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New urbanism and China: An interview with C.S. Kiang

Professor C.S. Kiang is currently the chairman of the Sustainable Development Technology Foundation, a non-profit foundation in China searching for solutions to the dual challenge of climate change and economic crisis.

Prior to this, he served as founding Dean of the College of Environmental Sciences at Peking University. As one of the keynote speakers at the upcoming 2013 Macao International Environmental Co-operation Forum & Exhibition on March 21-23, Prof Kiang will discuss “new urbanism” in China, and touch cultural diversity, cooperation and collaboration amongst countries, and finding innovative urban solutions.

Here, he speaks to Eco-Business on the challenges facing Asian cities and what China is doing to grow sustainably.

Professor C S Kiang, chairman of the Sustainable Development Technology Foundation

Q: As an expert on environmental sustainability and development in China and worldwide, how do you think we can move forward in attaining sustainable growth?

We are confronted by different crises. One is a global economic challenge, and the other is climate change. The climate is changing and this is the reality, as we can see with typhoon Sandy in the US and flooding in Beijing and elsewhere in Asia. A third challenge is socio-inequity, where the rich becomes richer and the poor becomes poorer.

This triple crisis comes at an important time for humanity.  In order to deal with them, people must embrace sustainability in order to carry on economic growth, address inequity and to confront climate change. To do that, there needs to be a mindset change globally.

Instead of thinking of competition, we need to think about collaboration. Both are needed to sustain growth. Even in Asia, I think we need to look for a common ground, to have a mutual understanding, this is important for attaining sustainable global growth because we all live on the same planet and we need to survive together.

Q: As China undergoes a transformation into a country of cities, what do you think are the top priorities for the government in tackling this new wave of urbanism?

Urbanization is a global phenomenon. In China today, half of the country is urbanized. By 2030, this will go up to 70 per cent. This is a significant transformation for some 350 million people.

It is necessary for economic growth and for survival. Economic development in China in the last 30 years was very much dependent on cheap labour. For the next 40 years, urbanization will become more important as China moves from an economy that is one based on cheap labour to one that is knowledge-based.

China is now talking about innovation, intellectual property rights and transparency - these are very important for the economic transformation, so the government’s top priority is creating policies that will enable this.

Q:  What part can the private sector and civic society play in ensuring that this ‘new urbanism’ is sustainable?

We have to get everybody involved. The private sector needs to be involved for us to achieve a sustainable economy.  We need to have more innovation, more collaboration.

Q: In your opinion, what role can China, and to a larger extent, Asia, play in the global movement towards sustainable development?

I think the sustainability of economic development in China has improved in the last 30 to 40 years. Because of its large population, China needs to pick out certain models that have proven successful, so it can replicate it across the country. The Chinese government has plans that will provide significant assistance to local districts as part of a stimulus package to accomplish “green building and sustainable communities” growth. “Collaboration” and “system integration” will be the key words driving urbanism - these factors affect water and air quality, which are the foundation of the environment and the essential factors that keep any sustainable community healthy and liveable.

Q: Can we have a sneak preview of your presentation at the upcoming 2013 MIECF? What can we look forward to?

I will discuss how we can achieve sustainable growth in Macao, and speak about new urbanism and the sustainable community. My main concern is that as China grows, it must grow sustainably, for example, new buildings must be green. Not only in China, but in any developing country, building and construction is a key area that determines our energy consumption and energy efficiency. I will also address the theme of cultural diversity. Global action must be taken in unity, and the East and West should unite in these efforts.

To hear more from Prof Kiang, register for the upcoming 2013 Macao International Environmental Co-operation Forum & Exhibition on March 21-23 here.

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