Photos of the Forbidden City that are taken at the same location to record the air quality change in six successive days from Nov. 2 to Nov. 7, 2013. (People’s Daily Online/ Weng Qiyu)
"To expand forest, lake and wetlands in urban areas, to make mountains and rivers visible in the cities, and to let people remember the old times." The statement summarized a high-level conference, which spoke out about people's expectations, and where experts forecast that China's urbanization may help to bring relief to smog-bound cities.
The leadership conference concluded on Dec. 16 by producing a blueprint for urbanization and highlighting that China’s future development will be based on promoting social justice and common prosperity. The conference stated that urbanization will bring benefits to economic development and to the ecological environment at home and further afield.
According to the China Meteorological Bureau, figures covering 25 provinces and more than 100 cities show that this year China has had the most smog days in the last 52 years, and 13 regions hit record high levels of air pollution. Lingering smog has caused increasing public concern.
17 provinces and regions suffered severe smog in 2013, representing 25% of national territory and affecting about 600 million people.
Experts point out that adverse weather conditions, automobile exhausts and high consumption of energy from industry are the main contributors to air pollution. Moreover, overcrowded population centers and dust from construction projects accelerate the production of smog. They stress that China must take effective measures to tackle smog immediately.
"The Conference proposed the idea of 'letting people see more green'. With space for construction limited, villa-style, large-scale buildings will no longer be a common feature in residential construction, so more space will be left for green," said Yi Peng, a researcher from the China Center for Urban Development under the National Development and Reform Commission.
The conference urged the country to make priorities of environmental security, expansion of forests, lakes and wetlands, and enhancement of water conservation.
Yi said that urbanization should bring nature back to the cities, and let people live in a more natural environment. Urbanization should curb its extremes, accommodate nature, and leave more space available for greening.
The conference statement also proposed increasing energy efficiency, and cutting energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, which Yi described as clear signs of the importance of urbanization development, and measures which will help to relieve air pollution.
According to Yi, the purpose of urbanization is to concentrate populations in urban areas in order to limit overall energy consumption and emissions.
68.4% of energy consumption came from coal in 2011.
"The truth is that coal is China's primary energy source. We need to be thinking about using natural gas, solar energy, wind power and other renewable energy substitutes for coal usage," said Bai Yunfeng, deputy chief of the National Environmental Protection and Coal-burning Control and Technology Center.
"Smog mainly affects developed regions which are at the stage of post-industrialization. In the past many cities adopted industry-led models in the course of urbanization, leading to severe air pollution," said Wu Bihu, director of the Center for Recreation and Tourism Research at Peking University. "Scientific and low-carbon usage of resources should be encouraged, and service industries will become an important feature of the new model of urbanization."
The Palace Museum under the blue sky. (People's Daily Online/Wang Chu)