Europe-China Eco-Cities Link (EC-LINK) Project- Brief description and programme until September 2018

Posted on 24 January, 2018

The importance of innovation and socio-economic aspects in sustainable urbanisation has been recognised by the EU and China in their Joint Declaration on the EU-China Partnership on Urbanisation since 2012.

In China, the management of an exceptionally rapid urban growth poses considerable challenges to policy-makers and city planners. In such a delicate context, physical city planning cannot be considered in isolation from governance aspects, related for instance to land use and resources for city financing. Urban infrastructures and public services also call for a balanced and integrated planning so as to minimise or avoid the negative socio-economic, human and environmental impacts; most of all, Chinese cities must also be viewed as engines of growth and innovation, often attracting large shares of R&D investments and consequently source of business opportunities for European stakeholders.

The Europe-China Eco-Cities Link (EC-Link) project is a key component of the EU-China Partnership on Sustainable Urbanisation, and it represents the ultimate synergy between national requirements and city’s needs. Supported by the European Commission DG Development and in cooperation with the Chinese Ministry of Housing Urban and Rural Development (MoHURD), EC Link aims to assist Chinese in implementing energy and resource-efficient measures by sharing experiences in sustainable urbanisation with European cities.

The development of cities in China is taking place at impressive pace and has affected millions of citizens involving many aspects of city planning and development, such as infrastructures, regulatory regimes, taxation, health, education and culture. EC Link commitment is to bring together a wide-ranging partnership of stakeholders in Europe and China so to create an innovation platform for developing innovative solutions in sustainable urbanisation that rely on European advanced knowledge and technologies.

Moreover, the project supports MoHURD in four strategic activities:

  1. Demonstrating good practice approaches to implement low carbon solutions for the sustainable development of human settlements. Good practices have been identified and made available through the toolboxes already developed, based on European and Chinese eco-city practices.
  2. Creating testing grounds for innovations in the 9 sectors covered: compact urban development, clean energy, green buildings, green transportation, water management, solid waste treatment, urban renewal and revitalization, municipal financing, and green industries.
  3. Improving Chinese Municipalities' capacity to finance appropriate solutions.
  4. Creating the best conditions to establish a mutual and long lasting cooperation between Chinese and European cities.

In order to practically achieve the important goals related to these activities, EC Link implemented a series of events called Inter-City Laboratories (ICLs) focussing the attention on 6 major sectors: low carbon cities, green building, green transport, water management, solid waste management and clean energy. Each ICL had a duration of 2-3 days and the involvement of 15-20 Chinese cities and 10-15 European ones. During these events, Chinese and European municipalities, represented from public officials, multi-utilities Companies, industrial associations and private companies, had the opportunity to trigger processes of mutual collaboration.

For this reason, ICLs are not only thought as a vehicle of exchange of knowledge and experiences among cities that share the interest for the same sectorial topic aimed at sustainable urbanisation, but, above all, they represent the starting point for the creation of a mutual and long lasting cooperation between Chinese and European cities.

This cooperation will be generated by the establishment of the so called City Networking Units (CNUs). They are working partnership/group of cooperating EU and Chinese cities available to work together for shared objectives. The stated aim of the CNUs joint work is to identify common working/interest areas and projects for the sustainable development of human settlements and to agree a common working agenda for the elaboration of pilot actions with high replicability potential, to allow an effective know how transfer in several Chinese cities. As a result of the ICLs implemented until now, about six CNUs are going to be formalised.

Key issues/fields of the “Learning and Cooperation Processes” triggered within CNUs’ concept are:

  • Definition of CNUs work program and expected outputs of the cooperation;
  • Participation of local stakeholders in CNUs meetings (multi-utilities, ESCOs, green technology producers, etc.) and targeted visits to e.g. institutions, eco-districts, recovered industrial areas, water treatment plants, waste to energy plants, etc.;
  • Involvement of sectorial experts in the management and technical support to CNU activities.

Possible outputs of the joint work of Chinese and EU experts within CNUs activities can be:

  • Models of EU sectorial policies adapted to the context of other Countries (e.g. a comparison between the European Performance Building Directive and existing regulations on environmental sustainability and energy savings);
  • Models for the implementation of energy certification of building systems (procedures at municipal level/accreditation of energy certifiers/impact on real estate market, etc.);
  • Models for the governance of integrated urban services (role of multi-utility companies - water, energy and waste management)
  • Financial schemes for energy refurbishment of public heritage (e.g. adaptation of ELENA facility model, ESCOs and Energy Performance Contracts);
  • Feasibility studies to adapt technological innovations developed in the EU to the needs of Chinese cities;
  • Business agreements among EU and Chinese Multi-utilities companies (from know-how transfer to Joint Ventures). 

EC Link is expected to contribute in creating the conditions for large scale public and science-industry cooperation on sustainable urbanisation that can address the challenges China and Europe face in this area. The Project will provide in-depth insights on EU-China cultural and socio-economic aspects on urbanisation; specific impacts are expected in the field of city planning, policy making, regulatory regime, governance and public services.

It is also expected to increase the capacity of European industrial actors to develop and provide more effective solutions for the needs of sustainable urbanisation, and for Chinese city planners and managers to make informed choices on innovative technologies.