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Strengthening Cooperation between Environmental Protection and Meteorological Departments to Establish an Efficient Monitoring and Early Warning System for Heavily Polluted Weather


By Wang Haiqin & Cheng Huiqiang, Research Team on "Environmental Supervision and Management System and Mechanism in China", Research Institute of Resources and Environment Policies of DRC

Research Report, No 110, 2014 (Total 4609)

Currently, air quality in the urban areas of China is by no means optimistic. In 2013, the annual average concentration of PM2.5 was 72 micrograms/cubic meter, more than twice the national standard; of 74 cities1, only 4.1% had an up-to-standard PM2.5 level, and throughout the year there were a total of 948 days/times of heavy or more serious air pollution. The Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan requires that the environmental protection department strengthen its cooperation with the meteorological department to set up a monitoring and early warning system for heavily polluted weather (HPW). However, due to overlapping functions and fragmentation of the two departments as well as other reasons, the current atmospheric monitoring and early warning system is facing challenges in meeting the requirements of being "accurate in measuring pollution level, precise in reporting pollution trends, and reliable in taking pollution emergency measures". Monitoring information distortions and early warning information failures will seriously damage government credibility, and interfere with policymakers' and citizens' judgment about the trend of atmospheric pollution; they will be harmful to pollution prevention and control, and even more harmful to guiding the whole society to carry out emergency actions in response to HPW.

I. No Concerted Efforts Have Been Made for HPW Monitoring and Early Warning

1. Inconsistent monitoring and early warning information

Monitoring information is inconsistent. At the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, the central and eastern regions of China suffered from severe haze pollution. By comparing the atmospheric pollution data released from the environmental protection department and the meteorological department at representative monitoring sites in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze river delta area, and the Pearl river delta area, it was found that the monitoring data of PM2.5 from the environmental protection department were on average 38% higher than those released from the meteorological department, and even 43% higher on average in Beijing and its surrounding areas. During the period from February 20 to 25, 2014, the data of Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, and Shandong revealed that the monitoring results of PM2.5 from the environmental protection department were on average 31% higher than those from the meteorological department. Such a big difference made it difficult for the general public to get to know the real picture of pollution.

Early warning information is also inconsistent. At the beginning of 2013, the central and eastern regions of China suffered from extensive hazy weather, which caused the air quality to keep worsening; the meteorological department issued a "blue alert for haze", which was the first separate haze alert issued in China. On September 1, 2013, the meteorological department officially started to forecast air pollution meteorological conditions, and issued early warning information on "whether the meteorological conditions are favorable for the dispersion of air pollutants". In March 2014, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the China Meteorological Administration jointly issued the "heavy atmospheric pollution alert" for the first time on the National Weather Forecast program of CCTV-1. Plenty of inconsistent early warning information has been publicized, which is rather confusing to the public.

2. Inconsistent technical standards for monitoring and early warning

The differences in the monitoring technical standards have led to disparities between the two departments in the location, quantity, and monitoring method of air quality2 monitoring sites. Ever since the beginning of the 21st century, especially during the "12th Five-Year Plan" period, the environmental protection department has set up a series of monitoring standards for ambient air quality . According to these standards, air quality monitoring sites shall be mainly located in central urban areas and pollutant concentration areas. In 2012, there were 1436 state-controlled monitoring sites for ambient air quality throughout China, of which 256 were in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei and its surrounding regions (Table 1). These monitoring sites have been undergoing transformation and upgrading since 2012 to be able to monitor PM2.5, CO, and O3 besides their original capacity to monitor PM10, SO2, and NO2. By the end of the "12th Five-Year Plan" period, these 1436 state-controlled monitoring sites will all be able to monitor the above six pollutants, and most of them will be using the β-ray method to monitor PM2.5. The meteorological department, however, distributes its monitoring sites mainly in areas with representative climates according to its own technical standards3, so as to reflect the air quality conditions in a wider region; and these monitoring sites vary in their capacities to monitor different air pollution indicators. So far, the meteorological department has 119 atmospheric pollutant observation sites for monitoring PM10, 100 stations for monitoring PM2.5, and 47 sites for monitoring above-ground O3, CO, SO2, and NOX. The meteorological department has fewer air quality monitoring sites; even in the heavily polluted Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, there are only 54 monitoring sites (Table 1). The meteorological department tends to use the Tapered Element Oscillating Microbalance (TEOM) method and the Light Scattering method to monitor PM2.5. Due to the use of different technical standards, the monitoring data of the two departments are not only inconsistent but also lack comparability.

Table 1 A Comparison of the Number of Air Quality Monitoring Sites which

Are Respectively under the Observation of the Environmental Protection Meteorological

Department and the Department in Heavily Polluted Areas

Heavily polluted


Number of state-controlled monitoring

sites owned by the environmental

protection department

(each station able to monitor

six pollution indicators)

Number of sites owned by the meteorological department

(distributed according to pollution indicators)



O3, CO, SO2, NOX


Hebei and its

surrounding regions























Inner Mongolia




Yangtze River delta
















Pearl River delta






Source: China Environment Yearbook, 2013; meteorological station data are from the China Meteorological Administration.

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1In 2013, 74 cities in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze River delta, the Pearl River delta and other key areas as well as in municipalities directly under the central government, provincial capital cities, and cities with separate state planning

2Ambient air quality monitoring standards formulated by the environmental protection department mainly include: Technical Regulation for Selection of Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Stations (HJ664-2013), Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Standards (On Trial) (State Environmental Protection Administration announcement No.4 in 2007), Manual Methods for Ambient Air Quality Monitoring (HJ/T194-2005), Ambient Air Quality Standard (GB3095-2012), Technical Regulation for Ambient Air Quality Assessment (On Trial) (HJ663-2013), Technical Regulation on Ambient Air Quality Index (On Trial) (HJ633-2012), Technical Index and Specifications for PM2.5 Automated Monitoring Equipment (On Trial), Specifications and Test Procedures for Ambient Air Quality Continuous Automated Monitoring System for PM10 and PM2.5 (HJ653-2013), etc.

3China Meteorological Administration, Specifications for Surface Meteorological Observation, Meteorological Press: 2011.