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Charting a system for urban sustainability

The tops of Beijing’s skyscrapers can just be made out from the ground though the thick smog that shrouds the city. It’s December 2015, and the Chinese government has issued its first ever “red alert” for the city’s air quality. The smog has halted construction work and led to the closure of many of the city’s schools, education being one of the many areas pollution is now affecting.


Beijing is hugely influential in the global economy. With 52 of the Fortune Global 500 companies and 100 of China’s biggest companies located there, the megacity’s GDP is CN¥1.95 trillion (US$314 billion). It has a flourishing startup scene and is attracting more and more venture capitalists who have plenty of investment opportunities in places like Zhongguancun – dubbed “China’s Silicon Valley.”


Putting the city’s fast growth and economic development on pause for the smog, even for a few days, could be costly. Fast-forward three months and the Chinese government announces a change to the threshold at which “red alert” is reached – instead of three consecutive days of the heaviest pollution levels, it will now be four.