The top environmental watchdog has set out a timetable for monitoring smog-related pollutants across the mainland amid mounting public pressure and setbacks in curbing pollution and energy waste this year.
The timetable unveiled by Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian on Wednesday is widely seen as a step in the right direction, but it fails to address mounting demands for immediate access to data for monitoring fine particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less - tiny enough to invade even the smallest airways - known as PM2.5.
Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Tianjin and provincial capitals would start monitoring the health-threatening airborne particles - and ozone, another hazardous pollutant that has long been overlooked - from next month, Zhou told a national gathering of local environmental chiefs, the Beijing Times reported.
'Environmental agencies must address the discrepancies between official monitoring data and public feelings,' he said, in a vague reference to mounting allegations of official cover-ups of the capital's worsening smog, which later escalated into a full-fledged public debate. 'We must let statistics speak for themselves and try to protect the public from pollution.'
Zhou said PM2.5 data would be monitored across the mainland and released by January 1, 2016.
The debate and the subsequent public outcry over a lack of transparency about worsening air pollution has apparently embarrassed authorities, with both Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice-Premier Li Keqiang publicly acknowledging the urgency of overhauling the mainland's outdated pollution standards, which do not include PM2.5.
Environmentalists criticised Zhou's timetable. 'It is disappointing because what Zhou said is just a cop-out in the real issue of the debate - that is when we will have full access to PM2.5 data,' said Zhou Rong, a Greenpeace China campaigner.
Ma Jun , head of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said the deadline of 2016 was unacceptable given the negative impact on health from worsening smog.
The cut in ammonia-nitrogen emissions - a water pollutant - in the first 9 months compared with a full-year target of 1.5 per cent