The majority of cities in China are not achieving sustainable development, according to a study by Accenture and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) that covered 73 cities in the nation.

Eighty percent of these cities have failed to strike a balance between economic growth, resource efficiency and sustainable development.

However, this balance can be achieved in future by mid-sized cities in the country.

The authorities should focus more on innovation in policy and strategy to manage common and conflicting interests in the departments of multiple cities. National and regional energy efficiency targets and policies should be set to transform user behaviour.

The governments, businesses and other stakeholders should work more closely together to develop frameworks for China's economy.

"China has an opportunity to encourage healthy competition between its cities as a way to incentivise more sustainable urbanisation," said Peter Lacy, managing director, Strategy and Sustainability Services, Greater China and Asia Pacific. "But competition between cities should not prevent them cooperating on the development of common frameworks for technology, governance and financial models within which they can design specific solutions for their local needs."

Benchmark progress

The aim of the study is to help city authorities to benchmark their progress in sustainable development in the context of China's urbanisation policy.

"Creating Prosperous and Livable Chinese Cities" ranks Beijing, Tianjin and cities in the Bohai Rim and Yangtze River Delta regions as wealthy demonstrating leading rates of economic growth.

But these cities also suffer from shortages of water and have to face increasing levels of congestion, smog and waste. In contrast, the mid-sized cities have not only showed strong economic performance but also possess better environmental quality and managed emissions.

Accenture and CAS advise the mid-sized cities to create new sources of green investment and prioritise technology innovation required for long term sustainable development.

"The New Resources Economy is a model for achieving sustainable growth with less resource consumption and less environmental impact through innovation in technology, management and institutions," said Gong Li, chairman of Accenture Greater China. "Our analysis shows that a focus on developing mid-sized cities rather than more megacities provides the greatest chance of making the New Resource Economy a reality. We urge the governments, businesses, citizens and social organisations to work together to contribute to China's harmonious urbanisation and ecological stewardship."