10th February 2017 Beijing
On a Mission
“By 2030 China’s urbanisation rate will have increased from 56% to 70%.”
On the face of it the projection doesn’t look that alarming. Yet what it means is another 200 million people moving from the countryside to cities.
The resultant urban expansion has generated some eye-watering statistics. Last year China completed 84 skyscrapers (>200m) representing two thirds of the global total. In fact, the Chinese city of Shenzhen built more than the country ranked second on the list: the United States. In the next five years China’s cities will be serviced by another 3000km of metro lines, 19000km of high speed rail and 66 new commercial airports. By 2030 221 of its cities will have more than a million residents, compared to 68 in India and 3 in the UK.
Urbanisation has contributed to a remarkable reduction in China’s poverty and a huge rise in living standards. But it has also led to a series of difficult challenges: gridlock, poor air quality, resource depletion, urban flooding, rising landfill costs and loss of cultural heritage. China calls these “urban diseases” (or “城市病”) and they will need to be treated if its cities are to grow sustainably.
At the FCO we work with partner countries to overcome challenges and find ways for the UK to share in their success. Last month we organised a “Future Cities Mission” to China to delve deeper into ways we could help address these urban challenges. Experts from UK business and innovation centres such as the Future Cities Catapult spent a week here engaging with local urbanisation experts in government and industry. We focussed on three challenges where UK strengths align to Chinese need: environmental protection, ageing and urban mobility.
The week gave us insights into areas such as planning, finance, city standards and IoT where collaboration potential is strong. But what it also drove home was that more and more countries are stepping up activity with China. On the last day as we began an “urban innovation” workshop a news article flashed up telling us a 10bn RMB Sino-Swedish Innovation Fund had been launched in our host city that very morning.
The UK has a great offer on cities. And we stand to benefit from tackling shared challenges with China and creating new markets for our goods and services. But the window of opportunity won’t be there forever. If the UK is to become China’s partner of choice on developing future cities we’ll need to take deeper action and take it soon.