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Most Chinese Cities Fail Transparency Test (Jan. 18, 2012) 

Most Chinese cities fail transparency test

By Liu Jianqiang (China Dialogue)

China has the beginnings of an environmental transparency system in place, but standards are low and the public still struggles to get hold of pollution data, new research from two green campaign groups suggests.

On Monday this week, the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) and American NGO the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) published the latest survey of 113 cities, which awarded each a mark for environmental information disclosure. The average score was 40.14 out of 100.

IPE director Ma Jun said that, during the three years these cities have been assessed, transparency of data on pollution sources has increased: the average score has risen from 31 points to 40, while the number of places to achieve a score above 60 – the pass mark – has climbed from the initial four to 19. Ma believes that an initial system of environmental data disclosure has been established in China.

But the two organisations behind the report point out that environmental transparency is still in its infancy. A host of cities are still languishing 20 points below the pass mark, and it is still difficult for people to get hold of the pollution data that allows for public environmental supervision.

Ma Jun said that data disclosure has already started to put pressure on polluting companies. In 2011, 218 businesses provided explanations about their pollution problems and rectification efforts. “This sort of progress shows that environmental information disclosure is pushing enterprises to rethink their environmental responsibilities,” said Ma.

But at the same time, China’s regional transparency gap continues to widen. The level of disclosure in the Pearl River Delta and Yangtze River Delta, for example, is climbing fast, pointing to an overall progressive trend. But in Shandong, Inner Mongolia, Sichuan and other high-emission provinces, there has been little progress – certain cities have even got worse.

In Zibo city in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong, for instance, information can be found on 178 environmental violations in 2009, but for 2010 the figure is only 51. Zibo’s emissions are high – of Shandong’s prefecture-level cities it ranks first for industrial sulphur-dioxide emissions – but environmental data disclosure is far from adequate.

Liu Shuai, deputy head of Hunan Provincial People’s Congress Environment and Resources Protection Committee said that disclosure problems stem from relevant departments not wanting to be transparent. After information is released, many projects will come under attack and become harder to push through. In addition, there are cases where serious local pollution directly affects people’s health, and so they do not dare release the data.

Environmental data disclosure has started to put pressure on polluters, said Ma Jun, but “only when we establish a Chinese pollution registration system, will its potential be fully realised.”

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