Shenzhen: From dirty to one of the world’s most environmentally friendly cities

How did the city reduce its air pollution levels by 50 percent in such a short time? Source: Shutterstock.

LIKE MOST CITIES IN CHINA, Shenzhen has been battling pollution, one of the biggest environmental issues in the country.

Shenzhen, a modern metropolis with a booming industrial zone that links Hong Kong to China’s mainland. It has a vibrant economy and is home to major tourist attractions. But for years, a dark secret hung over the city like a smog.

Known for spewing clouds of toxic smoke and dangerous levels of air pollutants, which caused widespread environmental and health problems, Shenzhen has since succeeded in turning itself around.

In 2002, Shenzhen received a top award by the United Nations for being one of the world’s most environmentally friendly cities, an accolade that both shocked and impressed its neighbors.

In less than a decade, the city reduced its air pollution levels by around 50 percent, according to its authorities.

It’s nearly impossible to go out without a face mask in China. Source: Shutterstock.

How did Shenzhen achieve that?

Much has been done to clean up and transform Shenzhen into China’s most sustainable city and a poster child for the country.

For starters, the government has been aggressive in cutting roadside air pollution and planting trees along the streets.

Shenzhen also made global headlines for being the first major city in the world to roll out an all-electric public bus fleet –  all 16,000 of them. To put it into perspective, the city has more all-electric buses than the combined number operating in New York City, LA, Toronto, New Jersey, and Chicago.

Chinese firm Build Your Dreams (BYD) manufactures Shenzhen’s all-electric public bus fleet. Source: Shutterstock.

Unlike the diesel-guzzling buses, electric buses are not only better for the environment but also quieter. They’re cheaper to operate and maintain as well.

And for every 1,000 battery-powered buses in operation, the country cuts down on 500 barrels of diesel fuel, according to calculations by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. It was this all-electric fleet that helped the city meet its air quality goals in both 2016 and 2017.

That’s not all. It also has an electric taxi fleet that runs its streets.

Currently, about 62.5 percent of all Shenzhen’s taxis are electric and the city aims to turn the fleet all-electric. The city plans to electrify all its taxis by 2020.

China, being quick to embrace new technology and practice forward-thinking as well as its declaration of war against pollution, has allowed for positive changes in Shenzhen.

Between 2013 and 2016, levels of toxic PM 25 dropped by over 30 percent.

Last year, the Shenzhen municipal government offered CNY3.3 billion (US$514.4 million) in subsidies for e-buses and the construction of charging facilities. The city also encouraged taxi operators and private investors to invest in charging poles and stations for e-taxis.