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Last Seven Decades Saw Dramatic Changes in Ecological and Environmental Protection in Shanghai

September 30, 2019

Cheng Jin, Associate Research Fellow, Institute of Ecology and Sustainable Development, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences

Over the past 70 years, Shanghai has developed from China's largest industrial base into an international metropolis. It is now accelerating its journey to an excellent global city. In the course of the urban development, Shanghai constantly improves the ecological and environmental quality. The city has shifted the focus from point source pollution abatement to regional comprehensive ecological and environmental governance, from regional pollution abatement to cross-regional coordinated ecological and environmental protection, from the government’s dominance to public participation in ecological and environmental protection, and from urban environmental governance to the evolvement of a high-quality urban ecosystem and living environment. The development of Shanghai's ecological and environmental protection work in the past 70 years since the founding of the People's Republic of China can be divided into five stages, depending on the goals and tasks of the work in different periods.

1. Exploration of environmental protection measures (1949–1978). Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, Shanghai has always been an important industrial base in the country. In 1978, Shanghai's industrial output accounted for 12.5% of the country's total. The industrial sectors with heavy pollution such as papermaking, chemical fiber, printing and dyeing accounted for a high proportion of all industrial sectors in the city, and the industrial “three wastes” created serious pollution. During this period, Shanghai formulated administrative regulations on the management and control of “three wastes”. The environmental protection institution experienced abolition and merging for several times, changing from the Shanghai Municipal Environmental Health Bureau to the Shanghai Leadership Group Office for “Three Wastes” Control and then to the Shanghai Environmental Protection Office.

2. Abatement of major pollution sources (1979–1990). In 1979, the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau was officially established, enabling environmental protection to formally become part of the government administrative work. During this period, the positioning of Shanghai as an industrial base did not change fundamentally, and urban environmental pollution aggravated. Shanghai first strengthened its effort to tackle point sources of pollution and carried out large-scale treatment of major pollution sources such as waste water, waste gas and waste residue. Second, it stepped up the management of heavy-polluting industries. This involved merging, abolition, upgrading and regulation of the papermaking, electroplating, chemical, textile, and leather industries. Third, the city worked hard to comprehensively treat and manage heavily polluted areas at Hetian Road, Xinhua Road and Taopu Town.

3. Reduction of total quantity of pollutants (1991–2010). Shanghai was positioned to be an important economic hub of China with the goal of becoming an international metropolis and an international hub of economy, finance, trade and shipping. The rapid economic and social development mounted tremendous pressure on environmental protection for Shanghai. During this period, Shanghai focused on pollution reduction and environmental protection as well as the Three-year Action Plan of the environmental protection, aiming at reducing the total major pollutant emission. The system of application and licensing for pollutant discharge was improved to strictly control various sources of pollution, greatly reduce the intensity of pollutant discharge, and promote industrial restructuring. Moreover, Shanghai's environmental protection legal system was further enforced, and nearly 30 local environmental protection regulations and standards were formulated.

4. Environmental quality improvement (2011–2017). Compound and regional environmental pollution and the rural-urban gap in environmental quality became more prominent in Shanghai. The hosting of the 2010 Shanghai World Expo helped significantly improve the quality of the city, and the citizens now have a higher expectation for better environmental quality. In addition to the control of individual pollutants, Shanghai has paid attention to the overall characteristics of air and water pollution control. It has promulgated Regulations of Shanghai Municipality on the Prevention and Control of Atmospheric Pollution, Shanghai Clean Air Action Plan and Shanghai Water Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan. The focus on reduction of major pollutants emission has shifted to the improvement of urban ecological and environmental quality. Efforts were made to strengthen the creation of urban ecological spaces, vigorously promote the construction of the world-class ecological island in Chongming, and actively participate in the coordinated prevention and control of air and water pollution in the Yangtze River Delta region.

5. Moving towards green development (since 2018). Shanghai is striving to develop into a city of innovation, humanity, and ecology, an excellent global city and a socialist modern international metropolis. Its seventh round of the Three-year Action Plan of environmental protection requires more attention to promoting green transformation and development in various fields. The aim is to develop spatial layouts, industrial structures, and ways of work and life that help protect the environment. Green and ecology have become the new theme of eco-environmental protection. The environmental protection work in Shanghai has entered a new stage of overall improvement of eco-environmental quality, comprehensive promotion of green transformation, and modernization of the system and capacity for ecological and environmental governance.