With drones, AI and e-vehicles, China crafts green-tech megalopolis

Entrepreneur Tony Verb is on a mission to promote technology that can help make cities greener and smarter in China’s Greater Bay Area, now being shaped as a low-carbon megalopolis.

Hong Kong-based Verb, co-founder of investment firm GreaterBay Ventures & Advisors, plans to back urban tech businesses working on autonomous e-vehicles, flying taxis, artificial intelligence, robotics and clean energy.

Verb is betting on China’s master plan to develop the Pearl River Delta into a sustainable innovation hub, which he believes will serve as “a great case study” for the world’s cities.

In February, Beijing announced it would foster links between nine cities in Guangdong and the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau to forge the world’s biggest urban area with 70 million people.

Under the Greater Bay Area (GBA) plan, each city has a different role, but the blueprint is centered on developing the delta in a high-tech way that also conserves its ecology.

The strategy comes as China exits an era of breakneck growth when planning and finance for infrastructure were overlooked, Witman Hung, Hong Kong deputy to China’s 13th National People’s Congress, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Travel Sentry founder John Vermilye remembered visiting factories in the delta in 2003, and seeing plastic pellets flowing into sewage drains and workers in flip-flops carrying pots of molten zinc from the furnace to molding machines.

“Sixteen years ago, we were telling businesses how to be sustainable and what changes they needed to make – but now they’re getting this from the government directly,” said Vermilye, whose firm develops luggage security standards.

Marred by smog, dirty soil and contaminated water, China – the world’s biggest energy user and greenhouse gas emitter – decided development had to respect and protect its environment.

Leaders introduced “ecological civilization” as a constitutional goal in 2012, said Christine Loh, chief development strategist at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).

In 2014, Beijing declared war on pollution, introducing environmental laws and inspectors who swept through businesses.

It then launched “Made in China 2025”, cementing a move away from the world’s factory floor to innovation-led growth.

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