Friday, 6 December 2013

The Smog of the Orient

Shanghai topped the charts
Beijing is known for having notoriously bad air -- its reputation was sealed back in January when the air quality index jumped to 755.

But it seems Shanghai is fast catching up.

Today the Pearl of the Orient had readings over 500 AQI, forcing many residents inside or if they had to go out, to don face masks.

The weather was so bad today that hundreds of flights were either delayed or cancelled, as smog levels were 23 to 31 times the levels recommended by international health officials.

It's particularly embarrassing as the city is trying to set up its free trade zone to attract foreign investment, but so far most of the companies settling in the zone are domestic.

Perhaps more frightening is that the local environmental authorities have decided to adjust its air pollution standards to reduce the number of alerts, saying there would be many of them through the winter.

There will now only be alerts when the concentration of PM2.5 -- particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter that can be found deep in human lungs -- falls below 115 micrograms per cubic metre. Previously it was 75 micrograms per cubic metre.

Shanghai's Environmental Protection Bureau said haze is common this time of year as the warm air in higher altitudes trap the cold air in winter, making it harder for pollutants to be dispersed. In addition, the cold air meant more energy was being used to keep warm, resulting in more pollution into the air.

It's shocking but perhaps not surprising that Shanghai would end up being in a smoggy haze at record pollution levels.

We should bear in mind it was only a year ago that the government decided to be more transparent about air quality, but not much has been done about it across the country. While we applaud having a bit more transparency, it's not really dealing with the issue.

Since President Xi Jinping is pushing through economic reforms at the moment, could he perhaps throw in measures to tackle air pollution earnestly? People's lives are at stake -- which affects the country's productivity -- so if the government wants higher productivity, surely it needs to ensure cleaner air for its citizens?


  1. That's the first time I heard of Shanghai being referred to the Pearl of the Orient! Growing up in Penang, I thought THE Pearl of the Orient was my home island! Then after moving to Hong Kong, found that it has claims to that title too...

    Re Shanghai air pollution: some years back at the HK International Film Festival, I viewed a documentary about the Berlin Philharmonic's Asia tour. Of all the cities they visited, the ones with the greatest deal of air pollution were Beijing and Shanghai while Hong Kong actually looked good in comparison. So guess this is not a new problem in Shanghai at all. It figures, with all the construction work going on as well as everything else...

    1. HI YTSL -- As far as I have known, Shanghai has always been referred to at the Pearl of the Orient!

      It is only in the last year that the pollution readings have not been labelled a state secret and now people have access to this information, but what the government will do about it is another issue.

      It's not just construction but also factories still burning coal, coal-fired plants and even older homes that continue to use charcoal...