In a break from its typically transparent-as-wood approach to state data, the Chinese Government has surprised everyone by requiring 15,000 factories—influential state-owned-enterprises included—to issue real-time reports on their air and water emissions.
This decision marks huge progress from just a few years ago, when the government was requesting the U.S. embassy and consulates to cut-off their own pollution reporting. Since then (2009), the government has made gradual steps to improve transparency on pollution statistics; at the start of 2014, 179 cities in China were releasing real-time information on their air quality, according to a reportby the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE). These real-time reports proved to be extremely useful and were obsessively checked by individuals and organizations during the multiple Air-pocalypses of 2013.
With cities now in check (more or less), the government has decided to go after individual offenders in the hopes that increased pressure will instigate substantial decreases in emissions.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Linda Greer of the National Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C. pointed out that this latest step is not only the “biggest thing” China has done in its war on pollution, it even “brings them from the back of the pack globally, in terms of public information disclosure, to the front of the pack.”
Leading the charge in these real-time online monitoring efforts are such usual-suspect provinces as Hebei and Shandong, with the former containing eight out of the ten most polluted cities in China last year. Ma Jun, the Director of IPE, says that their willingness to comply “helps fulfill the public’s right to know, and also helps to identify the main pollution sources within that geographical region.” All optimism aside, other provinces such as Guangdong and Hunan, as well as the city of Tianjin, are still yet to publish such required information.
In addition to the reporting of this real-time information, Ma has also been working with experts on designing a mobile app that exposes individual offenders: within the app, factories meeting emission targets would show up as blue, while those emitting illegal amounts would show up as red. This way, Greer believes, factories would be pressured to use control devices that would lead to a meaningful reduction, which she described as “much easier than closing them down.”
The IPE report does not ignore the fact that these new standards challenge “powerful vested interests”, and “the challenge in implementing them should not be underestimated.” With that said, there is little doubt amongst experts that this is a step in the right direction for the government, with arguably greater chances of success than blasting smog away with liquid nitrogen,taking jobs away from Uyghurs or fancy ‘eco-friendly’ fireworks.
By Alex Stevens