Air quality in Shanghai has been the number one health concern for Shanghai expats for several years. In 2016, however, the issue was forgotten at times as we enjoyed more clear skies.
The annual average density of PM2.5 in Shanghai in 2016 came in at 45ug/m3, a considerable 15% decrease from 2015.
This article looks at the reasons behind the improvement in air quality in Shanghai in 2016, but also cautions why we need to stay vigilant against Shanghai smog.
While we can’t really call the above data ‘a breath of fresh air’ it certainly indicates a welcome improvement.
Based on national and international air quality standards, however, the PM2.5 density in Shanghai in 2016 was still harmful to our health.
One of the reasons for the improvement in air quality in Shanghai in the summer months of 2016 was the implementation of measures by the authorities in preparation for the G20 summit in nearby Hangzhou in early September.
Shanghai suspended the operation of a number of chemical plants and other high polluting enterprises to ensure world leaders enjoyed a ‘G20 Blue’.
The weather in Shanghai in 2016 has also been a key factor leading to improved air quality.
During the first quarter we had more rain than in the same period of 2015. And during the second quarter we had more wind from gales and typhoons than usual.
Lower temperatures in the winter can force some cities in the North to turn on their centralized municipal heating systems earlier than usual. These systems, powered by coal, cause large amounts of air pollution, some of which will find its way down to Shanghai as the winds shift to the South in winter months.
Plans have recently been announced to replace coal with clean energy for heating in the North.
Approximately 20% of Shanghai smog is caused by pollutants from other provinces, much of it concentrated during the winter months.
Beijing and other areas in the North experienced off-the-charts pollution levels several times in the winter of 2016, 2017. The national Ministry of Environmental Protection has criticized several local governments in the North for not doing enough to reduce air pollution.
On November 19th, 2016 Shanghai’s AQI hit the magic number of 200 for the first time since the previous winter, corresponding to a PM2.5 density of 150 mg/u3.
A PM2.5 density of 150 is the level at which the US AQI and the China AQI reach parity. Below this amount the Chinese index is more lax than the US index, with lower AQI numbers attributed to the same PM2.5 readings. Our China air quality article discusses the differences between the US AQI and the China AQI.
On the morning of Dec. 17th the AQI hit 249. And on Dec. 23rd the Shanghai air quality index hit 262, with a PM2.5 reading of 212 ug/m3
On December 14th, 2016 the Shanghai government adjusted its air quality alert system.
The bar for issuing a red alert for forecasted severely bad air quality in Shanghai in the following 24 hours, the highest alert, has been lowered from AQI 450 to 400.
The bar for issuing a Blue alert, the lowest level alert, is lowered from when the AQI was forecast to be between 201 and 300 over the next 24 hours to when the AQI index stays between 151 and 200 with short-time severe pollution expected within 24 hours.
The first Blue alert for Shanghai under the new system was issued on December 16th.
Some construction sites will be forced to suspend operations and some heavy polluting factories will be required to reduce operations when the blue alert is raised.
Such alerts have shown good results in Beijing, where the first air pollution Red alert of 2016 was issued on December 15th, resulting in many cars being ordered off the roads.
The pollution levels in the following days in Beijing, although still extremely high, were lower than forecasted.
The many measures adopted by local authorities over the last few years have certainly also made a significant contribution to the improved air quality in Shanghai.
The Shanghai government committed to reducing the average annual PM2.5 density to 49.6 ug/m3 (a 20% reduction from 2012 levels) by 2017 as part of the Clean Air Action Plan initiated in 2013.
Furthermore, Zhang Quan, director of the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau recently announced, “Our plan is to reduce the yearly average density to 42 by 2020, and then to 35 after that.”
According to Zhang, Shanghai recently installed equipment to reduce discharges from 22 sets of power generators and required over 1,400 manufacturers to reduce their emissions of VOCs.
By November 2016, 766 of these factories had already completed the necessary renovations.
Emissions from vehicles, which cause around 20% of Shanghai's air pollution, are also a key target. About 90,000 heavy polluting vehicles and 30,000 old cars were taken off the roads in 2015.
Zhang continued “This year we will continue with the elimination of vehicles produced before 2005 and require vessels in Shanghai’s ports to use cleaner fuel,”
The government has also implemented many preferential policies to encourage the use of electric and other ‘green cars’.
Many large construction sites, which contribute about 10% of Shanghai's pollution, have installed dust detectors so authorities can require them to shut down when they produce too much pollution.
Fines of 154 million yuan (US$ 22 million) have been levied on over 2,000 pollution related cases in Shanghai in the first 9 months of 2016, an approximately 40% increase on the previous year. These much stiffer fines are based on the stricter air pollution law which came in to effect on October 1st, 2014.
The penalties were once again increased, by as much as ten times, on October 1st 2016 when amended environmental protection rules came into effect.
Some success has also been achieved with Shanghai’s crack-down on straw burning, which causes about 10% of air pollution in Shanghai.
In December 2016 Shanghai hosted an inspection team from the central authorities in Beijing which ordered about 500 enterprises to shut down or initiate renovations to reduce pollution.
More than 900 district-level environmental improvement projects have already been planned for 2015 to 2017 to help improve air quality in Shanghai, and many more are being looked at.
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