Transparency is a popular catchphrase these days in China, with ordinary people demanding more of it from their officials. In this regard, pollution is one area in which there has been some progress, even if the polluting activities themselves remain a chronic problem across the country.
On Monday, environmental advocates in China released the latest annual rankings of cities as measured by official environmental transparency. The project, called the Pollution Information Transparency Index, seeks to gauge how open officials are about levels of pollution at the sources of the problem. It is drawn up by the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a group based in Beijing led by Ma Jun, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, based in New York.
The rankings were the fifth consecutive annual list the two groups have released. They said they evaluated 120 cities with data from 2013 and early 2014. Cities in relatively wealthy eastern provinces rated well, while those in poorer inland and northeastern provinces fared poorly. Some of the cities in the bottom 10, such as Linfen and Datong, both in Shanxi Province, are in heavy coal mining areas and are known for their horrid levels of air pollution. Beijing jumped to number two from number six in 2012. The eastern port city of Ningbo, known for its export manufacturing industry, ranked first both years.
The groups said in a statement on Monday that the data showed “that environmental protection supervision and management information in those key cities still needs improvement, while on the other hand, breakthroughs have been achieved in disclosure of real-time pollution source data and of full environmental impact assessment reports.”
There are two prominent weaknesses in the disclosure of environmental information that officials must address, the groups said. One is that public participation in environmental impact assessments is lacking now because there is no good mechanism for it. The second is that disclosure of industrial emissions data is “very limited.”
The groups praised provinces and regions that had established online platforms for the release of real-time monitoring information. Mr. Ma said, “Once records of excess polluters can immediately be made public, polluting enterprises will be under powerful supervision of the public, interference toward environmental protection from local governments will be effectively prevented and the complications of environmental protection law enforcement that have long plagued China may possibly be overcome.”
Mr. Ma’s group said it had developed a smartphone app that allows users to check the current air quality in 190 cities and look at real-time data on major sources of atmospheric pollution. On Monday, the data showed that as many as 370 large industrial companies were producing excessive emissions.
The 10 top-ranked cities out of 120 for environmental transparency for 2013 and early 2014 are:
1. Ningbo (Zhejiang Province)
3. Qingdao (Shandong Province)
4. Zhenjiang (Jiangsu Province)
5. Wenzhou (Zhejiang Province)
6. Hangzhou (Zhejiang Province)
8. Nanjing (Jiangsu Province)
9. Changzhou (Jiangsu Province)
10. Yangzhou (Jiangsu Province)
The 10 bottom-ranked cities are:
111. Kunming (Yunnan Province)
112. Linfen (Shanxi Province)
113. Harbin (Heilongjiang Province)
114. Jinzhou (Liaoning Province)
115. Deyang (Sichuan Province)
116. Shaoguan (Guangdong Province)
117. Jilin (Jilin Province)
118. Yuxi (Yunnan Province)
119. Yangquan (Shanxi Province)
120. Datong (Shanxi Province)
Mia Li contributed research.