The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released its assessment of Shanghai's efforts to organize an environmentally-friendly Expo 2010 that aims to benefit not only the 70 million expected visitors but also leave a green legacy for the city's over 20 million residents.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "Since the first Expo in London in1851, world fairs have given visitors a taste of the future and the progress of human societies. The Shanghai Expo follows this historic legacy and is offering us a glimpse of a greener future."
"Like many rapidly developing cities, Shanghai faces enormous challenges in ensuring fresh air, clean water, sustainable energy, efficient transport and waste reduction for its population. The experiences of Shanghai in handling these issues provide valuable examples and lessons for other cities in China and worldwide," he added.
Since the first one, there have been a total of 40 world fairs focusing on everything from the achievements of the industrial revolution to economic progress and a call for world peace. Environmental concerns were first introduced into the Expo in 1974 in the United States. Since then, the idea of sustainable development has gained prominence. The theme of Expo 2010 is "Better City, Better Life" and focuses on Shanghai, the environment and the concerns of our times: the sustainability of urban living in a finite world.
Shanghai currently has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Since 2000, when preparation for the Expo started, the city has scaled up and accelerated its environmental initiatives and backed up those initiatives financially. By 2009 investments in environmental protection reached RMB 42 billion (US$6 billion), three times more than in 2000.
The UNEP Environmental Assessment outlines Shanghai's efforts in nine key areas: air quality, transport, energy, solid waste, water, green coverage, protected areas, climate neutrality and the overall situation of the Expo Site.
While the report applauds Shanghai's environmental initiatives, it also makes recommendations for improvements. The city's development of green transport, with the objective of making public transport the primary mode of travel, deserves wider promotion across China and worldwide. The city has constructed a world-class 400-kilometers rapid transit network and is experimenting with new energy vehicles such as electric buses, hydrogen fuel-cell buses and hybrid buses.
Despite this remarkable accomplishment in the transportation sector, the city is still challenged by its high dependency on coal for electricity. In its report UNEP recommends that the city continues to scale-up its development of renewable energies as demonstrated in its setting of China's largest building-integrated solar power PV plant on the Expo site and the first offshore wind farm in Asia that is under construction off Shanghai's coastline.
The report also notes that while the safe disposal of waste seems to be the foundations of Shanghai's strategy, including the use of landfills and mechanical-biological treatment (MBT) plants, there is a need to develop a more comprehensive waste reduction strategy for the city as well as for the Expo.
Shanghai's efforts to ensure drinking water safety has improved as has the increasing sewage treatment rate and cleaning up of polluted rivers, says the report. While acknowledging the scale of these efforts, the report also points out the need to tackle the nitrification of the river systems. The final chapter of the report examines the public participation so far and recommends organizers for actively seeking NGO participation and promoting green citizenship.
"The assessment looks at the challenges facing Shanghai and the enormous efforts that have been taken to address them. Despite the challenges, Shanghai is clearly determined to turn its modernization into a green example for urban development of the future," adds Mr. Steiner.
UNEP has become increasingly active as an environmental advisor for the greening of mass events worldwide. In May, the UN agency joined organizers of the Shanghai Expo to launch the Green Guidelines. This follows on UNEP's earlier work with Beijing in providing environmental assessments before and after last year's Olympiad. UNEP will do another follow-up report after the Shanghai Expo ends on 31 October 2010.