Air Pollution in Shanghai

The numbers are in and the facts speak for themselves, air pollution in Shanghai is way down in the last few years.

To better visualize the data take a look at our Air Pollution in Shanghai Infographic with statistics up to 2016. Below the infographic we discuss the causes of air pollution in Shanghai.

For more recent Shanghai air pollution statistics please see our Shanghai air quality 2017 and Shanghai air quality 2018 articles.

Air Pollution in Shanghai

Infographic design work by Diatom

Health Concerns for Air Pollution in Shanghai

Yes, we did have some bad days in the winter of 2016, 2017 when the index reading for air quality in Shanghai exceeded 200.

The feel that it's getting worse was intensified by the fact that these ‘Very Unhealthy Air Quality’ days were concentrated within a short period of time and followed upon extensive world-wide coverage of the extreme air pollution in Beijing. 

Some Shanghai expats took to social media to suggest they were considering leaving the city in interest of their family's health.

For expats who choose to remain in Shanghai for its career opportunities and exciting expat lifestyle, however, there are many air pollution solutions which you can make use of to protect yourself. 

Data for Air Pollution in Shanghai 2016

Considering the severe air pollution we had in Shanghai in 2013 we should be jumping for joy.

The average PM2.5 density for Shanghai in 2016 came in at 45, a 15% reduction from the 2015 density of 53ug/m3.

This is also 27% lower than the 2013 average of 62ug/m3.

Air pollution in Shanghai is now back to level's experienced prior to 2013.

Although official reports of Shanghai PM2.5 data were only published beginning in 2013,  a report in the China Daily on January 9th, 2012 stated that "The average annual density of PM2.5 in Shanghai was 44 to 53 micrograms a cu from 2006 to 2010 ..." 

Shanghai Air Quality Target

Shanghai has actually exceeded the target set by the State Council in 2013, and one year ahead of time.

The Airborne Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan (2013-17) released in September 2013 by China's Environmental Protection Ministry, and further legislated locally in the Shanghai Clean Air Action Plan (2013-17), required Shanghai to reduce its annual average PM2.5 concentration by 20% from the base year of 2012 by 2017. 

This target of 48ug/m3 for 2017 was already surpassed by more than 6% in 2016.*[1] 

New Air Pollution Target for Shanghai

In January 2016 the Shanghai People’s Congress unveiled a stricter goal for reducing average PM2.5 density to 42ug/m3 by 2020.

This, however, means only a further 6.7% reduction over the next 4 years; not a very ambitious target. 

The need for a more ambitious goal is clear when we look at various international organizations' standards for healthy air.

Healthy Air in Shanghai - A Long Way to Go

The new air quality goal for Shanghai does not meet China’s own standard for healthy air, let alone the more strict standards set by the WHO and US EPA, as we can see here:

  • The World Health Organization (WHO)
    Air quality standard released in 2005
    Maximum 24-hour PM 2.5 exposure: 25 ug/m3
    Maximum annual average exposure: 10 ug/m3.  - 
  • The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
    Air quality standard released in 2012
    Maximum 24-hour PM 2.5 exposure: 35 ug/m3
    Maximum annual average exposure: 12 ug/m3
  • China National Standard
    National Ambient Air Quality Standard (GB3095-2012)
    Maximum 24-hour PM 2.5  exposure: 75 ug/m3
    Maximum annual average exposure: 35 ug/m3

What Causes Air Pollution in Shanghai

Our infographic above shows the causes of Shanghai air pollution.

As foreigners, we should acknowledge that a significant percentage of China’s air pollution is produced during the production of consumer goods for export.

In the August 10, 2013 edition of The Economist magazine it was reported that "About a quarter of China's carbon emissions is produced making goods for export."

Another report stated that emissions from ships in Shanghai (many loading up consumer goods for export) accounted for between 8-10% of Shanghai PM2.5.

As Chinese incomes rise, however, domestic consumption is becoming a much larger contributor to air pollution in China.

In early January 2017 China’s Minister of environmental protection, Chen Jining, remarked during a press conference that detailed analysis showed emissions from automobiles have become the primary source of urban atmospheric fine particles (PM2.5) in major cities, accounting for 31.3 percent in Beijing, and 29.2 percent in Shanghai. 

Air Pollution in Beijing Brings Air Pollution to Shanghai

Government efforts in the North of China to tackle smog are critical to reducing air pollution in Shanghai during the winter months.

As the data shows, about 20% of Shanghai smog is caused by pollution blown in from other provinces. During the summer months when Shanghai air quality is at its best the wind blows mainly from the South East off the ocean. So it's during winter months, when the wind direction changes, that we get most of this incoming air pollution.

Plans have been outlined to reduce the main culprit of Northern China's severe air pollution; increased coal burning for heating during winter months, by switching to renewable energy and other cleaner energy sources.

Forecasting Air Pollution in Shanghai

In 2015 Shanghai authorities began to issue a 2-day air pollution forecast. By 2017 they had extended this forecast to five days.

Some of the the China apps for air quality now include up to 7-day air pollution in Shanghai forecasts.

You might like these

  • Shanghai Air Quality 2018

    Shanghai Air Quality 2018 Did Not Meet China’s Ambient Air Quality Standard, But it Did Improve From 2017, and Was Significantly Better Than 2013

  • Shanghai Air Quality is No Laughing Matter

    Shanghai Air Quality Has Become Very Dangerous. What Causes Shanghai Air Pollution and What Measures Are the Local Government Implementing to Improve Air Quality

  • Air Quality in Shanghai

    Air Quality in Shanghai Has Greatly Improved. But it is Still Not Healthy so We Need to Take Precautions

Return to our homepage for health and safety in Shanghai.


*[1] Since no official reports were issued for PM2.5 levels before 2013 in China, the numbers for 2012 and earlier can be confusing.

Some reports regarding the PM2.5 density target for Shanghai for 2017 use the figure of 49.6ug/m3, stating that this as a 20% reduction from the 2013 average density. However, the Action Plan refers to 2012 as the base year and other reports like one in the Shanghai Daily from February 5th, 2015 state the goal is 48ug/m3 for 2017.

The figure of 60ug/m3 for 2012 in our infographic is estimated based on this 48ug/m3 target for 2017.

*[2] Like Shanghai's 2012 density and 2017 target, Beijing's numbers can also be confusing. We have one report from China's official Xinhua news agency from December 25th, 2016 stating that the average PM2.5 density in Beijing in 2012 was 95.7ug/m3.

Other reports from China Daily, however, state that the 2017 target of 60 ug/m3 is a 25% reduction from 2012's density. That, however, would mean 2012's density was just 80ug/m3 which would contradict the same article's opening statement that Beijing did see a tiny improvement in 2013's average (89.5) over 2012's average. 

Another report in the China Daily states that Beijing is well on its way to meeting the 25% reduction target, which is only plausible if the 95.7 number is correct and 60ug/m3 number is more a long-term goal, rather than a target that must be reached in 2017.