The Greenest Cities in China

China has been serious about fighting pollution for many years and its cities have made great strides in becoming more sustainable. The Urban China Initiative publishes a report every two years to track the greenest cities.

The Urban Sustainability Index (USI) is jointly developed by the Urban China Initiative and the McKinsey Global Institute. The report explores a series of indicators that provide a comprehensive assessment of a city’s sustainability in four categories: economy, society, resources and environment. 

China is going green and its cities are leading the way and this is changing the lives for hundreds of millions of people.

Key findings of the most recent Urban Sustainability Index Report

1. Most Chinese cities have seen a gradual improvement in sustainability from 2011 to 2014, mainly driven by social and economic improvement. Improvement in healthcare coverage rate under society index, as well as significant increase in government capacity investment under economy index has dramatically improved the social and economic indicators.

2. According to the data of 2014, the top scorers in sustainability were Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Zhoushan, Zhuhai, Ningbo, Guangzhou, Weihai, Huzhou, Zhongshan and Shaoxing. Compared to 2011, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Zhuhai and Guangzhou were still among the Top 10 performers.

3. Taizhou, the fastest-growing city among large-sized city economies, demonstrated a different development model from others. Rather than relying purely on economic growth, the city focused on progress made on social welfare. For many cities with relatively backward social development, improving public service and providing good living conditions for citizens, might be the most effective way of enhancing city attractiveness and competitiveness, and improving its sustainability level. 

4. In general, eastern regions showed an average of higher sustainability level than any other regions in China. The level of sustainability is gradually weakening from eastern coastal areas to inland areas. Cities with the strongest level of sustainability are mostly concentrated in economically-advanced eastern China. The development level of different city clusters was quite varied. Pearl River Delta and Yangtze River Delta were the indisputable leaders in 2014 sustainability ranking.

5. Urban sustainability level is positively related to economic scale, urban population scale, and built area in the city. In general, cities with higher GDP, more population and more land usage show better performance in sustainability. However, turning points occur on the correlation curve of sustainability level and the above indicators. Support on scarce mobile resources has a positive impact on improving urban sustainability level, but decision-making turning points also exist. Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Tianjin have all crossed multiple decision-making turning points of sustainable development making them the greenest cities in China.