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Urban environmental performance in China: a sustainability divide?


  • Lee Liu

    (Department of Geography and Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, MO, USA)


This paper explores a sustainability divide in urban environmental protection in China with its 72 Model Cities, 113 key cities, and 43 most polluted cities. It investigates factors that help understand such a divide, the applicability of the environmental Kuznets curve (EKC), and policies for sustainable urban development. Geographic information systems (GIS) and statistical analyses used data derived from documents, statistical records, publications, on-site inspections and field research. The key cities were divided into seven groups based on eight environmental indicators. The research found a sustainability gap between eastern and western cities, or between Model Cities and other key cities. Oddly, environmental spending was not found to be an explanation. The paper argues that sustainability studies needs to move beyond the EKC to consider the role of nature. Chinese policy makers should not use the Model Cities to support the 'grow first and clean up later' approach. Instead they should promote sustainability in all parts of China. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.

Suggested Citation

  • Lee Liu, 2009. "Urban environmental performance in China: a sustainability divide?," Sustainable Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 17(1), pages 1-18.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:sustdv:v:17:y:2009:i:1:p:1-18
    DOI: 10.1002/sd.356

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Chan Wai-Yin & Ma Shu-Yun, 2004. "Heritage preservation and sustainability of China's development," Sustainable Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 12(1), pages 15-31.
    2. Fredrik Burström & Jouni Korhonen, 2001. "Municipalities and industrial ecology: reconsidering municipal environmental management," Sustainable Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 9(1), pages 36-46.
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    Cited by:

    1. Christian Webersik & Clarice Wilson, 2009. "Achieving environmental sustainability and growth in Africa: the role of science, technology and innovation," Sustainable Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 17(6), pages 400-413.

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