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December 21, 2009

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Shanghai tackles climate change

FOR bank employee Kathy Tan, a two-week visit to the Regional Climate Change Center in Zhejiang Province's Gutianshan Nature Reserve gave her a unique opportunity to sharpen her understanding of climate change.

Tan was one of 11 Climate Champions selected by the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) from across Asia and the Pacific.

Tan learned about the impact of climate change on the deteriorating environment and frequent extreme weather around Shanghai. In the past few years, Tan felt that rare occurrences, such as blizzards and torrential, had increased in Shanghai.

The most inspiring part for her, however, was going into the forests in southern Zhejiang Province to measure the trunk circumference of trees and calculate their carbon-storage capacity, a major research focus of the newly built center coordinated by Chinese Academy of Sciences, HSBC and Earthwatch Institute, an international non-governmental organization dedicated to nature protection.

"It has been very rewarding for me. I get to understand the science of climate change and participate in a meaningful initiative. When I go back to my community and my department, I will be able to articulate the real issues of climate change more convincingly and more importantly," Tan says.

Tan's experience reflects Shanghai's efforts to tackle climate change at both the grassroots and policy-making levels.

Shanghai, where population stands at nearly 19 million, is believed to be the most vulnerable port city in China if damaging climate change is out of control.

Over the past 50 years, the temperature in Shanghai has risen by 2.35 degrees Celsius, double the national level. Global warming has increased the frequency of heat waves in Shanghai, which aggravates the effect of a heat island.

"Shanghai is a typical river city. We should examine the influence of global warming on its sea level, as it might lead to the intrusion of saltwater in the low-lying areas," says Wang Xiangrong, a professor of ecology with Fudan University.

Shanghai's long coastline, wetlands and islands should also be given particular attention in the fight against climate change, he says.

According to a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report on the Yangtze River basin's vulnerability and adaptation, climate change will continue to threaten Shanghai's economy and ecosystems, affecting its transport, investment and insurance, tourism and biodiversity.

"As a river city, Shanghai should turn to both adaptation and mitigation measures to cope with climate change," says Ren Wenwei, director of WWF's Shanghai office.

In view of the challenge of climate change and China's growing energy demand, WWF initiated a low-carbon city program in Shanghai and north China's Baoding, Hebei Province, in early 2008.

The first-stage priority in Shanghai has been increasing the energy efficiency of buildings and transport through its support of demonstration projects, such as the furniture giant IKEA.

Statistics suggest that the IKEA shopping center in Shanghai emits 6,000 tons of carbon every year. As part of its global energy-saving strategy, the IKEA Shanghai branch last year set a target of ending its dependence on fossil fuels, using 100 percent clean energy and raising its efficiency by 25 percent as compared with 2005.

For this purpose, IKEA (Shanghai) has replaced much of its energy-wasting equipment with energy-saving ones like light bulbs, air conditioners able to reprocess wasted heat, and frequency-converting lifts.

In addition to the low-carbon model initiated by WWF, the Shanghai government has also started to build the concept into its redesign of city development in an all-round manner.

An outstanding example is Huayuanfang Energy-saving Industrial Zone in the heart of Hongkou District, downtown Shanghai. Rebuilt from a previous auto factory, the industrial zone is home to a dozen of new energy projects, companies and platforms, such as the Shanghai Energy Efficiency Center and Shanghai Environment and Energy Exchange.

Low-carbon path

Since its establishment in August 2008, Shanghai Environment and Energy Exchange has helped in the transaction of more than 70 projects involving carbon emission reduction technologies and clean development mechanism (CDM). It also set up a training center communicating climate change knowledge to other developing countries.

"As a major financial center, Shanghai has advantages in giving full play to the role of markets. Many companies in Shanghai, like Baosteel, hope to upgrade their industry patterns," says Ren from WWF.

"If Shanghai develops a low-carbon path supported by a self-stimulating finance mechanism, it will set a model for the Yangtze River Delta and whole China," he says.

World Expo 2010 Shanghai will also showcase the city's low-carbon ideas and products, including more than 1,000 new clean-energy vehicles, an integrated photovoltaic (solar power) and a river water source heat pump. It is estimated that the carbon emission during the Expo will be reduced by up to 30 percent if all the facilities are put into use.

The Expo opening May 1 is themed "Better City, Better Life."

"World Expo Shanghai is the first low-carbon Expo in history. It will definitely make contributions in terms of the spreading of concepts, helping change people's behavior and development of science and technology," says Xu Ding, an official with the Bureau of Shanghai World Expo Coordination.

After the Expo, some low-carbon technologies can be put into practice in the Yangtze River Delta, in provinces outside the delta, and even neighboring countries," he says.

The steps taken by Shanghai reflect China's latest commitment to a greener energy pathway. China announced on November 25 it intends to limit its greenhouse gas emissions per unit of economic output by 40 to 45 percent by 2020.

"We lagged behind Western countries in industrialization and information revolutions. But we are on par with them in developing a low-carbon economy," says Ren. "Grasping the opportunity, Shanghai can lead the global development of low-carbon cities."


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