Reducing China’s Air Pollution. One Monitoring Station at a Time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 9:46

In what may be one of the lasting victories for China’s nascent NIMBY movement, a couple of articles this week highlighted the fact that the number of cities to be monitored for PM2.5 air pollution will rise to 74 this year.. and 115 by 2015

Chinese city publishes vital pollution data – are other reforms on the way?

The 74 cities include China’s four municipalities, 27 provincial capitals, as well as cities in three highly urbanized and industrialized regions — Yangtze River Delta in the east, Pearl River Delta in the south and the northern Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area.

China aims to reduce air pollution

China has announced a new air pollution reduction plan. The plan, unveiled Wednesday at the U.N. climate talks in Doha, addresses PM2.5 — fine particulate matter 2.5 microns or less in diameter — and calls for cutting the PM2.5 intensity at least 5 percent by 2015 in 13 major areas covering 117 cities, state-run news agency Xinhua reports.

While the entire system is not online yet, the rolling out of these stations offers hope to many who have stepped outside their flats every morning on their way to work, looked up at the sky, and coughed.  Hope that with the data going live, the teams of government officials who are just settling into their posts following their reassignments/ promotions are going to have to compete (against each other) on this data.  Through this competition will come change

That is the theory anyway.

On the ground, what I expect to see (and what I am already seeing), is a number of policies and investments that are targeted towards the big three – heavy Industry, coal, and cars). Regulation that will set standards for industry, incentives that will drive out heavy polluters (attract clean production), investments in infrastructure that provide a tight urban core services by public transport, and upgrades of coal fire power production facilities.  All textbook stuff for China, who have practiced this model in Tier 1  cities (Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou) and in many of the East Coast cities (Nanjing, Tianjin, etc).  Practices that are are seeing returns on investment (at different phases), and are now looking to drive scale across China’s provincial capitals and third tier cities.

For me, regardless of how you cut it, the rolling out of these monitoring stations is a positive sign as ultimately it removes the ability to move emissions “away”.  with 110+ cities covered by 2015, and newly appointed mayors being tied to these monitors, investments and enforcement in regulations will have to occur.  Sure, there is going to be some movement of industry that will clear up a city core while pollution a rural region, but as this program rolls out, holding officials and firms accountable for their emissions just got infinitely easier at the national level.

A critical piece in China’s enforcement mechanism, and a piece that should not be overlooked.  Tied into their central database, and tied against the real time monitoring of China’s largest firms, this is simply another net that will ultimately lead to higher standards, efficiency, and air quality.


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2 Responses to “Reducing China’s Air Pollution. One Monitoring Station at a Time.”

  1. James Guzzo says:

    December 13th, 2012 at 3:49 am

    The fact that the monitoring of PM 2.5 will be more widespread throughout China is definitely encouraging. I think you’re also spot on that any government officials who can sustain or grow industry in their area while also reducing pollution will surely rise to higher posts.

    However, there have historically been issues with the pollution monitoring schemes in China. Even this article ( from earlier this year notes that “Most of the 18 air-quality monitoring stations located in Shenzhen are situated in parks or schools, away from industrial zones.”

    The competition you noted between government officials could also prove problematic. While on the one hand it may spur innovative thinking and serious efforts to reduce pollution, I feel it has an equal chance to encourage gaming the system and somehow producing bogus pollution readings. Time will tell I suppose.

  2. Rich says:

    December 13th, 2012 at 3:54 am

    Hi James.

    Thanks for the comment, and I agree on all counts. In writing this, I am reminded of the lengths governments went through to hit their carbon targets last year… so, plenty of room for interpretation.

    One thing that I have witnessed in Shanghai thought is that the vans are often centrally located and will site along major road ways/ highway for days at a time taking measurements.

    So, only time will tell, but for me this is still a positive step.

    Hope all is well