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International Green Model City Initiative: Catalyze Change, Jointly Build Green and Happy Cities
Source: GFHS | Author: Lu Haifeng | Publish time: 2020-08-12 | 284 Views | Share:

Abstract: The speaker briefed the basics of the IGMC Initiative and Standards, told what IGMC has done over the past year, shared the background, policy and some cases as well as his advice on the trends of urban planning and development. Today, the three major trends in urban development are "carbon-based greening", "silicon-based Intellectualization" and "people-based inclusiveness", which will fully combine to reshape our cities and communities. The vision of the IGMC is to build cities and human settlements that are characterized by “safety, sustainability, equality, identity, prosperity and happiness”. Taking happiness as the highest value means to follow and lead these trends of urban development. Therefore, to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the New Urban Agenda and the Paris Agreement at the local level through IGMC Initiative is an important way to achieve the goal of sustainable development for all mankind.

: International Green Model City, standards, policy, cases, trends, way

On this vigorous spring day, we meet here in Shenzhen, the center of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, for the International Green Model City Forum of the 15th IGEBC, which is also an annual gathering of the IGMC family and old friends. Hereby, on behalf of the Global Forum on Human Settlements, the Sustainable City Committee of China Research Society of Urban Development and other related organizations, I would like to extend a warmest welcome to all of you and express my sincere gratitude to the IGEBC organizers for their support.

 Opening of the 15th IGEBC Photo credit by @ GFHS

First of all, I want to brief you on the basics of the IGMC Initiative and Standards.

The International Green Model City (IGMC) Initiative was launched by Global Forum on Human Settlements (GFHS) at the headquarters of the United Nations in April 2011. The Initiative never stops improving itself to keep up with the times. As a UN-supported and innovative green low-carbon action plan for urban development, the IGMC initiative motivates forward-looking governments, businesses and the civil society to work together in order to build sustainable cities and human settlements for all, to facilitate transformation of Chinese cities from quantity-driven growth to quality-oriented sustainable development and to promote the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Climate Agreement and the New Urban Agenda at regional and local level.

On 8th April 2011, IGMC initiative was officially launched by GFHS at the UN headquarters in New York  
Photo credit by @ GFHS

The IGMC Standards 3.0, an advanced tool to assess and guide sustainable urban development, is rooted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda, and accords with the spirit of China’s national new urbanization planning and the Central Urban Work Conference. Its vision is based on six basic principles: Safety, Sustainability, Equity, Identity, Prosperity and Happiness, and is carried out through six dimensions of spatial planning and development, basic services, environment, economy, society and culture. Furthermore, the 18 categories are further elaborated in terms of definitions and aims, key strategies and methodologies, key indicators, scoring systems and best practices. It is written in both English and Chinese.

The IGMC Standards 3.0 is a feasible document created by well-known experts from home and abroad on the basis of the rules and experience drawn from many successful cases of urban planning and development across the world, absorbing the theoretical and practical essence of international eco-cities, Smart Growth and New Urbanism, which offers universal guidance for reference. It was released at Habitat III which was held in Quito, Ecuador in October 2016.

During the Habitat III in October 2016, the IGMC Standards 3.0 was released in Quito, Ecuador,
attended by
 UN senior officials, mayors and well-known experts.   Photo credit by @ GFHS

Based on the IGMC Standards 3.0, we have developed the IGMC global online assessment and certification system (Chinese and English versions): The online system makes assessment and certification easier and more accessible to everyone.

So far, more than 20 cities, zones and enterprises across the globe have joined the IGMC Initiative, such as Vancouver (Canada), Cape Town (South Africa), Guiyang (China), Liuyang National Economic & Technological Development Zone, Xi’an Economic & Technological Development Zone, Country Garden, Mission Hills and LAY-OUT Planning. Some of them have also been on the list of IGMC pilot projects.

Next, I am going to tell you what IGMC has done over the past year.

In terms of basic construction, kicking off in 2017, the IGMC global online assessment and certification system and the introductory animation film of IGMC were completed and released last year. The animation film premiered at the UN ESCAP in Bangkok on World Cities Day last year, the one you watched just now. Inspired by IGMC Standards 3.0, the film was produced based on the life of the SaSa family of three who lives in a Southern Chinese city. It displays what a future greener city should look like in terms of ecological environment, transport and mobility, CBD, neighborhood and smartness. The film therefore envisions a beautiful city with clean air, a well-connected city with unimpeded traffic flow, a livable city with convenient facilities, and a smart city filled with happiness. The online assessment and certification system makes it more convenient to assess the sustainability performance of cities and communities.

With regard to education, we organized the IGMC training and held the IGMC sub-forum during the 2018 Annual Session of GFHS at the UN Conference Center in Bangkok. In addition, on November 18th last year, I delivered a speech entitled “The IGMC Initiative: Promote the High Quality and Sustainable Development of Chinese Cities” at the China Urban Innovation and Development Forum in Beijing.

For the sake of publicity, last year we signed an IGMC strategic cooperation agreement with the Evergrande Group. On the basis of the IGMC philosophy, LAY-OUT won the project bidding of the Xi’an Economic & Technological Development Zone to apply the IGMC Standards to the regulation and planning of the Auto Town in the Zone. Later, Mr. Jiang, Deputy General Manager of LAY-OUT, will tell us about it. Last month, Mayor of Quezon, the Philippines signed a letter of commitment to be the 13th city (zone) to join the IGMC Initiative. Today, a few more influential planning and design enterprises in China will join us too. This year, we will see more cities and enterprises become a member of the IGMC family.

As regards the development of pilots, we had a lot of discussion with the Administration Committee of the Liuyang National Economic & Technological Development Zone about the “Assessment Report on the Pilots’ Status” and the composition of the “Sustainable Action Planning of Pilots”. Finally, we reached an agreement on the principles at the joint meeting held in Changsha in May last year, and decided to implement them as soon as possible. The work of the Liuyang National Economic & Technical Development Zone has been covered in the issue No. 31 of World Best Practices, and in The Almanac of China’s Cities to be published this month.

As for promotion and application, the new edition of The Almanac of China’s Cities will publish the full text of the IGMC Standards 3.0, including the 112 indicators and the rating system. It will be the first time for the Standards to appear in a state-level authoritative publication. Besides, in 2019 the IGMC Standards 3.0 will begin to be used to assess cities and communities for the Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements Award, which will expand the applicability of the Standards. Deputy Secretary-General of GFHS He Lian will talk about it later.

Now, I would like to share with you the background, policy and some cases as well as my advice on the trends of urban planning and development for your reference, which are also a lead-in for the following discussion.

As is known to us all, we are confronted with serious challenges, such as climate change, environmental deterioration and wealth polarization. Our citizens are plagued by loads of garbage, heavy smog, ubiquitous sewage, traffic congestion and soaring housing price. But most people are indifferent or even turn a blind eye to the fact that many species are disappearing, glaciers are melting, polar bears are losing their habitat and extreme weather is multiplying globally. I still remember that the horrifying super typhoon Mangkhut slammed into Shenzhen last year, destroying nearly 20,000 trees and forcing people to confine themselves indoors, who were helpless in front of the severe rainstorm. Climate change is happening right before our eyes at the very moment. The Paris Agreement suggests to limit warming to 1.5 degrees because 2 degrees is still too high. The UN reported that if warming rose from 1.5 degrees to 2 degrees, the situation would be totally different because 99% of the coral reefs in the world would degrade while limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees could avoid huge losses and risks caused by climate change. What’s worse, eight million tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean each year and has reached the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot on Earth. The tiny plastic particles were sucked up by marine creatures and were also found in human intestines, stomach and excreta. Just like PM 2.5, they can be absorbed into our blood and even cells, which is incurable at present.

Booth of "Beat Plastic Pollution" at the GFHS 2018, UNCC, Bangkok, Thailand 
Photo credit by @ GFHS

During the UN Environment Assembly last month, the UN Environment released the Global Environment Outlook-6, warning that the earth had been severely damaged and the ecological system and human sustainable development would be increasingly threatened if no emergency and stronger action was taken. The antibiotic resistance of pollutants in fresh water systems might be the main cause of human deaths by 2050. Endocrine disruptors will affect the fertility of men and women and also children’s neurodevelopment. Although the world has the science, technology and funding to move towards a more sustainable path, the public, businesses, and political leaders have not invested enough attention or support in these areas, and they are still sticking to some outdated patterns of production and development.

In the face of global crisis and challenges, international and domestic changes have been taking place. 2015 was a turning point because the UN member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement and the New Urban Agenda, and are determined to implement them on a global scale. The EU put forward the target in November last year to achieve “carbon neutrality” by 2050, while creating prosperity and improving the quality of life.

Cities or city clusters are the main place for human settlements and production, and also the main battlefield to fight against the above-mentioned chronic problems. Today, the three major trends in urban development are ""carbon-basedgreening","silicon-based Intellectualization" and "people-based inclusiveness",which will fully combine to reshape our cities and communities. The vision of the IGMC is to build cities and human settlements that are characterized by “safety, sustainability, equality, identity, prosperity and happiness”. Taking happiness as the highest value means to follow and lead these trends of urban development. Therefore, to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the New Urban Agenda and the Paris Agreement at the local level through IGMC Initiative is an important way to achieve the goal of sustainable development for all mankind, and also an indispensable part of the Chinese dream to realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. That is the mission and value of the IGMC Initiative and Standards.

In November 2017, the mayors of 25 cities around the world promised in Bonn to achieve net zero carbon by 2050 in order to combat climate change, including Ankara and Cape Town in Africa; Barcelona, Copenhagen, Paris and London in Europe; New York, Portland, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Quito in America and Melbourne in Australia. They cover a population of 150 million. Besides, Vancouver and Cape Town have joined the IGMC Initiative. We also look forward to having Chinese cities stand up and promise to achieve net zero carbon, and the IGMC can give them support. Every year, a number of pioneering cities and enterprises of sustainable development attend the annual forum of GFHS and the best ones of them will receive the “Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements Award”. Their successful experience has inspired the industry to take action.

In China, since the 18th National People's Congress of the CPC, ecological civilization construction has become one of the major national policies. The 19th National People's Congress of the CPC went further to make binding policies for achieving green, all-round and coordinated development in production, life, environmental protection and urban-rural planning. So we have seen a series of major reforms and new trends. For example, multiple regulations for spacial planning of land have been integrated as one; mountains, waters, forests, fields, grasslands and seas are coordinated to form a systematic ecosystem; tough measures have been taken to deal with water, land, air pollution as well as carbon emission; green economy is growing fast and the eco-friendly life style is trendy. All these are in accord with the international and domestic trends and situations, and in line with people’s interests as well as future development. In December last year, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development published a new version of the Green Building Evaluation Standards. The biggest change is that it requires green building evaluation to be carried out only after the construction project is completed, and green building certification cannot be issued just on the basis of design drawings anymore. The theme of the IGEBC this year -- “Upgrade Green Building and Accelerate Ecological Development”-- also revealed the trend to be “green and greener”. Next, I will analyze three important cases: Shenzhen, the Xiong’an New Area and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area, and then the deputy chief architect Ms. Zeng Yu will share with you the practical exploration of new green concepts for the Beijing Sub-center. In these cases, the planning outlines of the state-level super strategies all regard ecological civilization, green development, intelligence and high efficiency as the principal direction with rigid instructions. Many of their indicators and strategies are consistent with those of the IGMC.

In February last year, the State Council approved Shenzhen to establish the National Innovation Demonstration Zone for Sustainable Development Agenda to strive for innovation-driven sustainable development, forming an effective model that could be applied, duplicated and promoted in megacities. Together with two different types of cities, Taiyuan and Guilin, Shenzhen will provide practical experience for China to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Also, Shenzhen will continue to be a pioneer in sustainable development to enhance its environmental quality, inclusiveness, competitiveness and happiness index. Shenzhen’s National Innovation Demonstration Zone for Sustainable Development Agenda totally accords with the IGMC’s aims and strategies to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the local level, and they are complementary to each other. But I will not elaborate on it for the sake of time.

The Xiong’an New Area is the propeller for Beijing. The goal of its planning is to “build a high-level modern socialist city with strong competitiveness and influence, which is green, low-carbon, information-intelligent and livable and where man and nature coexist harmoniously”. Obviously, green and low carbon comes first, followed by information-intelligence. Of its 38 indicators, 25 can find their counterparts with similar value in the IGMC indicator system. The planning for Xiong’an proposes a number of requirements: “to adhere to the rigid constraints of resource and environmental carrying capacity as well as water conservation” , which is about ecological footprints; “to pay attention to the spatial design of neighborhoods to create a community that is friendly to all ages with well-proportioned space and pleasant environment”, which represents the strategies of small communities and social inclusiveness; “to ensure 100% clean energy for end-use energy consumption”, which means the net zero carbon strategy; “to build a three-tier neighborhood within 5, 10 and 15 minutes of walk”, which embodies the concept of mixed-use and convenient communities; “to scientifically design the road network’s density in the starting area at 10-15 km/km² with reasonable road width”, which is the road narrowing strategy; “to build a slow traffic system for cyclists and pedestrians and separate them from vehicles”, which is called the slow traffic strategy; “to increase the percentage of green transportation in the starting area to 90%, which can keep a majority of private cars away from the urban commute; “to maintain the control rate of the total annual rainfall runoff in the construction area up to 85%”, which demonstrates the strategies of green infrastructure and sponge cities; “to realize zero landfill of primary garbage”, which is called the zero garbage strategy. These concepts and strategies are also strongly advocated by the IGMC because they are people-oriented instead of capital-based.

Schematic diagram of urban and rural spatial layout structure of Xiong'an New Area, Hebei Province 
 Photo credit by @ Xiong’an New Area official website

The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area Development Plan aims at “building a first-class bay area and a world-class city cluster with dynamism and international competitiveness to create a model of high-quality development.” The fundamental principle of the Plan calls for “carrying out a most stringent system to protect the ecological environment, to preserve farmland and to save land resources, promoting a green and low-carbon mode of production, living as well as urban construction and operation, and creating an excellent ecological environment for residents, so as to facilitate the sustainable development of the Greater Bay Area. That shows the great determination of the Plan. The strategic positioning of the Greater Bay Area is to build “a quality circle for life, business and tourism, with quality life as its strategic goal. The development goal of the Area is to “basically establish a green and low-carbon mode of production, living as well as urban construction and operation so that residents can live a more convenient and happier life”, emphasizing that “urban construction and operation should be green, intelligent, energy-efficient and low-carbon. There are few other places in China to view happiness as one of their development goals. The Plan is also ambitious to “build a smart city cluster” and “explore a development mode for future cities”. The seventh chapter of the Plan is very informative about ecological civilization construction, involving the prevention and treatment of water, air and land pollution, the coordination of land and ocean as well as food and human settlement safety. To tackle climate change, we should “implement the demonstration project of near-zero carbon emission zones, struggle to achieve the carbon emission peak and establish a demonstration zone of green development”. The concept of near-zero emissions now has been introduced though it was unbelievable a few years ago. In terms of resource recycling, extended producer responsibility is applied. Manufacturers should take responsibility for the whole life cycle of their products, so any costs of environmental resources will be added to the product costs, which will be paid by producers and consumers. These are all the directions for building a quality, green and happy bay area.

View of Shenzhen Bay, 2020  Photography by Lu Haifeng

Therefore, we are not supposed to follow the old path any more. We can’t just care about economic indicators and neglect the quality of life and happiness; we can’t waste land by randomly dividing it into huge areas and undermine the importance of green and low-carbon development; we can’t allow crude planning design, inappropriate execution, the inefficient use of resources and the sacrifice of environment. Otherwise, any project will be outdated even in the planning stage and be abandoned after completion. To be green and low-carbon requires painstaking efforts. The quality of life must be the major goal of urban development and should be taken into consideration together with production and ecology, and also digital intelligent technology can be fully applied to urban and resource management, just like what the theme of World Cities Day says, “Better City, Better Life”. The first key word of Goal 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals is “inclusiveness”: to ensure suitable, safe and affordable housing and basic services for all. To achieve that, the government will play a very critical role with planning and design taking the lead. According to Joan Clos, Ex-Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, cities need political institutions which can play a leading role in urban planning and design so that investment, job opportunities and the improvement of the quality of basic citizen services will come as a result. Now cities in China are fiercely competing for talents, but if they fail to constantly offer a high-quality happy life, people will leave soon or later.

The poem Green Cities Resemble Trees was displayed through a Chinese calligraphy work
at the GFHS 2018, UNCC, Bangkok, Thailand
  Photo credit by @ GFHS

Before my conclusion,I think of a metaphor: the future green cities resemble trees,which has the following five advantages to learn from:

1. Best technology with photosynthetic energy: By absorbing solar energy through photosynthesis, it provides the high-quality renewable energy in a simple, efficient and continuous way;

2. Environmentally-friendly by sequestrating carbon and releasing oxygen: It offers refreshable breathing for life, purifies air quality, and helps to control atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration;

3. Circulating resources without making any waste: It is good at synthesizing organic matter, recycling water and nutrient, keeping ecological balance, and making life go onward in an endless succession;

4. Even interconnection in the leaf vein network: Reaching a single target through multiple paths, it provides a flexible urban traffic network mode;

5. Inclusive and equitable: Every leaf has equal opportunities to access resources,it can matter-of-factly realize the goal of leaving no one behind.

Based on this, I composed a poem called "Green Cities Resemble Trees", which I would like to share with you:

Green Cities Resemble Trees

Gracefully erect, the trees are towering,

Like Tao that closely follows nature.

Uninterruptedly from them energy is emanating,

For daylight provides the source of power.

Blessedly rained and dewed, they thus tend to cultivate,

In a robust cycle they turn over and over again.

They oblige loads of carbon to sequestrate,

While nursing numerous breathing lungs with fresh oxygen.

The leaf vein network is balanceable level,

Reaching each cell through every different way.

Happily it conveys synergy from petal to petal,

And ushers rustling wind to merrily stay.

As long as Green Cities resemble trees,

The world will teem with happiness forever.

Whenever you learn something, what matters is to put it in practice, and now it is high time to strive for green development. The construction of green, low-carbon and happy cities requires systematic and scientific assessment and diagnosis, comprehensive strategies, advice given by a top consulting team, experience shared by others in the industry as well as the support of a professional platform and supply chain. Medium and small cities and zones are even in greater need of these. The IGMC Initiative and Standards are consistent with the principles and policies of China’s ecological civilization construction and green development, the spirit of the Central Urban Work Conference and the strategic planning of several super cities or city clusters of national importance, which also provide comprehensive strategies, assessment standards and technical support for the transformation and high-quality sustainable development of cities in China. Cities, zones and enterprises are welcome to join the IGMC family to build green and happy cities together and to fulfill the responsibilities of our generation.

Contributed by Lu Haifeng, Secretary General, Global Forum on Human Settlements (GFHS) (in 2019)