Shanghai Air Pollution

Our Shanghai air quality article discussed government efforts to reduce Shanghai air pollution in 2013.

The key local initiative launched after serious air pollution attacked much of China including Shanghai in 2013 was the The Shanghai Clean Air Action Plan, unveiled in October of that year. The action plan set the goal of reducing annual average PM2.5 concentration in Shanghai by 20% by 2017 from the base year of 2012.

In this article we shall take a look at what causes Shanghai air pollution. We shall also discuss the many new measures implemented by the local government between 2014 add 2016 to tackle the serious air pollution issue. Then we shall break down the Shanghai air pollution data from 2014 and 2015.

Finally we shall take a look at a study which analyzed whether Shanghai air quality is really much healthier than Beijing air quality.

What Causes Shanghai Air Pollution

So what causes air pollution in Shanghai? According to a report from July 2014 Shanghai air pollution is composed of:

  • vehicle and factory emissions: 50 percent 
  • dust from construction sites: 10.5 percent, 
  • power stations: 7.3 percent 
  • straw burning: 10 percent 
  • from other provinces: the remainder

Another report from earlier in 2014 gave the following break-down of Shanghai pollution:

  • emissions from industrial plants in Shanghai: 32.9 percent
  • motor vehicles, ships and planes accounted: 25.8 percent
  • dust, cooking and the agricultural sector: 19.8 percent 
  • pollutants from outside Shanghai: 21.5 percent

A report issued in early January 2015 listed the following sources of air pollution in Shanghai:

- 26 percent of the air pollutants in Shanghai came from other cities and provinces.

Of the air pollution created from within the city:

  • cars, ships and other modes of transport: 29 percent
  • industrial emissions: 29 percent
  • coal burning: 13.5 percent
  • dust: 13.5 percent
  • agricultural production and the general public: 15 percent
Shanghai Pollution

Local Government Initiatives to Tackle Shanghai Air Pollution 2014-2016

In September 2014, Shanghai introduced the strictest air pollution law in China, which went into effect on October 1st..

Personal penalties for company bosses of up to RMB 100,000 were introduced for the first time, in addition to maximum fines for companies rising from the previous RMB 100,000 to RMB 500,000.

The prohibition on burning straw and other bonfires was extended to all of Shanghai, having previously only being enforced in certain areas.

Unfortunately the fine for farmers illegally burning straw, which causes about 10% of Shanghai air pollution, is set at just RMB 200, so not a strong deterrent.

In early October 2014, it was announced that a factory caught for illegally emitting air pollution would be the first to be charged under this new law and therefore levied a very high fine.

Other Measures to Tackle Shanghai Air Pollution between 2014-2016

Apart from Shanghai's air pollution action plan 2013-2017 (The Shanghai Clean Air Action Plan) and the Shanghai Air Pollution Law of 2014, the city government implemented many other measures to tackle air pollution between 2014 and 2016. Here is a list of many of the measures: 

  1. Real-time AQI readings. In March 2014, Shanghai Environment Monitoring Center began to release real-time AQI readings, in addition to the standard average 24-hour readings. A real-time AQI reading can give Shanghai expats a better indication of when it is safe to go outside, and when a pollution mask should be worn.
  2. Shanghai adopted the V emission standards for all new vehicles from April 30th 2014. The V standard enforces lower nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions than the previous China IV emission standard.
  3. Shanghai continued to tighten its ban on heavy polluting vehicles, known as Yellow Label vehicles, of which 120,000 are still on Shanghai roads. Yellow label vehicles were banned from the Outer Ring Roads from July 1st 2014, having already been banned from Shanghai's inner ring roads. A complete ban including Shanghai’s suburban districts came into force in April 2015.
  4. Shanghai expanded the Central government's directive requiring 30 percent of all government vehicles be fueled by renewable energy to private delivery companies as well.
  5. The Shanghai government extended its subsidies for renewable energy 'green cars'. Each green car buyer will get a subsidy of RMB 40,000, plus a free Shanghai license plate, worth about RMB 70,000. They can also get the central government subsidy of RMB 60,000.
    The Shanghai Pudong government later announced a subsidy of its own of RMB 20,000 for new-energy cars.
  6. In May 2014, the Shanghai government announced a new plan to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from Shanghai factories.
  7. Shanghai’s environmental protection plan for 2015 to 2017 was launched In February 2015. The government intends to invest 100 billion yuan (US$16.1 billion) on more than 200 projects to reduce pollution. The goal is to reduce the average PM2.5 concentration to 48 ug/m3 by the end of 2017.
  8. Projects included:
  • 15 major state-owned enterprises will be required to upgrade their facilities to reduce carbon emissions.
  • 150 industrial companies will also upgrade their facilities
  • Major coal-burning power plants will be required to install equipment to remove nitrogen (denitrification).
  1. March 2015: Shanghai taxi drivers were given a RMB1,300 subsidy to fit new three-way catalytic converters.
  2. September 2015: Shanghai eliminated the remaining 1,939 coal-consuming boilers and furnaces and all remaining yellow-label, heavily polluting vehicles.
  3. October 2015: Shanghai announced that of the remaining 8,000 diesel busses in Shanghai, 5,000 would be fitted with air filters by end of the year, and the remaining 3,000 would be taken out of service in 2016.
  4. November 2015: Shanghai government announces a series of measures, including closing of factories, to preemptively tackle pollution.
  5. From January 1st, 2016 Trucks that don't meet China IV emission standard will not be allowed in downtown Shanghai during the daytime. Unfortunately they will still be allowed after 8pm and before 7am.
  6. Vessels berthing at major docks, including Shanghai, Ningbo-Zhoushan, Nantong and Suzhou, will be told to use fuel oil with a lower sulfur content. Ship emissions, which account for 8-10 percent of Shanghai’s PM2.5 pollutants, will be reduced by 10 percent for PM2.5 and 18 percent for sulfur oxide through this new program.
  7. A new development blueprint for Shanghai sent to the Shanghai People’s Congress for approval in early 2016 would see a new goal of reducing Shanghai PM2.5 yearly average to 42 micrograms per cubic meter by 2020. This is a further 15% reduction from its 2017 target of 49.6 micrograms per cubic meter.
  8. Based on the above blueprint Shanghai will also improve its air quality forecasting and lower thresholds for the city’s four-tier air-pollution alarm system so that anti-pollution measures will be taken more often and sooner.
  9. Authorities banned fireworks within the Shanghai Outer Ring Road. This ban was strictly enforced during the 2016 Chinese New Year celebrations, prior to which police officers knocked on many doors, including the author's, to inform people of the ban and require them to sign a pledge. 

Shanghai Air Pollution 2014

According to the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau, the annual average concentration of PM2.5 dropped by 16.1% to 52 ug/m3 in 2014 from 62 ug/m3 in 2013.

This good news, however, was tempered with figures released by China's Environmental Protection Ministry showing that air quality actually worsened in the Yangtze River Delta region, encompassing Shanghai, in the first half of 2014 due to an increase in Ozone levels.

Ground-level ozone (O3) is a problem for Shanghai especially in the summer months as volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) react with sunlight to produce ozone. Average levels increased by 12.8% in the Yangtze River Delta region in the first half of 2014 compared to the first half of 2013.

Shanghai expats are familiar with the hazards of PM 2.5 fine particulate matter, but ozone is another serious pollutant which can also damage our lungs.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), ozone is a major factor in asthma morbidity and mortality. It can cause breathing problems, trigger asthma, reduce lung function and cause lung diseases.

China's Ministry of Science and Technology issued the draft of a five-year air pollution control project in March 2015 in which they acknowledged that ground-level ozone must also be tackled.

Shanghai Air Pollution 2015

Early 2015 saw a step backwards in the battle against Shanghai air pollution.

Government officials told a conference on pollution that the average density of PM2.5 pollutants rose 14% to 66 ug/m3 in the first three months of 2015 compared to the first quarter of 2014.

According to the report: "The increase was mostly due to dust from building sites, vehicle emissions and a fluctuating climate.”

The situation had improved by the end of the third quarter of 2015 by which time the average concentration had dropped to 50.4 ug/m3, so lower than 2014's annual average of 52 ug/m3.

Unfortunately, the good times did not last. Due to severe air pollution in the last quarter of 2015, Shanghai's annual average PM2.5 concentration came in at 53 ug/m3, a 3.14% increase over 2014. 

This increased the pressure on Shanghai government authorities in their battle to reduce the annual average PM2.5 density to 49.6 (a 20% reduction from 2012 levels) by 2017; a commitment they made in the Clean Air Action Plan of 2013.

Shanghai Air Pollution

Is Beijing Air Pollution Worse Than Shanghai Air Pollution

Shanghai's annual average PM2.5 concentration was 60.7 ug/m3 in 2013. This was far off the China air quality standard for healthy air of the PM2.5 average within 35 ug/m3 and even more worse than the much stricter WHO standard of 10 ug/m3.

Shanghai's PM2.5 concentration that year, however, was still much better than Beijing's annual average concentration of 89.5 ug/m3.

While Shanghai air quality worsened in 2015, Beijing air quality saw a big improvement. However, Beijing’s annual average PM2.5 density in 2015 was still 80.6 ug/m3, much worse than Shanghai’s average of 53 ug/m3.

So is Beijing air pollution really much more unhealthy than Shanghai air pollution? Not for sure!

In studies conducted by Chinese scientists, PM1 particles, which are much smaller than PM2.5 particles, were shown to have much more serious consequences for human health. Though PM2.5 levels are lower in Shanghai than Beijing, PM1.0 concentrations are actually worse in Shanghai than Beijing.

So expats still need to be concerned about Shanghai air pollution and be sure to make use of the many air pollution solutions available here.

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