Shanghai - Smog today, zero emissions tomorrow?

The future of megacities

Since 2010, more people have been moving from rural areas to cities than vice versa. Urban centers such as the seaport of Shanghai, which has recorded double-digit economic growth since the 1990s, attract both unskilled workers and well-trained specialists. Compared to rural life in poor, modest conditions, the metropolitan regions offer secure jobs and thus the prospect of a relatively prosperous life.

The flip side of the rapid growth is that Shanghai has been battling with huge environmental problems for decades. For example, the generous limits on particulate matter in the air are exceeded on an almost daily basis. This results from the energy supply for urban industry and private households being based on coal, a low-cost fuel. However, private cars are also responsible for poor-quality air and their numbers have increased sharply since the 1980s. Around 100,000 new vehicles are registered in Shanghai each year. Overall, cars account for around one third of local transportation but are responsible for half of the CO2 emissions generated there. By way of comparison, buses – which make up roughly the same proportion of local transportation – produce 15 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions.

The fact that Shanghai nonetheless has the potential to be a cradle for developing sustainable solutions seems paradoxical only at first glance. This is because where large numbers of people live together in a minimum of space, resources can be used more efficiently and innovations can be produced more profitably. One example of sustainable urban development is the megacity of Tokyo, which has one of the world’s most efficient public transportation systems. When urban planners succeed in overcoming environmental problems, megacities offer a high quality of life. This, in turn, attracts people with an above-average level of education. But major urban population centers are also of interest to global companies on the lookout for new sales markets. As well as manufacturing facilities, this also gives rise to design and research laboratories – the megacity is becoming a lead market for product innovations and trends. And it offers jobs for highly qualified staff.

Bosch in China

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Bosch in China

Shanghai, too, has developed concepts to overcome the environmental crisis. Take the example of electromobility – in 2011, the Chinese government created the EV Zone in Shanghai’s Jiading district. The central testing and development center aims to prepare and promote the comprehensive market launch of emission-free vehicles. By 2015, the first 20,000 cars fitted with an electric motor are expected to be on Shanghai’s roads and are certain to attract international attention.

Interview with Prof. Bullinger

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Interview with Prof. Bullinger