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Cities get smart with eco-indicators


Cities around the world are increasingly using an expanding body of eco-city indicators and frameworks as a key sustainable development tool. There is also a growing trend of cooperation between countries and cities to apply eco-city indicators flexibly in different contexts.

In China, for example, international cooperation has underpinned the Low Carbon City in China (LCCC) initiative. The LCCC programme was established in 2010 by the Chinese and Swiss governments. Cities involved in the programme apply a Low Carbon Index System, which is based on the Swiss Energiestadt methodology and the management tool that is used to evaluate municipal energy and climate protection projects that bid for European Energy Awards, which are backed by the European Union.

The index includes 16 primary and 53 secondary indicators that help municipalities measure their progress on issues such as urban planning (for example planning of energy networks and construction permits), standards for communal buildings, utilities (for example efficiency of energy, water and waste networks), and mobility, such as public transport and cycle routes.

The LCCC programme is being put in place in the cities of Yinchuan, Meishan, Dongcheng (the central district of Beijing), Kunming, Baoding, Yangling and Lushun - urban areas in which 30 million people live.

Meanwhile, in eastern China, the Chinese and German governments are developing the Sino-German Qingdao Eco-park, in which 60,000 people will live. The idea is to create an area that will be economically dynamic, with a focus on high-tech manufacturing, but which will also offer residential districts that provide “a good quality of life for those relocating to Qingdao with its wonderful beaches,” according to the project website. The park is being established in line with 40 key performance indicators, which address socio-cultural as well as environmental issues.

Guidance on indicators

A useful summary of the development of eco-city indicators, and case studies of some projects including the Chinese examples, are contained in a report published in mid-March by the International Eco-cities Initiative. The so-called Bellagio Report (named for a conference in the Italian town of Bellagio) notes that eco-city initiatives are multiplying globally and that “there have been increasing calls for indicators, standards and frameworks to guide urban sustainability policy, planning and implementation”.

The Bellagio Report outlines broad principles for individual initiatives and international frameworks. It notes for example that indicators should be as specific as possible, should be tailored to suit local situations, should involve as many interest groups as possible to ensure wide acceptance, and should “address the ‘triple bottom line’ of sustainability: balancing environmental, economic and social aspects”.

According to the report, the case studies offer useful lessons for other eco-city scheme using indicators. For the LCCC programme, for example, the report notes that “alignment with national governmental schemes is understood to be essential to gain wider resonance. At the same time, commitment from municipal leaders is equally seen as a necessary condition for success: simply imposing national frameworks on localities does not guarantee their acceptance in the long run”.