"The long period of industrialization in the West has created dependence, which is not easy to resolve. It is apparently easier for China to make deep, general and radical changes to the structures of production," Eero Kalervo Paloheimo, an internationally known ecologist was quoted as saying by China Daily newspaper.
The western city of Chongqing is a leading example of a city that had been blanketed with toxic smog for decades and is now on course to become an eco city.
Chongqing's heavy industry dates back to the late 1930s when thousands of factories relocated there from Japanese-occupied eastern regions. A leader in aluminum and steel production, it's also the country's biggest manufacturer of motorcycles.
World Bank data indicate that in the early 2000's one-third of crops near Chongqing were damaged by acid rain as a result of sulfur dioxide and other industrial pollutants and that in 2004 the air contained six times more lung cancer-causing pollutants than considered safe by the World Health Organization.
Chongqing's initiatives to get rid of pollution included switching to natural gas to fuel the city's taxis and introducing mass transit by way of a light rail. It also ordered heavy industries to relocate to industrial parks, where more stringent environmental controls were enforced.
Now Chongqing is also considering a carbon cap and trade scheme.
The energy efficiency of Chinese cities isn't just a domestic issue but of global importance as well, says Michael Lindfield, a lead urban development specialist at the Asian Development Bank.
While more than half of global greenhouse gas emissions are expected to originate from cities in the developing world during the next 20 years, he says, more than half will come from Chinese cities.
Chongqing leads the nation in reducing the amount of energy its buildings consume, says Jin Ruidong of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Beijing office.
"If Chongqing can succeed in transforming into a green, low-carbon city, there is no doubt that the rest of Chinese cities will be able to make this switch," Li Yong, an economist at Chongqing Academy of Social Sciences told The New York Times.
China, the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases, aims to reduce energy use and carbon emissions per unit of industrial value added output by 4 percent this year compared to 2010 levels.