Spotlight: Shenzhen has Transformed to One of China’s Cities with the Lowest Air Pollution Rate

Spotlight: Shenzhen has Transformed to One of China’s Cities with the Lowest Air Pollution Rate

In 2010, the Chinese government designated Shenzhen, a city of about 13 million inhabitants in the south of China, to be among 11 provinces and cities to develop and pilot low-carbon solutions for industry, transport, renewable energy, construction, consumption and ecology. China’s government uses pilot projects to spur low-carbon urbanization, and designated locations must prepare low-carbon development plans.

The city was built 40 years ago as a special economic zone competing economically with Hong Kong and to accommodate China’s burgeoning manufacturing industry. Since its nomination as a pilot location, Shenzhen has published two plans outlining a roadmap to low carbon development. The first one in 2012 contained an initial analysis and ensuing recommendations, while the 2017 plan further systemized designing a near-zero carbon emission pilot zone, defining the need for support structures, technical and policy systems and concrete actions.

In 2019 a study from the Shenzhen branch of the Technical Institute of Harbin singled out traffic, power and manufacturing as sources for the highest carbon emissions levels, 65.1%, 19.1% and 3.4% respectively, recommending focusing further plans on high-impact measures in these areas, especially in manufacturing as well as adjustment in the power and transport sectors. The study estimated the upfront investment for the necessary changes at 760 billion CNY until 2030.

Shenzhen’s Ministry of Environment and Ecology in early 2021 published a draft local 14th Five Year Plan for environmental protection with the aim to solicit input from public opinion. The plan calls for pilot projects to peak emissions, achieve carbon neutrality or create carbon sinks over the next 5 years, as well as measures to make the city climate resilient. Climate mitigation is also defined as an opportunity for economic development by creating leading industry champions around innovations for carbon emissions reduction, efficient energy storage, new energy transport, renewable energy and related industry segments such as batteries and battery recycling. Shenzhen is already home to BYD, one of China’s foremost e-mobility companies. The February 2021 draft of “Shenzhen Special Economic Zone Ecological and Environmental Protection Regulations” includes a negative investment list of projects with excessive carbon emission intensity.

Already before becoming an official pilot zone, Shenzhen had been among the earliest cities globally to fully embrace electric vehicle transport, including electrifying its fleet of public buses. Between 2009 and 2015 Shenzhen achieved an accumulated reduction of 280,000 tons of CO2 and around 100,000 tons of fuel saving by promoting new energy vehicles. To this purpose, subsidies of some 2,1 billion CNY were allocated from the start of the project to the end of 2012, and a further 5 billion CNY as part of the 2013-2015 Work Plan. In December 2017, Shenzhen announced that it had fully electrified its public bus fleet by putting 16,359 electric buses on the road. In addition, by the end of 2018 Shenzhen already had over 20,000 fully electric taxis on the road, saving nearly 70% of energy over traditional combustible engine taxis, reducing the city’s annual emission by 856,000 tons/annum.

Over the past decade, the city experimented with efforts to upgrade industry, improve quality of production and output and embrace innovation while growing its GDP at about 8-10% annually. It was one of China’s first cities to convert its economic base from heavy industry to service and light manufacturing and enforce cleaner production standards. In 2017 Shenzhen’s government mandated for its important furniture manufacturing industry to convert from solvent to water-borne furniture coatings to reduce VOC emissions. The city has also been able to reduce energy intensity while increasing output.

Shenzhen is also one of seven locations to pilot a local form of the Emissions Trading System during China’s original testing phase. Shenzhen created the first Chinese carbon market with functioning trading mechanisms for carbon emission allowances between the city’s largest companies. The ETS was first launched in 2013, and by the end of 2016, 635 out of the 636 enterprises included in the carbon trading control system had completed the necessary carbon trading compliance process. By 2015, CO2 emissions of these companies fell by 5.81 mio tons, down 18.2% since 2010. Twelve mio tons of CO2 equivalent were traded in the first half of 2017, representing a total of 296 mio CNY in trading value. Shenzhen was also the first city to establish the Center for National Carbon Market Capacity-building to build necessary skills.

And lastly, Shenzhen announced in March 2021 that it will apply a Gross Ecosystem Product (GEP) system to measure the city’s future economic development, encompassing the total value of final ecosystem goods and services supplied to human well-being in a region annually.

Today, Shenzhen has transformed from an unattractive factory town, to one of China’s cities with the lowest air pollution rate, as well as water and energy consumption, despite being also one of the wealthiest places. According to the Technical Institute of Harbin report, Shenzhen’s carbon emissions will have peaked in 2020. A prediction that, however, will need to be verified further into the future.


Development and Reform Commission of Shenzhen Municipality

Department of Energy and Circular Economy

Tel: +86 755 8812 1075

Learn More Sources:三达简版研究报告.pdf

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This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard China Country Manager Annette Wiedenbach


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