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Energy Futures and Urban Air Pollution: Challenges for China and the United States
been translated into cost-benefit analyses, which now influence the decisions made on balancing the interplay between energy consumption and air quality. On the whole, the U.S. experience provides some rich lessons which China, with the benefit of this hindsight, may incorporate into its quest for environmentally sustainable development.
China presents a particularly interesting case, because, in addition to its well-known economic growth and industrial transition, it is also undergoing a demographic transition of rapid urbanization, which will play a central role in its ability to manage its energy use and air quality. China’s urban population in 1980 was less than 20 percent of its total population; today approximately 40 percent of residents live in cities (compared to over 80 percent in the United States), and this share will increase to 60 percent of the population by 2030 (UN, 2005). China is home to over 100 cities with 1 million or more residents in each city—fewer than half of which achieve China’s own minimum standards for air quality (SEPA, 2007). Further complicating this trend is the fact that urbanization in other countries has brought with it increased rates of energy consumption and vehicle use.
Although the United States continues to face air quality challenges, the lessons it has learned (successes and failures) in managing air quality should be relevant to the Chinese experience. Additionally, there are lessons to be learned from developments within China, which might be instructive to any number of developing cities facing similar challenges. Finally, in consideration of the globalized economy, increasing competition for finite resources, and a shared global environment, it is important to keep in mind that the decisions that one country or city makes today can certainly have a lasting impact on the opposite side of the world.
In order to examine the challenges faced today by China and the United States in terms of energy use and urban air pollution, the U.S. National Academies, in cooperation with the Chinese Academy of Engineering and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, developed this comparative study, building on nearly a decade of inter-Academy collaboration. In addition to informing national policies in both countries, the study is intended to assist Chinese cities in assessing their challenges, including the dual challenges of continued use of coal as the dominant source of energy and the rapidly increasing use of private vehicles, in the context of rapid economic growth, preservation of the environment, and ensuring the quality of life for their citizens. This report is geared towards policy and decision makers at all levels of government, as they seek to balance urban energy consumption with air quality management. It identifies lessons learned from the case studies of four cities (Pittsburgh and Los Angeles in the United States, Huainan and Dalian in China); the study addresses key technological and institutional challenges and opportunities, and highlights areas for continued cooperation between the United States and China on energy and air quality issues. Specifically, the study was designed to: