Greening China's Mayors: A Q&A; with Dr. Steve Hammer of the Mayoral Training Program on Energy Smart Cities


"There are lots of questions"
To meet its ambitious goals -- a 20 percent increase in energy productivity and a ten percent decrease in emissions compared to 2005 levels by the end of 2010 -- China will need to rely on strong national policies, like the so-called "green" stimulus package. But it will also require the determination of the officials overseeing the country's ferocious, unprecedented urbanization -- China's mayors.

To arm them with the know-how they want and the connections they need, the government has turned to Dr. Steve Hammer, the director of the Urban Energy Program at Columbia and an expert1 on New York City and London's sustainability plans. Some lessons from those cities apply, he tells TreeHugger -- and like some Chinese cities, some lessons need to be built from scratch.Organized by JUCCCE, the Joint US-China Cooperation on Clean Energy, and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, this year's inaugural program on energy smart cities consisted of a week-long training session for mayors from 50 of China's largest cities. Over the next three years, 600 Mayors, Deputy Mayors, and Officials will visit Beijing's National Mayoral Training Center to learn more about clean development.

After being expanded this year, the training program brought in big minds from business, industry and government in China and the West. Alongside venture capitalists and management consultants, Chinese mayors heard from former Deputy Mayor of London Nicky Gavron and New York City's sustainability chief Dr. Rohit Aggarwala.

TreeHugger favorite Green Dragon Media made a short video about the training program:

50 Chinese mayors trained to build sustainable cities from Green Dragon Media on Vimeo.

Last month, Hammer, who is overseeing the curriculum, spoke with TreeHugger from Beijing about the daunting task of helping China's urban leaders to walk the walk, and see sustainability and economic growth not in contradiction, but as deeply linked.

TreeHugger: Tell me a little about the sustainability training for China's mayors.

Steve Hammer: Under the terms of the program with the national [mayoral] training center, there is a regular thirty day program that the center holds two times a year, spring and fall. We have a one day module which primarily involves the fundamentals of urban energy planning in a city. We also have a seven day session, which is an opportunity to go into much more depth. One interesting and rewarding fact is that the participants are saying this is too short. They really want to understand what works best in other cities. They'd like the opportunity to have longer conversations, more Q&A.;

What are the goals of the program?

I see three goals. First, convince the mayors they can take concerted action. The former London Deputy Mayor [Nicky Gavron] and Bloomberg's chief sustainability adviser [Rohit Aggarwala] both came to talk about what it has meant to have a mayor committed to sustainability. In both cities, the mayors got all of the key stakeholders in the city on board, and allowed everyone to coalesce and have a stake in the development and implementation of that plan. These groups really enjoy the back and forth with policy makers, and want the plans to succeed.

The second goal is to make them informed consumers of information. There's a lot to think about when running their cities: each mayor has a lot on his or her plate. We're trying to help explain, within water, waste, land management, here are the critical concerns, 'here are the things to watch, the things to avoid.' We're reinforcing these ideas, making sure everyone's on the same page moving forward.

The third real goal is to connect them to a set of resources. We hear things like, 'I'm really enjoying hearing from my colleague in this city to the west, or from a company that might be a potential partner.'

JUCCCE is employing a knowledge network to document the best practices in other cities internationally. The program avoids a cookie-cutter approach, however. We bring ideas from Boston and Sao Paolo to China, but try to help the mayors think critically about how this idea might have to change given the policy environment here, given the way decisions are typically made. Our case studies show how sustainability plans work in a specific city, but also how they might have to change to be successful elsewhere.

The other aspect are the international experts -- tech companies, consulting firms, academic people, NGOs -- who provide assistance.

We did some research on buildings in Shanghai. One number that I just can't forget is that in 1980 the city had 112 buildings taller than 8 stories. Now it has 13,000. You're not starting from scratch when you have that level of development in the last 30 years.

What kinds of questions are you hearing most from the mayors?

The big questions mayors have are "How do I do this" and "Who can help me?"

It's great that there are folks on the ground here and in the companies who can provide answers. For instance, there is a community energy plan developed by the city of Guelph, Ontario, by the German utility MVV and another international sustainability consultant. The same team has now sighed a contract with the city of Urumqi [in Xinjiang province]. It's the first ever contract between a city and international consultants to do some energy master planning.

What's an energy master plan?

It's a plan for 20 to 25 years generally requiring cities to adopt a long term perspective to change energy infrastructure, swap out automobiles, retrofit buildings across a city. It calls for the redevelopment of parts of the city, sets policy priorities, and sets some time frame for a program.

The challenge of a long term plan like that is that there is a strong possibility that there will be political turnover in the transition from one government to the next. Guelph has been very strategic in thinking about that. When a new mayor comes into office, it's been written in a way so that it's pretty open to changing policy instruments. So if one mayor believes really strongly in financial incentives, there can be changes in deployment by offering a subsidy to businesses or homeowners.

As someone who has extensive experience in western cities how did China's cities strike you when you first arrived? And are you finding that lessons from the West apply in China?

I first came here in 2006, and found it very hard. Specifically I'd been asked to speak on what lessons did New York's and London's energy planning hold for Shanghai. The scale of the problem, the pace of change, the pace of growth, the level of ambition -- all of these could be quite extraordinary. I remember vividly having a conversation with someone about the deployment of wind power. They said that Shanghai would have 300 megawatts of wind power by 2010. There's not that much wind power in any city, anywhere in the world.

But it wasn't until I had had a tour of all of Shanghai that I really understood how serious they are. We're talking about a lot of farm land 50 miles from the center of these cities where these systems can be deployed. But there are also a lot of common challenges in terms of trying to deploy new technologies. The market structures are different than in the West, the number of decision makers are smaller. If you can get them to agree to new policies, like a demand response program, there's an immediate impact that you can have, in ways that would take longer in western cities. But you can't come in and say, "do it exactly the same way."

Some examples: with green buildings guidelines in lower Manhattan's Battery Park City, New York brought in local expertise to get the state authority to develop some guidelines. You can do it in lower Manhattan and you can do it in any city in China. To the extent that talent is there — and it's something that China is going to have to develop over time and develop rather quickly, even if University-based talent and consulting talent is already here — the trick is corralling that expertise and putting it to the advantage of cities.

The mayors made it clear that tourism is an area of strong economic activity, an area they want to grow over time. And to do that they're interested in maintaining biodiversity, in beautifying their cities. They can't allow vistas to disappear in the haze.

How engaged with sustainability are the mayors you're meeting?

I think they are engaged. I think they realize that given trends of population growth, of their own energy demand, given trends of localized emissions coming out of growing energy demand, that they have to pay attention to [issues of sustainability]. We learned very quickly that you can't come here and try to lecture anybody on these issues, because a lot of thought has been given around the country to how to address these issues, and to balance that with the fact that they have abundant natural resources that cause environmental problems. And the same questions have been asked in the American Midwest and the South. It's not something unique to China.

When we had a detailed conversation, the mayors made it clear that tourism is an area of strong economic activity, an area they want to grow over time. And to do that they're interested in maintaining biodiversity, in beautifying their cities. They can't allow vistas to disappear in the haze. What they're trying to wrap their arms and heads around now is how you do this.

Consider this: the Danish wind industry has 66 percent of the global market. They grab that by serving domestic markets and providing technology demanded by global markets. Solar technology is being exported from China right now. They can grow jobs and thanks to the new opportunities for solar subsidies, which can cover half the price of a solar panel for domestic installations, there can be a large, large, large marketplace.

Q&A; Continues on Page 2

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