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Low-Carbon City Initiatives in China: Planning Approaches, Dilemmas and Opportunities
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Sustainable development, Environmental science and Engineering, Industrial Ecology.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-9616-635X
2015 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In order to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, tackle climate change and move toward sustainable development, the central government in China has proposed low-carbon city development as the national strategy and relevant initiatives have been taken by local governments. This thesis analyses current low-carbon city programmes and planning approaches in China, identifies limitations and proposes a metabolic approach that could be used to account for physical resources, monitor GHG emissions and involve stakeholders in the planning process.

There are currently two parallel programmes for low-carbon initiatives in China: the “Low-Carbon City” programme and the “Low-Carbon Eco-City” programme. Around thirty cities in the Coastal, Central and Western regions of China have been selected as the national pilot areas for these programmes. This widespread distribution marks a change the previous priority set on development in the Coastal region, meaning that more cities have opportunities to explore low-carbon pathways and obtain support from the state. The large number of cities involved shows China’s determination to transition to low-carbon development in different city contexts. The selected cities have set up local administrative groups to manage low-carbon development and have established integrated approaches to reduce GHG emissions from urban sectors such as energy, transportation, buildings and waste. Some plans have been developed by the cities themselves, while others have involved international cooperation. However, because of limited knowledge on low-carbon city development, an absence of established standards and procedures and the Chinese top-down planning system, low-carbon planning faces specific challenges, such as lack of information about GHG flows, GHG monitoring and stakeholder involvement.

To overcome these challenges and improve low-carbon city approaches in China, this thesis proposes a holistic approach to low-carbon city development, by integrating Industrial Ecology into urban planning. Such work would benefit greatly from adopting a metabolic approach, within which a metabolic approach-based standard is used to understand low-carbon city from GHG flows; a DPSIR framework is used to address root causes of GHG emissions; and an Eco-Cycle Model is used to describe urban metabolism and account for physical resources, monitor GHG emissions and involve stakeholders in the planning process.

The thesis also recommends better collaboration between relevant government departments and stakeholders. Moreover, instead of simply transferring approaches developed elsewhere, international cooperation needs to combine the local context and knowledge in China with international knowledge and experience. In return, experiences from China can help improve low-carbon city approaches in other parts of the world.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2015. , vi, 43 p.
TRITA-IM-LIC, 2015:01
Keyword [en]
Low-carbon city; Urban planning; Metabolic approach
National Category
Other Civil Engineering
Research subject
Industrial Ecology
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-174076ISBN: 978-91-7595-693-0 (print)OAI: diva2:857574
2015-10-20, E2, Lindstedtsvägen 3, KTH, Stockholm, 09:00 (English)

QC 20150929

Available from: 2015-09-29 Created: 2015-09-29 Last updated: 2015-09-29Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Analysis of sustainable urban development approaches in China
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Analysis of sustainable urban development approaches in China
2014 (English)In: Habitat International, ISSN 0197-3975, E-ISSN 1873-5428, Vol. 41, 24-32 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

China already has more numerous and larger cities than ever before. If the current trend holds, by 2025 it will have a predicted 1 billion of urban population and 8 megacities, each containing 10 million residents or more. China is facing enormous challenges when it comes to balancing rapid economic development with social development, sustainable use of resources and environmental protection in its fast-growing urban areas. Of the 10 most polluted cities in the world, 7 are in China. To meet these challenges, China has become a vast living laboratory for experiments on sustainable urban development. This paper reviews the use and development of city concepts and approaches regarding sustainable urban development in China. The large number of different concepts used appears to be partly due to institutional reasons and partly because they involve gradual changes in national policies. However, the data indicate that the concepts are generally becoming more comprehensive in relation to sustainable development, including social and heritage aspects. The most common barrier to the development of sustainable cities in China is still lack of clear visions, targets and indicators for sustainable development. More holistic approaches are needed for integrated urban planning, such as that used in Tangshan Bay Eco-city, a joint project between Sweden and China. This paper proposes the use of metabolic thinking and eco-cycle models derived from the discipline of Industrial Ecology to support urban planners in developing more sustainable and resource-efficient urban pathways. This will require closer cooperation between academics and practitioners and better monitoring of projects. Finally, it will be important to identify ways to scale up successful interventions in the urban area, rather than just moving from one innovative pilot project to the next.

Sustainable urban development, China, Eco-city, Low-carbon city, Eco-cycle model
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-143736 (URN)10.1016/j.habitatint.2013.06.005 (DOI)000331595100004 ()2-s2.0-84880605001 (Scopus ID)

QC 20140327

Available from: 2014-03-27 Created: 2014-03-27 Last updated: 2017-12-05Bibliographically approved
2. Towards low-carbon cities in China: integrating greenhouse gas management in urban planning
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Towards low-carbon cities in China: integrating greenhouse gas management in urban planning
2014 (English)In: Resilience – The New Research Frontier, Trondheim: Norwegian University of Science and Technology , 2014, 150-164 p.Conference paper, Published paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Low-carbon development has been proposed as one of the key national environmental strategies by the central government of China. There are hundreds of Chinese cities that have set low-carbon goals and there are many types of plan within the urban planning system. However, these plans face great challenges. For example, the current urban planning approach focuses on spatial arrangements while it has difficulties in recognising the complexity of GHG metabolism. As another example, urban planning lacks stakeholder involvement and cooperation which contributes to the failure to monitor GHG emissions. This study compares the situation in China with that experienced in Stockholm, Sweden and proposes an approach to improve low-carbon planning. This approach involves integrating GHG accounting into urban planning based on Industrial Ecology knowledge. Using lessons learnt from the Eco-Cycle Model 2.0 in Stockholm, the study highlights the intimate relationship between energy consumption and GHG emissions in Chinese cities, which requires integrating energy systems thinking and GHG thinking into the urban planning process. A life cycle perspective is needed in urban planning to integrate parallel energy consumption and GHG emissions budgeting in different urban sectors. Furthermore, a GHG metabolic approach may become a broad platform for communicating low-carbon development among different stakeholders in a city.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Trondheim: Norwegian University of Science and Technology, 2014
Low-carbon city, urban planning, GHG metabolism
National Category
Environmental Management
Research subject
Industrial Ecology
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-174074 (URN)978-82-91917-34-4 (ISBN)
Proceedings of the 20th International Sustainable Development Research Conference Trondheim 18-20 June 2014

QC 20150929

Available from: 2015-09-29 Created: 2015-09-29 Last updated: 2015-09-29Bibliographically approved
3. Evaluating low-carbon city initiatives from the DPSIR framework perspective
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Evaluating low-carbon city initiatives from the DPSIR framework perspective
Show others...
2015 (English)In: Habitat International, ISSN 0197-3975, E-ISSN 1873-5428, Vol. 50, 289-299 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Current low-carbon city initiatives were evaluated using the DPSIR (Drivingforces-Pressures-State-Impacts-Responses) causal-effect framework for investigating interactions between environmental issues and human activities. For effective management towards achieving a low-carbon city, integrating the pressure-based, driver-oriented DPSIR approach could help decision makers examine whether greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction approaches deal with the root causes of GHG emissions and work to-wards low-carbon city development goals. The DPSIR framework was used on 36 global cities to analyse the socio-economic dynamics of GHG emissions and their pressures on the environment, the state of the environment, related climate change impacts and responses from society. The results indicated that numerous cities have awareness of low-car bon plans and that most of these plans are pressure-based and driver-oriented. Most city plans recognise energy, transportation and building as the main driving forces for GHG emissions, which cause environmental pressures, and highlight technical responses to reduce GHG emissions pressures from these root causes. Inaddition, most plans recognise institutional and cognitional responses to low-carbon city development, such as: policies and legislation; departmental planning and cooperation; measuring, monitoring and reporting performance; capital invest-ment; community education and outreach; and stakeholder involvement.

Low-carboncity, DPSIR framework, Content analysis
National Category
Other Environmental Engineering
Research subject
Planning and Decision Analysis
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-174072 (URN)10.1016/j.habitatint.2015.09.001 (DOI)2-s2.0-84941634546 (Scopus ID)

QC 20150929

Available from: 2015-09-29 Created: 2015-09-29 Last updated: 2017-12-01Bibliographically approved

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