Chinese cities fail to balance economic growth, sustainability

Some 80 percent of cities in China cannot strike a balance between growing the economy and protecting the environment, but mid-sized cities are in best stead to achieve sustainable growth, reveals Accenture report.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

Some 80 percent of Chinese cities are unable to achieve a balance between economic growth, resource efficiency, and sustainable development.

According to a study released Tuesday, conducted by Accenture and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), 25 cities in China were placed in the "conventional" category, facing the greatest danger, given their underdeveloped but resource-based economies, high emissions, reliance on heavy industry, and a tendency to "grow first, clean up later".

The study covered 73 of China's 287 large cities, assessing their performance in economic performance, resource and environmental sustainability, and dependence on natural resources. It also categorized Chinese cities in to four groups: wealthy, balanced, potential and conventional.

Beijing and Tianjin were classified as "wealthy", along with cities in the Bohai Rim and Yangtze River Delta regions. The cities enjoyed leading rates of economic growth but faced deteriorating environments--characterized by rising levels of congestion, smog and waste, coupled with shortages of water and other resources.

The "balanced" group of cities, which included smaller cities along with megacities in southern China--Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen--achieved strong economic performance, environmental quality, and managed emissions.

Mid-sized cities in best stead for new resource economy

The study found that China's mid-sized cities, within the "Potential" category, were in the best position to achieve the balance in the future. Cities in this category had the greatest chance of becoming champions of the new resource economy, due to strong growth coupled with a lack of existing environmental degradation. They also were dominated by medium-sized cities with populations of 1 to 3 million or GDP per capita of 50,000 to 70,000 yuan (US$7,738 to US$10,833).

According to the study, the new resource economy was based on a model for achieving sustainable growth with less resource consumption and less environmental impact through technology, management and institution innovation.

"Our analysis shows that a focus on developing mid-sized cities rather than megacities provides the greatest chance of making the New Resource Economy a reality," Gong Li, chairman of Accenture Greater China, said in a statement.

Companies often faced pollution allegations in China. Last month, Taiwan-based Apple suppliers Foxconn and UniMicron were accused by environmental groups for releasing toxic waste into rivers near their Kunshan plants. RiTeng, an Apple supplier in China was also charged with pouring untreated metal-cutting liquid and greasy, waste water into Shanghai's rain water drainage system in February.

In a bid to raise awareness on pollution in the country, Chinese netizen Liu Chunlei in June created a crowdsourced mapping project, Danger Maps, which indicates pollution hotspots in China.

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