How Can a City Promote a Low Carbon Future for the World? –Part 1

By Pianpian Wang

In less than two weeks, the China National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and Shenzhen People’s Government, will host the 6th Shenzhen International Low Carbon City Forum together with the National Low Carbon Technology Exhibition (the “Green Expo”). The Forum and Expo will be held in the city of Shenzhen, China from September 17th to 19th, 2018.

According to the event organizers, about 5,000 distinguished guests from 40 countries around the world, including governmental officials, well-known experts, and famous entrepreneurs will discuss frontier topics of climate change mitigation, share intellectual achievements, and develop practical cooperation during the 2-day event.

The Establishment of the Low Carbon City Forum

On May 3, 2012, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso signed the Joint Declaration on The EU-China Partnership on Urbanization. The Shenzhen International Low Carbon City was pitched to the Sino-Dutch(EU) sustainable urbanization cooperation as a flagship project. The Low Carbon City has been focusing on the following aspects: climate-friendly city construction, low-carbon industry development, low-carbon lifestyle promotion and international cooperation.

On June 17th, 2013, the first Shenzhen International Low carbon City Forum was launched as an important element of China’s first National Low Carbon Day. Over the past four editions, the Forum has played a leading role in the field of low carbon development at the domestic and international level, attracting important stakeholders from all around the world, including renowned speakers like former Vice President of the United States Al Gore.

This year’s Low Carbon City Forum will cover heated topics in the context of climate change such as green finance, cities’ sustainable development, south-south cooperation on low carbon development, green buildings, and businesses’ green operations. These topics could indicate where China is focusing its attention in particular, and important moves they might be considering.


The Indicators of A Low Carbon City

Currently, cities are exploring indicators and ways to evaluate which actions will help them proceed towards the goal of being low-carbon and carbon-neutral. Since there is no standard framework for cities to follow on this subject, it encourages and prompts cities to be innovative and develop customized initiatives for their own needs. There are, however, some common aspects to consider everywhere:

Energy Sources

With the growth of urban population, the electricity demand will continually go up. To ensure low-carbon energy growth, we have to adopt much cleaner means of energy generation. Renewable energy is currently replacing fossil fuels, leading this transition.

In order to achieve these goals, a city‘s electricity grid has to be upgraded and transformed to create room for further development and inclusion of renewable energy.


According to C40 Cities (a network of cities pushing climate action), houses, offices, and other buildings account for more than half of all planet-warming gasses emitted in urban areas. In C40 Cities’ latest commitment, 19 mayors, from London to Tokyo, said they would put in place regulations requiring all new buildings to be carbon neutral by 2030 and all existing ones to reach the same goal by 2050. When Shenzhen’s carbon trading program was in its pilot phase, 197 public buildings were covered under the program. While China’s current National Carbon Trading Program has not included the building sector yet, the earlier pilot program shows the potential for going in this direction.

Urban Vegetation

Urban trees improve air and water quality, reduce energy costs, improve human health, and offer the benefit of storing carbon. Shenzhen knows the benefits of trees well, and does not sacrifice green space during its rapid urban development. The city was granted the title of international “Garden City” in 2000 and the city government has developed strategies to refine urban parks for people’s leisure and urban ecosystem. As of 2013, 45% of the city’s public space is green and vegetative. Besides parks and gardens, cities can also promote urban agriculture. Cities like Chicago, New York and Seattle have consistently updated the zoning codes and removed hurdles for urban farming.

Advocate for Low-Carbon Lifestyles and Purchase Carbon Offsets

Last but not least, people, city residents, have the most power to help the cities achieve low-carbon economies. There are many ways to live a lower carbon lifestyle, and every one of them has a real impact on tackling climate change, and even saving you money. Individuals can reduce carbon footprints in key consumption areas, such as food (less meat consumption and more local purchasing), waste (reduce waste and better waste sorting), and mobility (use public transportation instead of private cars). Shenzhen, for example, is the first city in the world electrifies 100% of its public buses—16,359, to be exact.

Furthermore, since 2011, Shenzhen’s city government has added personal offset services to its carbon trading platform, and encourages individuals to buy carbon offsets and reduce their carbon emissions.

Shenzhen is a young city, established in 1979 under the Open and Reform policy. Shenzhen has successfully transformed from a small fishing village to an international garden city that is home to big corporations such as BYD, Huawei and Tencent, as well as one of the former pilot carbon trading systems across China. Shenzhen’s story indicates that the path towards sustainability and low-carbon urban development is feasible and expectable.

More details about the event will be in the next blog post.