Rolling out the City Blueprint Approach in China

Impressive review of SDG6 in 32 major Chinese cities

Last year we published our third paper on Recently, our Chinese colleagues significantly expanded this effort and assessed 32 cities in China by applying the City Blueprint Approach, including the Governance Capacity Approach which was developed by my colleague Stef Koop. We are extremely happy with their findings because they provide, in a nutshell, the courses of action in the area of urban water management and governance that are open to China, thanks to the use of the City Blueprint Approach, which has now been applied to 120 cities in more than 50 countries, globally. The highlights of this study are summarized below.

Governance Capacity Approach

Climate change and urban growth are making the question of how stakeholders can jointly address water challenges increasingly important. Despite the numerous solutions available, many organisations have yet to find a good answer to the question. The application of the available technologies and knowledge is inhibited by a variety of barriers. A governance capacity to collaborate effectively and overcome these barriers is essential. The Governance Capacity Analysis framework bundles existing scientific knowledge into a practical assessment. We measure ‘governance capacity’ by analysing how well stakeholders collaborate in solving a specific water challenge. The framework provides a structured and reproducible diagnosis through a literature study, interviews and a feedback process with local stakeholders.

Third paper on cities in Asia

Last year we published our third paper on Asian cities. It is a summary of the assessment of 11 cities on the continent, including two in China. It showed that solid waste collection and treatment and access to improved drinking water and sanitation can be considered priorities, especially in cities with considerable slum populations. People in slums are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate-related hazards. The high variation in water management performance among Asian cities indicates that there is great potential for city-to-city learning through the sharing best practices in water technology and governance.

Highlights 32 cities in China

The assessed cities included 4 municipalities directly under the authority of the central government, 27 provincial capitals, and Shenzen (a fast-emerging city located in the Pearl River delta). The highlights of the study are the following:

  • River peak discharges and urban drainage flood are two key environmental challenges.
  • Good basic water services have been realized in all of China’s major cities.
  • Waste resources recycling and energy recovery are critical issues to be resolved.
  • Excellent governance capacity leads to good management and action plans.
  • Poor performance in public participation is caused by deficient useful knowledge

These results fully confirm those of our earlier study. The Blue City Index (BCI) in China varies from 3.501 (Lhasa) to 5.162 (Shanghai). The city of Wuhan received a score o

In conclusion, most of the cities in China can be categorized as ‘water-efficient cities’ (BCI 4–6), according the categorization of Koop and Van Leeuwen (2017): “These cities implement centralized, well-known, technological solutions to increase water efficiency and to control pollution. Secondary Waste Water Treatment (WWT) coverage is high, and the share of tertiary WWT is rising. Water-efficient technologies are partially applied; infrastructure leakages are substantially reduced, but water consumption is still high. Energy recovery from WWT is relatively high, while nutrient recovery is limited. Both solid waste recycling and energy recovery are partially applied. These cities are often vulnerable to climate change, e.g. urban heat islands and drainage flooding, due to poor adaptation strategies, limited storm water separation and low green surface ratios. Governance and community involvement has improved.


We would like to congratulate our Chinese colleagues [RH3] I-Shin Chang, Mengdie Zhaoa, Yilin Chenc, Xiaomin Guoa, Ying Zhuc, Jing Wuc and TaoYuand for this fantastic result. The results were published recently in the Journal of Cleaner Production. The full paper can be found here.

We believe that the results clearly provide a path towards sustainability in China, make China water-wise, and will ultimately enhance the well-being of Chinese citizens.