us that the city’s water quality
in its canals is a “three or four” on a seven-point scale, with one being the
best. The water in the canals did not stink, but it was an opaque dark brown
indicating possible overload of fertilizers and other organic material.
We toured a
new Science and Industry research center, which had a display on green
chemistry. We also visited a state-of-the-art “living machine” type wetland of
dozens of acres that the city designed to biologically clean its drinking water
while providing open space for recreation. Water fowl and numerous plants
species were abundant in the wetland.
Near the ancient city center, an intact
island city of 500 years old, university-sponsored researchers were using an
experimental technology to oxygenate the organic material-laden canals (from
rice and other fertilizers) that flowed around town from the nearby Yangzte
told us that Jiaxing is the first city in China as part of national pilot
project to reduce SO2 emissions using a market-based emissions reduction
program. At the city’s pollution exchange center, an official explained how the
price of $20,000 Renminbi ($3,000 US) was assessed per ton on SO2 for the next 20
years for existing industries. Industries or operations that produce too much
air pollution are being discouraged from locating in the city by much greater emissions
fees, three or four times more, that would apply to them.
Highly polluting and energy-intensive plants are being shut down around Jiaxing and throughout
the nation, in China’s east coast in particular. And true to the goals of the
Twelfth Five Year Plan, Jiaxing, instead of pursuing more primary or secondary
manufacturing, the “Oriental Silicon Valley” (there has to be a better way to
translate that nickname!) is vying for software, telecommunications and service
Though Jiaxing is making strides as a center of research and applied research for environmental management and low-carbon approaches and technologies, its new green evolution is not without hurdles.
Like many local and regional governments, the city and the Zhejiang Province, have been struggling to meet the energy efficiency mandates of the national 11th Five Year Plan that officially that ends December 31. In order to achieve the goals of the 11th Five Year Plan for energy-use reduction, rolling blackouts were occurring throughout the area, forcing industry to use dirtier diesel generators for electricity, which contributed to local air pollution as well as shortages of diesel gasoline used by trucks.
As Jiaxing illustrates, no one expects China’s new greener path to be easy or without conflicts. The implications for this new direction, however, augers well on a number of fronts. China’s new National 12th Five Year Plan should be a boon for greater technological innovation, greener economic growth and greater attention to global (climate change) and national environmental degradation, as well as international cooperation.
Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current. He is a fellow at the
Post-Carbon Institute, strategic adviser to the Institute for Strategic Resilience and co-author of a forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and management.