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 industrial base.
Jiaxing is 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.
In Jiaxing 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 River.
Officials 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 industries.
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 of the Strategic Resilience and co-author of a forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and management.
Originally posted December 6, 2010 at the Green Flow blog of Common Current.