These are easy things to say domestically, but Shenyang has international recognition too and has been highlighted by agencies of the UN for its work to become greener.
The city government now says Shenyang is “becoming a green paradise filled with harmony between humans and nature”. This seems a big claim, but progress is undeniably being made. “Ecology, low carbon and environmental protection have become new urban labels for Shenyang, and a brand-new ecological and livable city has come into view.”
These ambitions are older than one might expect. According to UN Habitat, it set up the Sustainable Shenyang Project in May 1997 in collaboration with the UN Development Programme, Shenyang’s municipal government and the China International Centre for Economic and Technical Exchanges. This made Shenyang one of the first global SCP (Sustainable Cities Programme) demonstration cities. The project was implemented locally by the Shenyang Environmental Protection Bureau. During this time the then mayor, Mu Suixin, was awarded the UN Habitat Scroll of Honour, intended to recognize institutions that have made great contributions to the development of housing.
That original project concluded in 2000, following a detailed analysis of the city’s environmental profile, consultation with 337 participants ranging from city representatives to international organizations, a range of demonstration projects such as the introduction of unleaded petrol and the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant, and a series of initiatives for the years ahead. The city’s industrial parks date from this time and, in a sign of things to come, the city’s copper-smelting plant was closed.
Environmental issues have remained a priority ever since. Shenyang was given the title National Forest City in 2005 by the National Forestry Bureau. In practice, this meant large-scale planting operations and the creation of an ecological circle surrounding the city, made up of three forest belts and four plant oases. The idea has been to bring water and forest resources into harmony with the city.
Shenyang’s plans for urban development can be seen in the impressive Shenyang Urban Planning Exhibition Hall and environmental harmony is clearly a key part of the plan. An example is in Hunnan District, in the south of Shenyang, which like many Chinese cities uses a vertical-horizontal axis for development but makes landscape, greenery and ecology central to development. It uses clean energies including solar power, wind power and geothermal energy, and has reduced pollutant emissions.
Elsewhere, the city has set about ecological protection work on some of its most cherished sites, such as Qipan Mountain and Wolong Lake. Sewage treatment plants in the north and the south of the city have assisted greatly in the improvement of water quality in the Liaohe, Hunhe and Puhe rivers. The Qipan Mountain International Scenic Tourist Zone, in the northeastern part of Shenyang, now uses ecological forest tourism as a key part of its appeal.
Another landmark was reached in 2012 when an area of land was designated the Huanzidong National Wetland Park; the county of Faku is now considered home to China’s white crane population, with more than 2,000 of the birds arriving every day at certain points of the year. It is thought that this accounts for 70% of the entire white crane population worldwide.
There is another element to the greening of Shenyang. Despite the efforts that have been made in recent years, Liaoning, being linked to heavy industries, has long-standing air-pollution challenges to overcome.
But it is argued that this could be an opportunity. Not only is there great potential for reduction of air pollution, with the steady removal of coal-fired boilers, but also the idea that Shenyang should be made a centre for clean energy technology. How about energy efficiency as a new industry cluster for research and development in Shenyang?
It would take a special kind of opportunism to turn its own pollution into a new line of business, but Shenyang has a chance here. Since the city planners have set great store by ecologically sound practices over the past 20 years, it stands to reason that clean energy can be a source of innovation, investment and growth.