Shanghai’s multi-billion dollar shot in the arm in the ‘war against pollution’

Posted on February 9, 2015

The Shanghai authorities now have a real plan aimed at cutting the number of bad air days (and not just) in the city drastically by end-2017. And it is backed by big bucks.

The city has announced a spend of RMB100 billion (US$16.13 billion) in the next three years on 220 anti-pollution projects. This promisingly large budget will address eight  principal areas : water, air, soil, waste, industry, agriculture, ecology and circular economy, according to Zhang Quan, director of the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau. The major concerns the plan is targeting, Zhang said, are the high levels of PM2.5 pollutants in the air (the particulate pollutant most hazardous to human health), the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in water, vehicular emissions, chemicals and oil fumes from restaurants.

The authorities foresee being able to significantly reduce the heavy pollution days and bring PM2.5 particle concentrations down to 48 ug/m3 by the end of 2017. International standards of ‘safe’ levels of PM2.5 in the air are 25ug/m3 (WHO) and 35ug/m3 (US EPA). In water pollution control measures, the plan sets out 17 sewage treatment plans, including the renovation of the Bailonggang plant (the world’s fourth largest wastewater treatment plant) and the construction of new treatment plants.
By 2017, all big and medium restaurants will be installed with efficient oil smoke purifying mechanisms, and about 300,000 heavily polluting vehicles will be taken off the streets. Authorities have recorded a total of 171,600 heavily polluting vehicles taken off the city roads last year. Plans for 2015 forecast 90,000 more polluting vehicles to be meeting the same fate.
1,100 boilers at small and medium plants will be replaced in 2015.

Shanghai authorities point out that planning and the gradual implementation of control measures have already shown results : monitoring and statistics compiled by the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau indicate thatoverall air quality improved in 2014 from the year before (the average PM2.5 density was 52 last year, down 16.1 percent from 2013) thanks to more moderate weather conditions and the enforcing of some pollution-control measures like the use of cleaner energy sources.

Zhang Quan also says that over the past three years, the discharge of four major pollutants — chemical oxygen, ammonia nitrogen (NH3-N), sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide has dropped substantially owing to various initiatives : enterprises were fined more than RMB100 million last year for breaking the city’s air pollution regulations; over 3,180 hectares of green space have been added in three years, with the total forest coverage touching 14 percent at the end of last year; and about 2.8 million households have been brought into the garbage separation initiatives. This new and large RMB 100 billion fund, he concludes, will be a significant shot in the arm to the anti-pollution projects and initiatives.

Public awareness or the lack of it, successful implementation of initiatives, efficient enforcement of rules and laws, and combinations of several other factors will ensure that it is a long and bumpy road ahead. However, this initiative by the city of Shanghai is definitely a promising start to the 2015 chapter in China’s war against pollution.