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Some Suggestions on Deepening the Reform of China's Monitoring System for Ambient Air Quality


By Wang Haiqin & Cheng Huiqiang, Research Team on "China's Monitoring System for Environment" of Research Institute of Resources and environment Polices of DRC

Research Report No 143, 2014 (Total 4642)

During the 12th Five-Year Plan period, China has tremendously improved its ambient air quality monitoring capability. The monitoring results generally meet the public demand for information. In the next 10 to 20 years, the task to improve China's ambient air quality is still arduous. In addition to providing necessary information for the public, the monitoring data will focus more on early warning against severe air pollution, evaluating the impact of air pollution on human health, and providing the base for the government performance appraisal. The new trends in the demand for environment monitoring have set higher requirements for improving the quality of the monitoring data and the efficient operation of the monitoring network. Reforming the environment monitoring system has been gradually put on the government's agenda in China.

I. The current monitoring system has hampered the efficient operation of the monitoring system for ambient air quality

The current management system for environment monitoring in China is characterized by the fact that "monitoring is mainly conducted by local authorities supplemented with the professional guidance from the central government and monitoring is mainly conducted by government monitoring centers supplemented with market players." However, with the further development of ecological civilization, the disadvantages of this monitoring management system have gradually shown.

1. Local governments' administrative intervention discourages the monitoring staff.

In the local monitoring system, local governments possess the power in environment monitoring. In this case, it is common for the administration to interfere in the monitoring data, which produces more and more negative impacts on local environment monitoring centers. Recently, key technicians in some local environment monitoring centers leave from their posts one by one and the heads of the monitoring centers in a western province quit collectively. The major reasons for these cases are that monitoring personnel face the dilemma where they are trapped between the laws and the orders issued by local officials. On the one hand, the Environmental Protection Law amended in 2014 stipulates that the heads of monitoring centers are to be responsible for the quality of the monitoring data and they are to be liable for any distorted data. On the other hand, it is the local governments that decide fund allocation, and the appointment and dismissal of the personnel in the affiliated monitoring centers. This dilemma seriously discourages the monitoring staff and affects the efficiency of environment monitoring.

2. Insufficient funding from local governments has negative impacts on local monitoring.

Funding from local governments has direct impacts on the competence of local environment monitoring. There exist big comparative differences in terms of personnel, equipment, and funding for environment monitoring centers located in different regions. In 2012, the average number of staff in the monitoring centers at all levels in Shanghai is 5 times more than that in Guizhou Province. The equipment bought by the monitoring centers in Shanghai is worth 22 times that in Jiangxi Province. The outlay for monitoring centers in Jiangsu Province is 17 times as much as that in Heilongjiang Province. With the growing demand for environmental monitoring, the local environmental monitoring centers, especially those located in mid-west areas, are facing more and more striking problems, such as the shortage of personnel and the insufficiency of fund. Some local governments set limited staffing quotas for the environmental monitoring centers at the local level. Staff members generally lack expertise of automatic control and instrumental analysis needed for ambient air quality monitoring. Now, the subsidies from the central government for ambient air quality monitoring reaches 15% to 25% of the total cost, and the rest of the expenditures must be covered by local governments. Those mid-west areas with limited financial resources generally can't guarantee sufficient funding for the environmental monitoring work.

With limited monitoring competence and being influenced by out-of-date ideas, the environmental monitoring centers in mid-west regions are unwilling to introduce monitoring companies or buy the monitoring service from non-governmental sectors. Since local governments mainly depend on their own environmental monitoring centers, non-governmental forces can't conduct monitoring business at will in the environmental monitoring domains, which prevents the market resources from playing an active role.

II. Attempts and achievements in reforming the monitoring system for ambient air quality in China

To reduce the negative impact of the current monitoring system on the ambient air quality monitoring network, during the 12th Five-Year Plan period, a series of reforms on the ambient air quality monitoring system have been carried out achieving some good results.

1. Taking back the monitoring function by higher governments and exploring the reform of allocating the function among different levels of governments.

Partial function of ambient air quality monitoring is taken back by the central government. In 2014, in order to strengthen the central government's supervision on the quality of local monitoring data, 378 out of 1436 nationally supervised ambient air quality monitoring points are selected to be managed directly by the central government. The operation and maintenance related to these points has been taken back from local to China's National Environmental Monitoring Center, with funding provided by central finance. Now, this reform is underway. At the same time, to promote the regional joint prevention and control of air pollution, during the 12th Five-Year Plan period, 65 newly built regional ambient air quality monitoring points are going to be built and managed by the central control.

The monitoring function over ambient air quality is taken back by the provincial government. To support the provincial government performance appraisal of ambient air quality, some provinces have shifted the ambient air quality monitoring function from regional and municipal to provincial level. Shandong and Beijing are adopting this model. In 2012, the monitoring function of 144 ambient air quality monitoring points in Shandong Province were transferred from the local environmental centers to Shandong Environmental Information and Monitoring Center affiliated to Shandong Provincial Environmental Protection Bureau. The provincial Center manages these monitoring points directly, with funding both from the provincial and municipal finance.

Taking back the monitoring function from the local further strengthens the validity of the monitoring data. The central government is on the way of taking back some monitoring function from the local. According to the interview, the Local environmental monitoring centers argue this can help to alleviate local governments' intervention in the monitoring data. The take over of the monitoring function by provincial governments decreases the administrative intervention from lower governments, ensuring the comparability and fairness of the monitoring data and facilitating the provincial evaluation of environment quality.

2. Developing the market for environmental monitoring business and exploring the model of government's procurement of environmental monitoring services.

The market of "Trust Management" business develops rapidly and governments should partially deregulate the market of ambient air quality monitoring business. The "Trust Management" market model means that governments only outsource the operation and maintenance service of monitoring equipment to the third party, but still keep personnel for and the functions of ambient air quality monitoring. Thus, governments purchase data partially from the third party rather than producing the monitoring data by themselves. In this mode, governments complement its function of supervising the third party. This model is used for supporting the management of those monitoring points whose operation and management has been taken back by the central government and some provincial ones.

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