Cities reluctant to lift haze on pollution data
Most mainland cities continued to shirk environmental transparency rules last year, with many industrial regions failing to make pollution data public, according to a recent study.
Although cities in the Pearl River and Yangtze River deltas and the region covering Beijing and Tianjin saw modest progress on transparency, disclosure was still limited in the vast central and western regions, based on the Pollution Information Transparency Index, an annual ranking of 113 mainland cities.
'The gap between eastern provinces and central and western regions is glaring in terms of pollution transparency, and it continues to widen,' said Ma Jun , head of Beijing's Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, which jointly compiles the index with the US-based Natural Resources Defence Council.
The study concluded that in the past three years, local authorities had moved at a snail's pace in helping rein in industrial polluters, despite widespread degradation and Beijing's repeated pledges to promote more openness.
The government passed the first national regulation on information disclosure in May 2008.
Beijing, which ranked 7th in the transparency index last year, shooting up from 31st in 2010, was praised for a marked improvement in transparency, particularly the regular release of data on industrial polluters.
However, Chifeng in Inner Mongolia, Mianyang in Sichuan, Jinzhou in Liaoning, and Zhangjiajie in Hunan were listed among the worst in terms of granting the public adequate access to such data.
Most cities in Shandong, Inner Mongolia, Sichuan and Hunan - where emissions of pollutants rose rapidly in recent years - were found to have reneged on their commitment to disclose the information.
Shandong, the country's third-largest provincial economy and the top emitter of sulphur dioxide and highly toxic nitrogen oxide, has done an exceptionally poor job in publishing pollution data. Its provincial ranking dropped from 12th in 2008 to 17th last year.
The only city in Shandong that made progress was Qingdao , which came in 10th overall. Many coastal cities also improved information dissemination.
'We strongly urge major cities in Shandong to strike a balance between economic growth and environmental protection,' Ma said.
The average transparency score for all cities last year was only 40 out of 100 - slightly higher than the average of 31 for 2008, but still lower than the passing score of 60.
Zhu Xiao, an associate law professor at Renmin University, said it was 'appalling' that most cities had failed to abide by the information disclosure law more than three years after it was passed. 'The so-called progress so far has been way too slow,' he said.
The transparency study found that local governments made little headway in taking action on pollution complaints and public requests for access to environmental data.
'It remains true that most public attempts to demand access to pollution information at local levels have failed' despite mounting grievances and rampant pollution scandals, said Dai Renhui, an environmental lawyer.
Liu Shuai, a former environmental official from Hunan, said the authorities would not dare show pollution data, fearing it would harm economic interests. 'It is almost impossible to get pollution information through normal channels ... and quite often you need to have guanxi [special connections],' he said.