Shanghai’s government released a draft plan last week for the actions it will take at different levels of air pollution in the city. It is a four-color system indicating different levels of air quality and suggested/compulsory measures under each level:

Blue (AQI is predicted to be 201-300 for the next 24 hours):

  • The government will give suggestions to local residents.
  • Relevant government departments required to strengthen oversight of local pollution sources.

Yellow (AQI is predicted to be 201-300 for the next 48 hours):

  • Partially close construction sites.
  • Close factories discharging pollutants.
  • Ban vehicles with construction materials from the roads.

Orange (AQI is predicted to be 301-450 for the next 24 hours)

  • Require enterprises in the petrochemical, steel, cement and chemical engineering sectors to suspend operations.
  • Ban fireworks and outdoor straw burning .
  • Ban vehicles carrying construction rubble and yellow label (i.e. high pollution) vehicles other than city buses.
  • Cancel large-scale outdoor sports events.
  • Stop outdoor activities at schools and kindergartens.
  • Halt all outdoor construction work.

Red (when the AQI is predicted to above 450 for the next 24 hours

  • Close primary schools, junior high schools and kindergartens.
  • 50% of official vehicles will be taken off the roads.
  • Cancel large-scale outdoor activities (e.g. outdoor concerts and marketing campaigns).
  • Halt all construction work.

Clearly the core challenge is in the details of implementation. In 2013, the alarm system triggers were seen to be pulled late; will they be pulled more promptly in 2014? How objective will the forecasts be if they are coming in just around the line? Will companies know in advance which lists they are on and what they need to do when a color change is made?

In addition to the new warning system, Shanghai will phase out 500 polluting, hazardous and energy-intensive facilities in 2014, which is excellent. But if pollution is coming into Shanghai from surrounding areas, the city’s ability to restrict these sources remains limited.

Net net, it is great that increased attention to the problem is being sustained. but how much of a difference the new policy makes will depend on pulling the trigger.

For the record, here’s the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau’s summary of average daily AQI during 2013:

  • 241 days of AQI below 100
  • 72 days of AQI 101-150
  • 29 days of AQI 151-200
  • 21 days of AQI 201-300 (Yellow days if two consecutively, Blue day otherwise under the new rating)
  • 2 days of AQI over 300 (Orange or Red days under the new rating)