China’s Development of Low- Carbon Eco-Cities and Associated Indicator Systems

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China's urban population surpassed its rural population historically in 2011, when the number of Chinese living in towns and cities reached about 690 million. In the years to come, cities in China will face major challenges as their rapidly increasing populations burden already crowded infrastructure systems and exacerbate environmental and climate change issues, threatening public health and quality of life. Low-carbon cities may be key to addressing those challenges, especially as regards mitigating and adapting to climate change. Government entities at both the central and local level have moved aggressively on building low-carbon eco-cities. According to statistics reported by the Chinese Society for Urban Studies, by February of 2011, China will have 230 cities at the prefecture-and-above level that have proposed to establish themselves as "eco-cities," accounting for 80.1% of the 287 such cities nationally. Of those 230 cities, 133, or 46.3%, have established targets to develop specifically as "low-carbon cities" (Chinese Society for Urban Studies 2011). Given the proposed scale of the effort, China's potential success or failure in demonstrating and implementing low-carbon eco-cities could greatly affect how the world addresses both the climate change impacts of urbanization and the sustainable development of cities.

Despite the multiple guidelines that have been developed, it remains unclear what defines a low-carbon eco-city. Additionally, although more than 100 indicators have been used or proposed for assessing such cities, few relate directly to energy use or carbon emissions. Nonetheless, policy makers and leaders continue to demand comprehensive toolboxes to facilitate development of low-carbon eco-cities. This paper presents the results of an extensive literature review of the development of low-carbon eco-cities in China. The paper also qualitatively and quantitatively analyzes 11 major indicator systems that researchers, planners, governments, and city managers in China have used to identify low-carbon eco-cities. Finally, the paper gives recommendations for future development, research, and policy design to support low-carbon eco-cities in China and the world.

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