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Transportation in Developing Countries: Greenhouse Gas Scenarios for Shanghai, China


Journal Article

Urban Land Use and Transportation Center

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Suggested Citation:
Zhou, Hongchang, Daniel Sperling, Mark A. Delucchi, Deborah Salon (2001) Transportation in Developing Countries: Greenhouse Gas Scenarios for Shanghai, China. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Journal Article UCD-ITS-RP-01-14

Shanghai is experiencing rapid economic growth. Affluence is motivating dramatic and far-ranging changes in urban structure, transportation, and energy use. This report examines two transportation trajectories that Shanghai might follow and how they would affect greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Shanghai's metropolitan population of over 13 million people continues to grow relatively slowly, but its economy is growing rapidly. The average annual per capita income is $4,000, three times higher than the rest of China, and the Shanghai economy is expected to grow at more than 7 percent per year through 2020.

Massive new transport system investments planned for the next two decades are aimed at lowering Shanghai's extremely high population density, supporting economic growth, and enhancing the quality of life. The list of new investments is impressive: expansion of the new airport, construction of a deepwater harbor, three new bridges and tunnel river crossings, completion of a 200-kilometer modern rapid transit rail system, expansion of suburban highways, and construction of 2,000 kilometers of new and upgraded urban roads. These investments will improve the city's transportation system, but are costly and threaten greater energy use and air pollution.

A central issue in Shanghai's development is the role of personal vehicles, especially cars. The city currently devotes little land to roads and has only 650,000 cars and trucks – very few of which are privately owned – placing vehicle ownership levels well below virtually all cities of similar income. Even with this small number of vehicles, Shanghai already suffers from serious transport-induced air pollution and traffic congestion.

Shanghai city planners project a quadrupling of cars and trucks in the city by 2020. This projected increase is premised principally on two factors. First is rapid income growth, which will make car ownership possible for a much larger segment of the population. And second is vehicle prices, which are likely to plummet due to China's imminent accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Lower prices will result from increased competition, compulsory reductions in vehicle tariffs, and easier access to consumer credit.

These projected increases in vehicle use are not certain. Even apart from WTO membership, vehicle ownership and use – and GHG emissions – will be strongly influenced by three interrelated policy debates: industrial policy toward the automotive industry, air quality policy, and transportation and urban growth policy.

The city's decisions about vehicle use will be critical in shaping Shanghai's future. This report addresses the forces about to transform the transportation system of Shanghai, and examines policies and strategies that direct it toward greater economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

The two transportation scenarios draw upon extensive interviews with decision-makers and experts in Shanghai and Beijing. One scenario is premised on rapid motorization, the other on dramatic interventions to restrain car use and energy consumption, resulting in lower greenhouse gas emissions. Neither is a "business-as-usual" scenario, since this characterization is meaningless in a time of massive investments and policy shifts. Instead, these scenarios are meant to estimate likely upper and lower bounds of greenhouse gas emissions from Shanghai transport in 2020, taking as given the projected strong economic growth. If the economy grows more slowly, emissions will likely be lower than the scenarios indicate.

The rapid motorization scenario is based on the projected quadrupling of cars by 2020, coupled with a substantial increase in population. It results in a sevenfold increase in GHG emissions. The restrained scenario results in a fourfold increase in GHG emissions. In this restrained scenario, almost all emissions growth is due to increases in travel, not increases in energy intensity or GHG intensity of travel. Emissions per passenger-kilometer increase only about 10 percent in the restrained scenario compared to a doubling in the rapid motorization scenario.

Caution is urged in generalizing the findings of this report to other cities in developing nations. Shanghai is not a typical Asian city, given its surging economy and its world-class planning capabilities. However, the conditions for alternative transportation options are more propitious here than perhaps any other megacity of the world. If the city is effective at restraining growth in vehicle use (and GHG emissions), Shanghai may serve as a model for other cities in the developing world.
Published by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. (All Pew Center reports are available for download from