Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy

, Volume 20, Issue 6, pp 1185–1194 | Cite as

Assessing spatial and temporal variations in regional sustainability in mainland China from 2004 to 2014

  • Wei Qiu
  • Fanlin Meng
  • Yuntao Wang
  • Guangtao Fu
  • Junguo He
  • Dragan Savic
  • Hongyu Zhao
Original Paper


Sustainable development in China is under increasing pressure from rapid population growth and economic activities in recent decades. Despite the growing awareness and invested efforts, there is a lack of understanding of the progress, trade-offs, and spatiotemporal variations of sustainability across China. This paper investigates the spatial and temporal variations of sustainability in Mainland China from 2004 to 2014. An evaluation framework involving 21 indicators, which are grouped under the three categories of economic, social, and environmental performance, is proposed for evaluating the Sustainability Index (SI) for 31 provincial-level divisions in China. Balancing the ‘triple bottom line’ performance to achieve sustainability is an ideal goal, which is analyzed for each geographical region in China. The ideas of the analytic hierarchy process have been used under four different scenarios to investigate trade-offs among the three performance areas and reveal the impacts of indicator weights on the assessment results. Results obtained show marginal improvement in sustainability across China when social and environmental factors are considered to be more important than economic ones, while a significant improvement is observed when economy is considered to be more important. The indicator weights have a clear impact on the assessment of SI, but the influence is reduced when the results for 2004 and 2014 are compared. This study provides an enhanced understanding of spatial and temporal variations in regional sustainability in China, providing more evidence for informed decisions on regional economic, social and environmental development.


Analytic hierarchy process Assessment framework Sustainability index Indicator weight Variation 



This work was partially funded by the State Key Laboratory of Urban Water Resources and Environment, Harbin Institute of Technology (No. 2016TS02), Heilongjiang Province Science Foundation for General Programme (No. E201427) and China Scholarship Council (CSC).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Urban Water Resources and Environment (SKLUWE), School of EnvironmentHarbin Institute of TechnologyHarbinChina
  2. 2.Centre for Water Systems, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical SciencesUniversity of ExeterExeterUK
  3. 3.School of Hydraulic EngineeringDalian University of TechnologyDalianChina
  4. 4.School of Architecture and PlanningJilin Jianzhu UniversityChangchunChina

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