There is no generally accepted definition of a low-carbon city. Research and discussions on low-carbon cities have only emerged in recent years. Shimada et al. (2007) took Shiga, Japan as an example, and discussed how to establish a long-term localized low-carbon society. Nader (2009) used Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates as a case study to discuss the city’s efforts and achievements in developing a low-carbon economy. Masdar City is a carbon-neutral, zero-emission city that the Abu Dhabi government is committed to developing, and it is also a leader in the world. However, this city is built on the basis of a large amount of economic investment, which is difficult for many cities to directly learn from. Shatzburg, the first director of the United Nations Environment Programme in China, believes that a low-carbon city is the implementation of a low-carbon economy in the city, including low-carbon production and low-carbon consumption, establish a resource-saving and environment-friendly society, and build a benign and sustainable energy ecosystem.
In the past two years, many Chinese scholars have begun to explore the connotation of low-carbon cities and try to find a development model for low-carbon cities. Gu Chaolin (2008) believes that a low-carbon city refers to maintaining a low level of carbon dioxide emissions and having less negative impact on natural systems on the premise of maintaining stable and healthy economic and social development and improving people’s living standards. Xin Zhangping (2008) understands a “low-carbon city” as a city that maintains a low level of energy consumption and CO2 emissions under the premise of rapid economic development. Jinshi (2008) believes that low-carbon urban development refers to the premise of high-speed economic development in cities, keeping energy consumption and CO2 emissions at a low level. Fu Yun et al. (2008) proposed that a low-carbon city is to minimize the greenhouse gas emissions of a city by developing a low-carbon economy in urban space, innovating low-carbon technologies, and changing lifestyles, and gradually get rid of the previous social and economic operation mode of mass production, mass consumption and mass abandonment.
Gu Yongxin et al. (2008) believed that low-carbon cities should take low-carbon economy as the development model and direction, urban citizens should take low-carbon life as the concept and behavioral characteristics, and government management should take low-carbon society as the model and blueprint for construction, and proposed to promote the application of technologies such as solar energy, ground source heat pumps and landfill gas recycling. Liu Yijun et al. (2009) believed that the development of low-carbon cities is based on urban space as a carrier, developing a low-carbon economy, and minimizing greenhouse gas emissions by implementing green transportation and buildings, changing residents’ consumption concepts, and creating low-carbon technologies. Liu Zhilin et al. (2009) believed that the process of low-carbon city development cannot be at the expense of economic development. The development of low-carbon cities in China must explore new content that is different from international experience. It should not only pay attention to the low-carbonization of transportation, commerce and buildings, but also pay attention to the upgrading of industrial structure and the improvement of industrial energy efficiency. Long Weiding et al. (2009) took Shanghai as an example to calculate the carbon emission ratio of various industries, and put forward the main measures that can be taken to realize a low-carbon city. It focuses on the construction of the energy system in low-carbon cities and low-carbon regions, and proposes the main forms of improving the energy system in low-carbon cities, such as changing the energy structure, adjusting the industrial structure, establishing strict energy-saving standards, advocating energy-saving technologies and energy-saving behaviors. Liu Chuanjiang et al. (2009) analyzed the ecological footprint deficit and the development of energy conservation and emission reduction in Wuhan city circle, and put forward suggestions for Wuhan city circle to develop a low-carbon economy and build a low-carbon society. Dai Yixin (2009) reviewed the attempts of low-carbon cities in China and abroad, analyzed the principles and characteristics of low-carbon city construction, and focused on the governance model and system construction model necessary to build a low-carbon city. A tripartite collaboration and interaction model of government, market and citizens based on the city’s historical inheritance and social and economic development characteristics is constructed.
Ye Zuda (2009) suggested optimizing the existing urban planning decision-making procedures, and guiding the thinking of promoting low-carbon economic development into new planning management tools, and put forward four suggestions: evaluate the specific impact of climate change on the city, conduct a comprehensive audit of the city’s carbon emissions, study the causal relationship between the city’s industry, construction, transportation, and residents’ lifestyles and carbon emissions, and formulate emission reduction targets; formulate mitigation and adaptation strategies for climate change; consider energy efficiency of emission reductions in general planning, and establish effective statutory frameworks within urban planning management systems to promote emission reduction targets; establish mechanisms that can assess and monitor all aspects of urban development as cities are built. And think that urban planning directly determines the layout and function of the urban economic and social system, so urban planning plays a pivotal role in the development of low-carbon cities. (2010) found that climate warming and urbanization are intertwined, and low-carbon cities are a necessary choice to curb climate warming. However, it is not enough to solve the problem of energy conservation and emission reduction only through technical means. It is also necessary to seek the low-carbon direction of urban development through low-carbon urban planning. It is believed that “effective spatial planning can reduce carbon emissions.”
Most scholars believe that a low-carbon city refers to a city that takes a low-carbon economy as its development model and direction, citizens take low-carbon life as its concept and behavioral characteristics, and government officials take a low-carbon society as a model and blueprint for their construction. The concept of a low-carbon city covers the transformation of economic development models, consumption concepts, and lifestyles, emphasizing the trinity of production, living, and ecology, and simultaneously developing economic, social, and environmental benefits.