A month after China’s commercial hub of Shanghai finished its World Expo, with a theme of “Better City, Better Life,” the city is setting records for air pollution that some warn could scare off investors.
The city suspended work at factories and construction sites and kept vehicles off the streets to ensure clean air for the six-month, multibillion US dollar expo, at which Shanghai presented itself to the world as China’s most developed city.
However, since the expo ended on Oct. 31, a blanket of brown haze has settled over the city and pollution is more than triple levels of a few weeks earlier.
Media, including the state-owned China Daily, have reported that air pollution last month has been the worst for five years.
“During the Expo, the government was very conscious about our air quality and wanting to give foreign visitors a good impression,” said Lisa Jin, a student at East China Normal University in Shanghai. “But after the Expo they have become lax and do not seem to care about the air quality.”
Recent foul smelling air in part of the city, caused by a gas leak at a nearby oil refinery, according to the Shanghai Daily, has compounded the pollution woes.
The problem could threaten to scuttle the hopes of city officials and residents who proudly see their city as a fast-growing global financial center.
“After the expo, pollution levels have increased phenomenally. This really could be a major limitation in Shanghai’s plan to be a global financial hub and attract key business people,” business consultant Nigel Shroff said.
Shanghai’s environmental protection agency, in a statement, blamed the pollution on cold weather from the north and said the months of November and December always bring bad air.
While an increase in coal burning during the winter, and winter weather patterns, contribute to pollution, industry experts say the resumption of factory work after the expo and the increase in vehicle emissions are the biggest culprits.
“The extreme measures the government takes are temporary measures aimed at a particular event for a short period of time. They are not realistically sustainable,” said Mike Murphy, chief executive of clean technology firm IQAir China.
“I don’t believe that in the near term that the air pollution in Shanghai is going to be reduced by any measurable amount. Even as older factories are shut down or relocated, there is still a large number of vehicles entering the road every day,” he said.
Many residents look back wistfully at the clean air this year and wonder if they’ll see it again.
“Will we see the blue skies days again in the near future? I seriously doubt it,” Marc van der Chijs, co-founder of China’s No.2 online video Web site Tudou, said recently on his blog.
“I might really start missing the expo,” he said.