China has the second worst air pollution in the world, after India, according to a state think tank's report on global environmental competitiveness.
The report, covering the year 2012 and issued by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) on Thursday, also concluded that China ranked 87th out of 133 countries in overall environmental competitiveness, after evaluating each country's ecological status, environmental management capacity and the balance between economic growth and conservation. The data was compiled using 16 indicators, including air quality.
Switzerland, Germany and Norway topped the list. Brazil was the highest-ranked developing country, in fifth place, while the United States was 26th.
The study evaluated air quality based on levels of four pollutants, including smog-induced fine particles known as PM2.5, as well as the level of indoor air pollution, using figures from international organisations such as the United Nations, World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank.
Professor Huang Maoxing of Fujian Normal University, a main author of the report, said China's smog was a major factor. "This is a newly emerged problem, and the country has only started to monitor PM2.5 very recently … China still has a lot of room to improve," he said.
The ranking coincided with the release yesterday of a Greenpeace report which said that last year nearly 92 per cent of Chinese cities failed to meet the national air quality standards on PM2.5, particles 2.5 microns or less in diameter which are the most hazardous to public health.
The report, compiled from government statistics, also found that the PM2.5 levels in the 10 most polluted cities were twice the national standard. China's standard for PM2.5, at 35 micrograms per cubic metre, is already higher than the WHO's recommended level of 10.
The CASS study painted a rosier picture for China on the issues of environmental governance, ecological protection and resource utilisation, ranking the country sixth in terms of environmental management competitiveness. The top three under that category were Honduras, Bolivia and Saudi Arabia.
Li Bo, a senior consultant with environmental group Friends of Nature, said the study had probably focused too much on the government's role in protecting the environment.
"Good environmental governance lies in whether the government can effectively mobilise the public and improve resource efficiency. And China has a long way to go in that aspect," said Li.
Jiang Nanqing of the UN Environmental Programme, said China had a relatively sound system of environment-related policies and laws, which may have contributed to its high ranking in the category. "China's problem lies with implementation and supervision," she said.