When I spoke at the Global Urban Development Forum in Beijing last week, I presented the great opportunity that I believe China now enjoys: to become a world leader in green urban development to the benefit of Chinese people as well as people in the rest of the world.
China is currently in the middle of a massive development transformation. Having lifted about 500 million people out of poverty during the last three decades, the country is determined to meet the needs of its remaining poor and to improve the quality of life in general for all its citizens. This is being done in the context of important social and economic change.
For example, massive rural-urban migration is rapidly changing the face both of rural and urban life, as well as the structure of the economy. These and other development challenges are daunting enough in their own right given the country's massive scale, but they are compounded by the additional challenge of climate change.
China is effectively faced with the imperative of completing its modernization drive through an entirely different development path from that taken by the developed world - a low-carbon, climate-resilient path. Unlike in the past, there are no readymade solutions or models to follow. Low-carbon development has never been attempted before. There are no road maps. China is forging new ground, and because of its size all eyes focus on it.
On several dimensions of climate change, China has already emerged as a leader. For example, the country has mainstreamed climate change into its overall development agenda. Its most recent reflection can be seen in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015). China has set rigorous energy efficiency targets for itself, too. In the run-up to the 2009 climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, China announced that it would reduce its emission intensity by 40-45 percent over 2005 levels by 2020. Recent reports suggest that China's energy intensity fell by 14.4 percent between 2005 and 2009.
China has also made significant investments in renewable energy: it invested more than $15 billion in 2008. It is the world's second largest wind power market, the biggest photovoltaic manufacturer, and it is emerging as a leader in electric cars, solar power and wind power. In each of these areas United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has worked closely with China over the years.