Pollution-reporting move a ‘turning point’ in smog battle: official

Updated: 2014-01-21 10:58

By JACK FREIFELDER in New York (China Daily USA)

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China's air pollution data- reporting initiative marks a "turning point" in the country's battle against choking smog, an official with the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) said.

Linda Greer, the director of the NRDC's health program, said the initiative which took effect at the start of this year "has more potential than anything else the government has done because it will really enable local officials and concerned citizens to target their concerns and focus attention on the big problems".

Although it's early, "it could be a watershed moment," Greer told China Daily in an interview.

To be more transparent about the pollutants in the nation's environment, the Chinese government has begun requiring some major cities to release hourly statistical updates on air quality. By 2015, the aim is to have every major city in China release pollution data to the public.

Seven of the 10 Chinese cities with the worst air pollution in the third quarter of 2013 were located in Hebei province, the province that surrounds the Chinese capital of Beijing, Bloomberg News reported.

Liu Jigang, deputy director of the standing committee of the Beijing People's Congress, said public discontent with the pollution issue is on the rise. "This pollution is leading to much public worry," Liu said in comments posted on the city government's website.

President Xi Jinping has pledged to tackle pollution amid increasing public concern that environmental issues are affecting both the country's medical health and economic well-being.

Xi has said solving China's environmental issues calls for "bigger steps and patience," drawing on comments he made during a trip to a power plant in Beijing, Bloomberg reported.

Barbara Finamore, founder and director of the China Program at the NRDC, said air pollution problems are tough to eradicate without tackling these issues head-on.

"China's toxic air is not going to go away until the root cause is addressed — uncontrolled industrial coal pollution," Finamore said in an email to China Daily. "There are signals that the country is recognizing this. In the past year China has announced significant plans to cut pollution and increase transparency. Their challenge now is to put those plans into action fast because the public's patience is running out," she said.

In another initiative targeting air pollution, China recently began requiring 15,000 of the nation's biggest factories to monitor air emissions and wastewater discharges continuously. More than 150 cities have been called on to report emissions data to the public, according to NRDC data.

Greer, who has a doctorate in environmental toxicology, said the increased availability of information is a pragmatic step toward further traction on this key environmental issue in China.

"Making information available on the sources of the pollution is the next logical step in this campaign," Greer said. "It's that kind of public pressure that in other countries around the world really inspires the sources to do a much better job of controlling their pollution."

China "is doing this environmental reporting in 2013, so they really have all the electronic communication technology at their fingertips," Greer said. "It's a different ballgame now than when we were first doing our reporting. We hope that the NRDC's experience could be useful to the Chinese government and other NGOs who are staffed there to help them fast-track activity, learn from our mistakes and make faster progress on this than they would make otherwise."

Contact the writer at jackfreifelder@chinadailyusa.com