This fuels the city's economy, but it is also weakening the battlefront against climate change, says Yang Fuqiang, a climate expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. As bulldozers wiped out wetland flora, Shanghai lost its natural barriers that can mitigate erosion and absorb the shock of storm surges, Yang explained. He added that the city should start restoring wetlands instead of reclaiming them.
Ren Wenwei, who heads the Shanghai conservation program at the World Wide Fund for Nature, agrees. "The wetland is not only a home for wildlife, but also serves as a safeguard for the city's 22 million residents," Ren said.
To rebuild this safeguard, Ren and others say, Shanghai is shifting to a new economic engine. The city plans to steer away from land-hungry factories and lure in more bankers who need little more than a desk and computer.
Moreover, Shanghai is showing more enthusiasm about attacking the core cause of climate change: greenhouse gas emissions.
Building a rooftop 'Central Park'
Since 1994, Shanghai has been developing its urban rail network from scratch. Now it is the longest in the world, luring commuters to leave their cars at home.
Meanwhile, the city is also cleaning up its power sources. It demonstrated the first Chinese commercial project to sell solar-derived electricity to the grid. It built the world's first large-scale offshore wind farm outside Europe. And with the help of a more advanced power grid, electricity generated from hydropower is being sent over a thousand miles to Shanghai, allowing it to style itself as the biggest clean energy-consuming city on Earth.
Still, half of the city's power comes from coal, a high carbon-emitting fuel. To emit less greenhouse gases, Shanghai must consume less energy. To that end, regulators have ordered more buildings to be equipped with solar water heaters. They have also doubled electricity prices for some inefficient industries that are high electricity consumers, including steel, cement and leather makers.
Along with this exercise in Chinese command and control come a few carrots. Factories can access financial incentives to upgrade technologies. And residents get subsidized prices for energy-saving light bulbs and more efficient air conditioners.
As a result, Shanghai has cut its energy use by 20 percent, measured against each unit of economic output during the last five years. Looking to the next five years, Shanghai has promised not only to continue this trend, but also for the first time to cap the total amount of energy that it can use.
Impressive as all this sounds, it may not be enough. Until now, Shanghai has been neglecting another key contributor to climate change, says Yang of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Yang notes that as more buildings are constructed here, fewer areas covered with plants, trees and soil are left, weakening the city's ability to absorb carbon dioxide.
Recently, Shanghai began pushing construction to go hand in hand with gardening. According to its plan, by 2015, the building, roofs and walls of new structures and some existing structures will be strewn with newly planted grasses, bushes and flowers. The hope is that, cumulatively, this will create a new carbon-absorbing mass nearly half the size of New York's Central Park.
The added greenery will add some more cool to the city that is trying to save itself from the sea.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500