| China Envisions Environmentally Friendly 'Eco-City|
By Calum MacLeod
February 15, 2007
Chongming Island, China — At the mouth of the Yangtze River, an hour by
ferry from Shanghai, a new kind of Chinese city will rise from the
mudflats and wetlands.
In three years, the island's black-faced spoonbills and other rare birds
will share this migratory stop with 25,000 humans, the initial inhabitants
of what developers call the world's first "eco-city."
If Dongtan Eco-City opens on schedule, it will become a carbon-neutral
urban showcase at about the same moment scientists foresee China
surpassing the United States as the globe's leading emitter of greenhouse
The state-run developer behind the $1.3 billion project envisions three
modern villages on Chongming Island, which is about three-quarters the
size of Manhattan. The communities will be powered by energy captured from
sun, wind, biofuels and recycled organic material. A quarter of the island
will be untouched ecological buffer. Grasses will grow on rooftops for
natural insulation. Rainwater will be purified for use. Vehicles will
operate on clean fuels.
Four other Chinese cities plan to build similar eco-zones. London Mayor
Ken Livingstone, who visited Dongtan last April, said he wants to build a
smaller version along the River Thames.
Development and damage
China has managed a century of economic development in little more than a
generation — and ravaged itself in the process. Today, it is home to 16 of
the world's 20 most polluted cities, the World Bank says. It battles the
effects of deforestation and overgrazing — soil erosion and spreading
deserts — while annually losing grasslands equivalent to an area the size
of Connecticut. The State Environmental Protection Administration says
China's major rivers are dangerously polluted, half its cities are choked
by hazardous air, and acid rain falls on a third of the country's land
Thanks to prevailing winds across the Pacific, the USA is firmly in
China's firing line. China is the major source for deposits of mercury, a
highly toxic metal, in the western half of the USA, says Jozef Pacyna, a
professor at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research. Mercury billows
into the atmosphere from coal-burning power plants, source of 70% of
China's energy, but it is only the tip of a toxic iceberg: Coal contains
more than 60 trace minerals and heavy metals, Pacyna says.
Dongtan's backers see the city as an answer to the staggering
environmental degradation in China. "It could be a model — and not just
for China," says Nicole Deng, operations director for Shanghai Industrial
Investment Co. (SIIC), the company behind the project.
The British design firm hired by SIIC to design Dongtan says the city will
be practical and commercially sensible — high-tech, economically vibrant,
a model for urban planners everywhere — not a green utopian boondoggle.
"The main grid of the city will be for walking and cycling, not cars.
There will be public transport within (550 yards) of each home," says
Peter Head, director of Arup, the British firm designing Dongtan. "With no
(gasoline) or diesel engines, Dongtan will be a quiet place. So you can
open windows and ventilate buildings."
To be carbon-neutral, Dongtan must cut carbon emissions as much as
possible and offset remaining emissions by planting trees and using
environmentally friendly technologies to generate energy.
The island is to be connected to Shanghai and the mainland by a new
15.6-mile bridge and tunnel. Road and rail links will cut commuting time
from Dongtan to 45 minutes.
Construction on the island is to start in September. Even with 20% of
projected dwellings set aside for affordable housing, the farmers living
here say it will be too pricey for them to stay. Dongtan "won't help me,"
says Peng Shouyong, who makes about $700 a year raising pigs, growing
crops and breeding crabs on the island. "But China needs it."
Doubts about project
In Shanghai, there is skepticism. "So many real estate projects advertise
themselves as 'green this' or 'green that,' " says Shen Yue, a film
China "is littered with expensive demonstration projects that have not
been replicated," says Elizabeth Economy, senior fellow at the U.S.
Council on Foreign Relations and author of The River Runs Black, a book
about China's environment. Even so, she says Dongtan is "potentially an
SIIC won't discuss some details, such as how much it will charge for homes
and apartments. It has scaled back aspects of the project. Head says
Dongtan is "the first step down a new road, not a final answer to
The project comes as the central government tries to halt the country's
environmental decline and find workable energy alternatives — without
slowing the 10% annual economic growth rate. Beijing has moved to shut
unlicensed power plants. Alternative fuels are to provide 16% of total
energy by 2020.
Pan Yue, deputy director for the State Environment Protection
Administration, told state media that environmental issues have "become a
key bottleneck" for the economy. The government's China Modernization
Report, issued last month, acknowledged that the country had made no
progress in protecting the environment over the past three years.
China's leaders "finally realize they need to use new energy. Not because
it is cheaper, but because they see the environmental problems associated
with fossil fuels and (because) they are worried about the increased
importation of oil," says Zhang Zhongxiang, an energy and environment
expert at the East-West Center in Hawaii.
Wind farms have sprouted up in Inner Mongolia and elsewhere. "If there is
any spare land in windy areas, people are looking to develop wind farms,"
says Alex Westlake, chief operating officer of Camco International, a
British firm that helps companies reduce emissions.
Yang Ailun, a climate and energy specialist at Greenpeace China, says the
country's belated environmental awakening can't prevent it from becoming
the world's top polluter — and might not be enough to keep Dontgan from
Global warming is raising ocean levels so fast, Yang says, that the
eco-city and Chongming Island could eventually "disappear because of
DONGTAN FACTS AND FIGURES
About Dongtan ("Eastern Bank"), on Chongming ("Lofty
• 25,000 residents by 2010; 80,000 by 2020; 500,000 by
• Three village-style neighborhoods: Marina, Lake and
• Only clean-fuel vehicles, such as hydrogen cars,
• No landfills; majority of waste to be reused. Organic
waste such as vegetable peels used to generate
• Sewage processed for irrigation and composting.
Sources: SIIC and Arup
China could be the world's largest emitter of greenhouse
gases by 2009, overtaking the United States, according
to the International Energy Agency.
Scientists say pollution particles in the air in the
western United States, Europe, South Korea and Japan
originated in China. Chinese factories, power plants and
vehicles are lifting average temperatures, says Zou Ji,
a climate policy expert at People's University of China
• 340 million of 1.3 billion Chinese (26%) lack access
to clean drinking water.
• 10% of China's farmland is polluted.
• About 40% of Chinese cities lack sewage treatment
• All of China's major rivers are dangerously polluted;
two-thirds of the country's rivers and lakes are
Sources: International Energy Agency; State
Environmental Protection Administration; Foreign Policy
in Focus; Reuters