> Features > Special Coverage > Others

Resource-based cities transform to meet net-zero target

LI HANXIAO | 2021-06-10 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

The Mining Park in Huaying City, Sichuan Province, transforms from a mine site into a popular tourist site. Photo:CFP

“Cherish the Earth and Harmonious Coexistence between Man and Nature” has been set as the theme for the 52nd World Earth Day. This theme will continue through the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021– 2025) period. Faster adoption of a green development pattern and an eco-friendly lifestyle, building an ecological civilization and a beautiful world, these are not only inherent requirements to implement Chinese President Xi Jinping’s thought on ecological progress, but also meet the needs of the global low-carbon transition.  
Ambitious target
At the General Debate of the 75th  United Nations General Assembly in September 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged that China will scale up its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions by adopting more vigorous policies and measures. “We aim to have  CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.” (the 30·60 goal).
Setting the 30·60 goal demonstrates China’s responsibility and accountability in the arena of global climate governance. Urban carbon emission levels are the key to successful regional and national ecological civilization construction, as cities are an essential part of national socioeconomic development. 
Resource-based cities in particular face the time-sensitive task of low-carbon transformation. Therefore, top-level design needs improvement, and differentiated measures and strategies should be adopted in accordance with local conditions.
Holistic planning
As the largest developing country with the highest carbon emissions, China faces a massive change and tight deadline for achieving the 30·60 goal. Realizing the goal of carbon neutrality within 40 years is an arduous task, which is particularly tough for resource-based cities. Therefore, a holistic plan for a carbon emission peak and carbon neutrality is needed. The planning must combine green industrial upgrades, energy structure improvements, and the creation of carbon sinks, to scientifically program and steadily implement the low-carbon transformation of resource-based cities.
China should use a progressive strategy to promote this low-carbon transformation. Reliance on a single industry is a major obstruction to the low-carbon transformation. By dividing the ultimate goal into several stages with clear emission reduction targets, government departments can design an implementation path and action plan which scientifically sets the peak period, platform period, decline period and neutralization period.  Meanwhile, China can quickly strengthen enterprises’ plans for a low-carbon transformation. Enterprises are important actors in achieving the 30·60 goal. Especially in resource-based cities, long-term planning for the low-carbon transformation of enterprises is indispensable. Industries must take immediate measures to ensure transformation of the production process, green products, and to reach low-carbon or zero-carbon production. Government departments can assist enterprises to prepare a comprehensive plan in line with the national policy to form new market competitiveness under the net-zero vision.
Structural optimization
Currently, most resource-based cities rely heavily on a single industry or mining. This unreasonable industrial structure not only poses significant crowding out effects on the development of other industries, but also prevents sustainable urban development, severely slowing progress towards the 30·60 goal. Therefore, the transformation of resource-based cities shall be approached trough adjusting industrial structure, upgrading existing industries and developing emerging green low-carbon industries.   
First, cities can foster industrial connections between traditional mining industries and emerging low-carbon industries. As resource-based cities reduce mineral resource extraction in an orderly way, they can simultaneously boost the low-carbon economy, carry out green mine backfilling, expand national green spaces, and improve the efficiency of ecological carbon sinks. 
Second, while encouraging other green industries to develop, government departments can guide a shift from traditional industries into emerging intelligent manufacturing industries, optimizing and upgrading industrial and energy structures, mitigating coal consumption levels, improving resource utilization efficiency, reducing waste production and GHG emissions, so as to realize the industrial transformation and upgrading to zero-carbon industries. 
Third, resource-based cities can make full use of abandoned mining sites to develop their ecotourism economy, and cultivate tourism focused on an “industrial history + industrial upgrades + art spaces” pattern. By cultivating a team of professional tourist industry practitioners and using advantages of the “internet plus,” government departments can enhance the ecotourism industry, further promote zero-carbon consumption and transform resource-based cities. 
Technological empowerment
Low-carbon technological development is vital to the realization of the 30·60 goal and the transformation of resource-based cities. 
During the 14th Five-Year Plan period, resource-based cities should further focus on the research and development of energy-saving and emission reduction technologies. Carbon capture and storage technologies are an essential technology for CO2 removal. They meet future demands for low-carbon development and speed up the transformation of resource-based cities. Mining enterprises shall be encouraged to pursue carbon emission reduction and carbon neutralization. Mining industries should vigorously promote the construction of man-made CO2 gas reservoirs, utilize fully their existing spaces above and below the ground to store and bury the CO2 produced in mining. 
Promoting the low-carbon transformation of resource-based cities is the key to advancing the “Five-Pronged Overall Plan,” an overall approach for China to promote economic, political, cultural, social and ecological progress. Through the application of new ecological technologies, enterprises should strive to achieve both economic and ecological benefits, to establish low-carbon circular energy, and intelligent industry. Emerging technologies can reduce the waste generated in resource exploitation, improve recycling rates for that waste, and meet carbon emission reduction goals. Meanwhile, in the long-term planning for resource-based cities, we should also make use of technologies such as electrification, clean energy substitution, and carbon sequestration, to ensure that the country has its emission peak by 2030.
Expanding finance channels
Technological innovation requires financial support. In the process of low-carbon transformation, the cultivation and development of emerging technologies such as carbon capture and storage, new energy, and intelligent vehicles, needs substantial investment. Therefore, it is urgent to form a diversified investment and financing system.  
Business environments are the first area in need of improvement. The existing industrial structure must change by developing high-tech industry and introducing external enterprises. To expand existing investment and financing channels, government departments can continuously streamline administration, delegate more powers to lower-level government offices and society, improve regulation and optimize services. They can strengthen the protection of market entities, especially those in low-carbon industries, optimize the industrial structure by tapping into carbon trading market forces, and accelerate resource-based cities’ industrial transformation and upgrade. 
Secondly, it is important to enhance the guidance over industrial policy. In the process of changing finance channels and introducing external financing, government departments can also guide private capital’s entry into the market to alleviate existing capital risks in the transitional period. Through scientific planning, government departments could introduce social capital into the fields of energy, society, and the economy, with pivotal support to areas such as the development of zero-carbon technologies, clean energy, renewable energy storage, power generation and negative emission technologies.
Thirdly, it is advisable to cultivate diversified cooperation models. The development of the economy’s tertiary sector and the promotion of high-tech industries remain the best choices for low-carbon transformation. But this development requires diversified government and social capital cooperation models through Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP), Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) models, Transfer-Operate-Transfer (TOT) arrangements, and so on. Combining urban low-carbon transformation plans with the efficient use of social capital management and technological innovation, provides a basic material guarantee for achieving carbon neutrality.
Ideal legislation 
Strengthening the construction of rule of law for ecological civilization is an important proposition for resource-based cities to develop a low-carbon economy and promote urban green transformation. Compared with developed coastal cities, resource-based cities still have a lot of room for improvement in terms of the rule of law, especially in the ecological construction.
Policymakers should seek to employ joined forces of legal governance. The systematic challenges of urban low-carbon transformation cannot be solved by any single law or regulation, and the establishment of laws and regulations on low-carbon emission reduction and ecological protection can provide legal basis for regulating low-carbon industry and a carbon trading market. In particular, we must accelerate drafting and enforcing the Climate Protection Law, the Green Energy Transition Law, and the Renewable Energy Law. Improving the rule and regulation system for environmental protection can provide a sound legal environment for transformation. Policymakers should also build a local regulatory system focused on technical standards and management standards. 
It is necessary to clarify the industrial standards of carbon fixation and sequestration technology and set clear guidelines for CO2 emissions. In thermal power, metallurgy, petrochemicals, transportation, construction and other high-carbon industries, government departments should set industry carbon emission standards as soon as possible, and push enterprises to make technological progress by clarifying industry standards. Meanwhile, market access principles should be strictly enforced to restrict or even prohibit market entry of enterprises that cannot meet the international PAS 2060 standard, to motivate enterprises to conserve energy and reduce emissions with high-quality market management standards.
For resource-based cities, a combination of facilitating scientific planning, optimizing industrial structure, developming low-carbon technologies, and improving laws and regulations are conducive to their low-carbon transformation. 
Li Hanxiao is from the Department of Public Administration at  East China University of Political Science and Law. 
Edited by ZHAO YUAN