HONG KONG — New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Friday praised Chinese cities for taking part in a climate change coalition that he is set to lead, saying he is heartened that they are no longer blinded by the pursuit of economic growth.
Bloomberg is scheduled to take over as chairman of the C40 group of cities from Toronto Mayor David Miller at the end of a two-day meeting in the southern Chinese city Hong Kong on Saturday. On Friday, he and Miller took part in a panel discussion with the mayors or deputy mayors of the Chinese cities Changsha, Shenzhen and Kunming, as well as the leader of Johannesburg.
Asked after the session what impressed him the most about the discussion, Bloomberg told reporters: "I think the most impressive thing this morning was that they were there. Ten years ago, they would not have been there."
Noting poverty is still widespread in the country, the billionaire founder of the financial information company that bears his name said "job creation, economic development has always been modern-day China's No. 1 priority."
"For the first time, there is an understanding in China that the environment is something that they cannot walk away from, they can't treat as a second-class citizen any more. When you're starting to get your rivers polluted and your air unfit to breathe, you've got to do something about it," Bloomberg said.
"It may be the beginning but if you want to get a hand of cards to play you've got to come to the table, and they are certainly doing that," he added.
Changsha Mayor Zhang Jianfei said the central city is scaling back the number of high-polluting factories, building two subway lines and a light rail line and promoting electric buses. It has also banned hotels from giving out disposable toiletries.
Vice Mayor Tang Jie said Shenzhen, which neighbors Hong Kong, is making sure that new buildings use energy-efficient electrical equipment and developing its electric car industry. The southern city is home to electric car maker BYD Autos, which counts U.S. billionaire Warren Buffett among its investors.
In southern Kunming, Vice Mayor Wang Daoxing said officials are promoting the use of solar power in a city that enjoys extended daylight and cleaning up neighboring Dianchi lake.
However, on a national level, Beijing says in negotiations for a global treaty to curb greenhouse gas emissions that the U.S. and other wealthy countries should make bigger cuts because they have produced more pollution historically.
Later Friday, Bloomberg was scheduled to visit an industrial park and drug company in Shenzhen and meet with railway officials working on a high-speed line between the city and neighbors Hong Kong and Guangzhou.
Environmental activists also applauded the Chinese efforts. Kunming's push for solar power will inspire other Chinese cities to follow, while Shenzhen's green building campaign is significant because of the large scale of construction there, said Greenpeace Hong Kong campaigner Prentice Koo.
But Greenpeace activists were critical of host Hong Kong, protesting its plan to cut emissions by shifting to nuclear energy, which they consider equally polluting. The protesters briefly interrupted a speech by leader Donald Tsang by sounding a siren and displaying a banner that said "No Nuclear Expansion." They also hung a large banner in front of the convention center where the conference is being held.
Hong Kong police said in a statement six activists were arrested for disrupting public order and were freed on bail with no charges immediately filed. The arrested activists were the ones who hung the large banner outside the convention center, Greenpeace spokeswoman Fanny Lee said.