On 3 and 4 December delegations of experts and practitioners from China and Europe representing various prestigious organizations met in Geneva to discuss solutions to water and climate change challenges and how this will impact the rapid urbanization in these regions.
The two-day event brought together a Chinese delegation composed of experts and practitioners from academia and NGOs such as the Chengdu Urban Rivers Association, Greenovation Hub and Shenzhen Mangrove Wetlands Conservation Foundation, as well as representatives from the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), the Club of Rome, the World Economic Forum (WEF), ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability), the University of Geneva, France Nature Environment and the World Council of Churches during a workshop organized by Green Cross International as part of the China-Europe Forum. The objective of the conference was to discuss similarities and differences between China and Europe on how to address water related challenges and find measures to limit the impact on climate change.
While three-quarters of Europeans already live in urban areas, the proportion in China is only a bit more than half at this time but rising rapidly. During the next three decades, over 260 million Chinese are expected to migrate to urban areas with major consequences in terms of water availability and management, and necessary urban infrastructure. In a country where there is no potable tap water, it is expected that 3,000 water treatment plants will be built in the coming years, projects worth over $300 billion.
As part of this two-day event, participants visited the Geneva water filtration facilities that provide cost effective natural filtration methods to help replenish the underground waters and supply the needs of the Geneva basin that also covers neighboring France – a good example of trans-boundary cooperation over shared-water resources. Another interesting feature is the use of lake waters to heat and cool many buildings, including those of international organizations like the United Nations, the Red Cross and the World Trade Organization, resulting in lower costs and emissions of greenhouse gases.
With some 100 million Chinese expected to urbanize by 2020, in a country where 20% of the energy is already used by the built-environment, there is a pressing need for energy efficient buildings, and increasingly ambitious norms and standards are being implemented for new housing and offices. Major efforts will be needed to slow and reverse the rapidly growing greenhouse gas emissions that are expected to peak by 2030 and only decrease thereafter. China is already causing 29% of global emissions compared to 11% in Europe. The European Commission has announced its ambitious target of 40% reductions by 2030.
In addition to measures to reduce carbon emissions and increase water security, the need for better disaster risk management were discussed in order to respond to the unavoidable climate change effects that are already impacting disproportionally the most vulnerable populations in Europe, China and elsewhere. Integrated solutions that overcome the traditional silo approach to urban management were explored in order to create the positive change needed to unlock the numerous co-benefits of climate action including improved urban resiliencies, air quality and public health, green urban economy and livelihoods.