Commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in association with Xinhua Oriental Outlook Weekly and drafted by an expert team at Tongji University, the report is the first of its kind in China since the recent adoption of 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 193 member states of the United Nations (UN) in September 2015. The report offers the opportunity to specifically address Sustainable Development Goal 11, which highlights the importance of making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
"As the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pointed out, our struggle for global sustainability will be won or lost in our cities," said Alain Noudehou, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in China during the Forum. "Urbanisation is transforming the social and economic patterns of the world. The report is a timely effort as Chinese cities are aligning their local five year plans with the national five year plan, and in line with the global Sustainable Development Goals and plans should take a human-centred approach that fosters human development within the ecological limits, "he added.
The research establishes models and methods for the evaluation of urban sustainable development based on The China Sustainable Cities Index, a quantitative and objective evaluation system to assist cities in assessing their sustainability performance, based on UNDP's Human Development Index (HDI), which has been applied to countries worldwide since 1990. Here it has been deployed at city level alongside the Urban Ecological Input Index (UEII).
Professor Zhu Dajian, Director of the Sustainable Development and New-Type Urbanization Think Tank and the first author of the report, says that "the report gives overall recommendations for development paths for cities depending on their current development stage, whether they need to improve human development, decrease ecological input, or both."
Yu Shaoliang, Vice President of Xinhua News Agency noted the complexity of sustainable urbanisation of Chinese cities stating, "to promote the new-type urbanisation in China, new criteria are needed for evaluation and pursuit of urban functions. Therefore, concepts such as 'sustainability' and 'livability' should be incorporated in urban planning and construction."
According to the report, The China Sustainable Cities Index does not emphasise the rank of cities relative to one another, where differences are often quite minor, but instead recognises an acceptable range for both human and environmental development as the ultimate goal for a sustainable city. This year's report introduces governance as a key parameter in addition to the existing pillars of sustainable development; economy, society and environment. In China, the term 'sustainable' is often applied to cities with rapid growth and high levels of human development but the report's findings demonstrate that is this not sufficient. Environmental impacts must also be taken into account as a deteriorated environment will eventually undermine human development, say the authors of the report.
Of the 35 cities evaluated in the report, Wuhan, Changsha and five other cities have achieved high human development while also minimising damage to the environment. Although many cities, particularly outside of the more developed eastern parts of the country, will require more support in their transition to sustainability, overall the trends are positive.
The forum also recognised the cities of Wuhan and Changsha as 2015 China Sustainable Cities and the solid waste management initiative in Guangzhou, vocational training in Foshan and ecotourism in Wulong, Chongqing as 2015 Good Practices of China Urban Sustainability.