Monday, July 03, 2006

Will China's Cities be "Green" in 2050?

I've joined a group of scholars who are starting to write a longer policy paper on China's cities. In particular, I'm thinking about what are the key lessons to take away from the U.S and Europe's urban experience with respect to achieving the "win-win" of economic growth and keeping cities clean and green?

When I look at China's cities today, I see a couple of things;

1. Urban air pollution (particulates) in major cities such as Beijing is too high and with the scale of driving continuing to increase --- urban smog will also grow worse

This pollution is supplied from multiple sectors; industry, transport, electric power generation and perhaps home heating. Some reports claim that Beijing is importing dust from nearby rural areas where desertification has taken place.

2. Water demand and supply ---- urban areas demand more water and have the money to pay for it. Similar to the U.S , much water (perhaps too much) goes to agriculture. What is the efficient allocation of this scarce resource? How can market signals (i.e prices) be harnessed to signal the value of this scarce resource?

3. The ecological footprint and greenhouse gases; environmentalists love calculations such as; "if all billion people in china buy a car and if a car has 2 tons of steel, then 2 billion tons of steel will be needed --- the aggregate demand here vastly swamps aggregate supply of steel (

such aggregation logic ignores price signals and behavioral responses to those signals ---- but the issue remains for non-market goods such as greenhouse gases how many tons will China produce in 2050? Does urban growth in China help mitigate or exacerbate this global externality? As I discuss in my book's chapter 2; the ecological footprint can certainly be shrunk when there are market pricing signals. The challenge is how to get a government to sign on to present resource consumers with these signals!

So, I have 30 pages to cover all of these topics in my report! If you think I have omitted any other key Chinese urban issues. please post here and I will actually read what you say!