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Chinese and American cities share united vision of a low-carbon, climate-resilient future

By Mark Watts, Executive Director, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group

The United States of America and China are responsible for over one third of global greenhouse gas emissions. This month mayors and other urban leaders representing more than 60 Chinese and U.S. cities, gathered in Beijing at the second U.S.-China Climate-Smart Low-Carbon Cities Summit. These critical leaders in the fight against climate change came together to share strategies and lessons on how to get their cities, and therefore the world, onto a low carbon pathway.

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In April of this year, leaders of China and America officially signed the historic Paris Agreement and pledged to take steps to implement the terms of the deal within the year. As the terms of those efforts are being worked out in both Washington D.C. and Beijing, this Summit provided an opportunity for mayors, state and local government, private sector, and non governmental organizations leaders to come together to share experiences in building low-carbon, climate-resilient communities.

Yet, there was a striking difference between Chinese and American speakers, who are nonetheless driving towards a shared goal. In China it is the national government pushing for ambitious targets on emission reductions and low carbon development, which Chinese cities are working hard to reach and even exceed. In the United States it is cities that are taking a lead, supported by the Obama administration, represented in person by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, but often in the face of fierce opposition from those who would deny that climate change is even happening.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a C40 Vice Chair, told the Summit, “Mayors and local municipal leaders don’t need to wait for Congress or legislators to act. We can do a lot without them. Secretary Kerry commented, “If we change the way we power our cities we will change the way we power the world and in the process we will save it. America and China recognise that.”

It was reassuring to hear from many of the city leaders in attendance that they recognize the successful, climate safe cities of the future need to be compact and well connected by public transport, cycling and walking infrastructure. The dominant model for cities in both China and the U.S. are for sprawling and car-dependent metropolises.

Su Wei, Director General of Department of Climate Change at China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), told the audience not to fear low carbon development – it will be a positive force for the economies of their cities. This was reinforced by the Mayor of Zhenjiang who explained that her city had seen rising GDP whilst pursuing a low carbon pathway which includes peaking emissions by 2020, rolling out a 1,000 strong clean-energy bus fleet, building a green energy island and promoting solar energy.

C40 was delighted to announce that two new Chinese cities, Chengdu and Dalian, will join the network bringing the total of C40 Chinese cities up to 9 and the overall total to 85, representing over 650 million people around the world.

Wuhan and Shenzhen also announced that they will become the first cities in China to develop comprehensive inventories of their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by using the international gold standard, Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC). This is a crucial step towards understanding and reducing their emissions and will set an important example to other Chinese cities.

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In Beijing, the redevelopment of the Shougang Park steel mill to create a low-carbon and sustainable community, was the latest project to be accepted into C40’s Climate Positive Development Programme, the first in China. It will act as a pilot for a new approach to low carbon, sustainable urban development within the City of Beijing and inform a national policy framework for the regeneration of former industrial areas across China.

The Compact of Mayors, and the Alliance of Peaking Pioneer Cities (APPC) signed a memorandum of understanding to strengthen and coordinate efforts to combat global climate change and promote low-carbon development.

As Secretary of State Kerry announced that the 2017 US-China Climate-Smart Low-Carbon Cities Summit will take place in his hometown of Boston, C40 looks forward to engaging even further with our cities and partners in China and America. By working together, we believe the target set so ambitiously by China, to peak emissions in many of its cities by 2020, can be achieved and a low carbon sustainable future delivered for millions of urban citizens around the world.