WRI established its China office in 2007. We work with leaders in business, government, and civil society to address climate change, transport, and water risk issues. Learn more about our work in China. Visit the WRI China website.
WRI has worked to reframe sludge and wastewater as inputs rather than outputs, reducing water stress and greenhouse gas emissions while creating cleaner water and renewable energy. Analyses of this potential informed a wastewater reuse policy in Gujarat, India, and a push in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan to recover energy and resources from sludge and wastewater.
Rapid urbanization in China and India stresses energy grids and water resources in regions that are already water-stressed. China’s water resources per capita, for example, are only 35 percent of the global average, and India’s are just 19 percent. At the same time, rapidly growing economies in China and India are accelerating demand for energy.
Waste and wastewater are usually regarded only as wastes and pollutants. Conventional organic waste and sewage treatment methods for removing pollutants are energy-intensive and release potent greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide.
Since 2013, WRI China has worked in six cities to introduce circular economy approaches to capture previously wasted resources. WRI’s work with large Chinese cities shows that such approaches can help cities achieve multiple Sustainable Development Goals, including cleaner water, less waste, renewable energy production and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. WRI developed an analysis to determine the national, city and project-level potential to avoid greenhouse gas emissions and capture energy. WRI worked with local and national stakeholders to advance circular economy approaches for waste and wastewater once their potential was realized.
WRI India supported the government of the water-poor state of Gujarat in developing its Waste Water Recycle and Reuse Policy, providing research support and technology evaluation for wastewater and sharing WRI’s international experience.
For the first time, China’s 13th Five-Year Plan requires the recovery of energy and resources from sludge and wastewater in cities across China to the extent possible. Three new sludge-to-energy projects in Beijing were initiated in the last year, serving 4.5 million people and producing 136 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy per year, equivalent to avoiding the use of 41,000 metric tonnes (more than 45,000 U.S. tons) of standard coal. By 2020, these approaches could cut China’s methane emissions – currently the world’s largest – by up to 4 percent. Besides meeting the energy demand of the projects’ operation, the captured methane could be used to replace 1.9 billion liters (500 million gallons) of gasoline, equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 1.3 million cars.
Gujarat became the first Indian state to adopt a wastewater reuse policy, mandating that urban local bodies recover 20 percent of wastewater. The states of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have since adopted similar policies.
Working with the Ministry of Transport and local agencies, WRI China helped promote bus and metro use, walking and biking in Chinese cities and contributed to the 13th Five-Year National Transit Metropolis Work Plan. Based on progress in 37 pilot cities, the Ministry expanded its National Transit Metropolis Program to 87 cities, which could benefit 490 million people.
As Chinese cities race to manage rapid urbanization, they must contend with sprawl, traffic congestion, air pollution and growing greenhouse gas emissions not only from coal-fired power generation but also from a growing number of passenger cars, among other sources. This costs time – commuters in 15 large Chinese cities spend about 50 percent more time getting to work than their European counterparts – and money: health problems and lost productivity due to air pollution may be valued as high as 6.5 percent of GDP. More sustainable urban growth will require a focus on people and sustainable transit rather than cars.
Working with the Ministry of Transport’s National Transit Metropolis Program, which promotes transit-oriented city development, WRI China contributed to the 13th Five-Year National Transit Metropolis Work Plan. WRI also worked with the China Academy of Transport Science to encourage bus and metro use, walking and biking. Collaborating with local partners, WRI China worked to improve transit services and the walking environment in key pilot cities. In Suzhou, WRI used transit smartcards and bus GPS data to analyze travel patterns and inform the reorganization and integration of bus routes with the subway network. In Kunming, WRI contributed to the Kunming Street Design Manual, which sets the technical standard for renovating city streets. In Zhuzhou, WRI helped introduce the city’s first bus rapid transit system, pioneering a public-private partnership – among the first of its kind in China – and helped optimize the design of the world’s first Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit system, a computer-guided rail-less vehicle that operates in segregated bus lanes.
Based on the strength of progress in 37 pilot cities, China’s Ministry of Transport expanded the National Transit Metropolis Program in 2017 to 87 cities, potentially benefitting some 490 million citizens through improved transit, increased traffic safety and reduced congestion, commuting time and air pollution. The program aims to eventually reach all 600 of China’s cities.
As the recent white paper on China’s transport for the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016–2020) states, China must set higher standards for the transport development to “realize the Chinese Dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” (State Council Information Office 2016). In this...
Wee Kean Fong, senior associate with WRI Cities' Greenhouse Gas Protocol, takes stock of the progress China has made towards climate action—clamping down on coal, boosting green cities and rethinking development.