At night, when the sky clears, it's not difficult to guess where the bridge leads. Another glow can be seen farther north: the high-tech boomtown of Shenzhen, with 13 million inhabitants. There is a third and fourth patch of light in the sky even beyond that: Dongguan, with 8 million people, and Guangzhou, population 15 million. In the haze of daylight, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, modern-day China's most recent gargantuan building project, seems to end somewhere out in the open sea. But it actually spans the mouth of the Pearl River Delta, an area that has grown to become the world's largest metropolitan region.
Birds fly in and out of the eight-storey "Green Office Building" in Shenzhen, China, because a third of its walls are completely open to the air. It's a clever natural design that enables the building to stay cool without air conditioners. Across town, in a vast campus known as the "Low Carbon Park", mist is sprayed into the air to cool the streets down and remove dust. Experiments like these are appearing across China's cities, as part of a devolution of power designed to clean up smoggy air and meet energy targets to tackle climate change. Here's the big idea: cities use more energy per capita than the rest of China and are home to polluting industries, so could rethinking them help clean the air?
BEIJING – China's cities need about 6.6 trillion yuan ( 1 trillion) of green financing over the next five years to reach its pollution-reduction targets, according to a report. Financial markets will need to cover as much as 90 percent of investment funding for clean transportation, energy-efficient buildings and renewable power through 2020, according to the executive summary of the report, "Green Finance for Low-Carbon Cities," which was commissioned by the Green Finance Committee of China Society for Banking and Finance and Bloomberg Philanthropies. As millions of Chinese have flocked to economic opportunities in cities, urban pollution has grown and forced the government to respond to public health concerns. Making buildings more energy efficiency will require 1.65 trillion yuan while another 500 billion will be needed to install 64 gigawatts of solar power, according to the report, which was written in partnership with the Paulson Institute, Energy Foundation China and the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association.
Every day at around 4 p.m., the creeeek criikkk of stretched packing tape echoes through Huaqiangbei, Shenzhen's sprawling neighborhood of hardware stores. Shopkeepers package up the day's sales--selfie sticks, fidget spinners, electric scooters, drones--and by 5, crowds of people are on the move at the rapid pace locals call Shenzhen sudu, or "Shenzhen speed," carting boxes out on motorcycles, trucks, and--if it's a light order--zippy balance boards. From Huaqiangbei the boxes are brought to the depots of global logistics companies and loaded onto airplanes and cargo ships. In the latter case they join 24 million metric tons of container cargo going out every month from Shekou harbor--literally "snake's mouth," the world's third-busiest shipping port after Shanghai and Singapore. A few days or weeks later, the boxes arrive in destinations as nearby as Manila and Phnom Penh and as far afield as Dubai, Buenos Aires, Lagos, and Berlin.
A Vietnamese woman making cakes of dried coal dust to fuel a kiln. Vietnam is addicted to coal. Its economy has grown over 6%, on average, since the turn of the century, among the fastest of its Southeast Asian peers, yet that growth is fueled by coal, the most polluting fuel source on the planet. This April, however, the decarbonization movement was given a boost of international recognition, as the esteemed Goldman Environmental Prize for grassroots advocacy was awarded to the first Vietnamese recipient, 42-year-old clean energy champion Nguy Thi Khanh, who hopes to end Vietnam's reliance on coal and persuade the country to take a greener approach. With a population a tad larger than Germany's, Vietnam is in transition to realizing its centrally-planned government's ambition for almost half of GDP to come from the high tech sector.