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Make Overall Plans to Establish the Environmental Monitoring Network and Strengthen the Capability to Promote Ecological Civilization in China


By Wang Haiqin, Cheng Huiqiang & Gao Shiji, Research Institute of Resources and Environment Policies of DRC

Research Report Vol.17 No.5, 2015

Environmental monitoring is the basis for solving major ecological and environmental problems. One of the major contents in the institutional reform for promoting ecological progress is to reform the environmental monitoring system. Under the new circumstances in China, it is urgent to speed up the establishment of a unified, independent and efficient modern environmental monitoring network so as to ensure the quality of monitoring data, promote information sharing and improve scientific decision-making in promoting China’s ecological progress.

I. Development of China’s Environmental Monitoring Network under the New Circumstances

Environmental monitoring refers to analyzing and testing the concentration, quantity, distribution and pollution of relevant factors in such environmental elements as water, air, soils, forests, grasslands and oceans, etc. in order to clearly describe the features and status quo of the environment and identify the sources of pollution, the tendency of environmental quality and potential environmental risks. Environmental monitoring consists of environmental quality monitoring and specialized environmental monitoring .

1. The central government of China has developed an increasing clear attitude in overall arrangement for environmental monitoring

The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) proposed to include resource consumption, environmental damage, and eco-efficiency into the evaluation system for economic and social development, highlighting the underpinning role of environmental monitoring in the overall plan for building socialism with Chinese characteristics, which consists of promoting economic, political, cultural, social and ecological progress. The Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee put forward the goal of building a monitoring and early warning mechanism for the carrying capacity of resources and environment and clearly defined the role of environmental monitoring in ensuring the creation of the new pattern featuring the harmonious development between man and nature. Opinions of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council on Accelerating the Ecological Progress put forward the goal of “improving the monitoring network to cover all resource and environmental elements” and clearly stated the specific requirements for vigorously developing the environmental monitoring network. Moreover, during its 14th meeting, the Central Leadership Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reform proposed key steps of setting up the environmental monitoring network.

2. The establishment of major ecological civilization systems should be based on environmental monitoring

In order to improve ecosystem, we must establish complete and integrated institutional framework for promoting ecological progress, including perfecting the property right system of natural resources, making balance sheets of natural resource assets, establishing the system of lifelong accountability for ecological and environmental damages and implementing the system for payment-based resource use and compensation for ecological conservation. These major systems are formulated, implemented and improved based on a sound environmental monitoring network. Only high-quality monitoring data can help build therestriction mechanism with effective prevention at the source, strict control in the process, and severe punishment for bad results, as well as an incentive mechanism which boosts green, circular and low-carbon development. In the near future China will face more occurrences and higher frequency of environmental risks. Therefore it is necessary to conduct effective monitoring and early warning in a timely manner, enhance the ability of environmental risk prevention and optimize the environmental monitoring network.

3. Significant opportunities for environmental monitoring brought by “Internet plus”-based green ecology

The Internet is increasingly integrated with ecological conservation. “Internet plus”-based green ecology aims at building a dynamic network monitoring the carrying capacity of main ecological elements and ensuring environmental data are interconnected and shared . Under such circumstances, the environmental monitoring network should meet two requirements. Firstly, monitoring data should be large enough to cover all regions, ecological elements and all time periods. Second, data quality should be good enough to be scientific, accurate and comparable. In addition, it is crucial to make sure monitoring information can be available online, shared by all and applied in practice. At present, it has become an irreversible trend that big data technology is utilized to enhance and improve environmental monitoring . The old regulatory method depending roughly on eyes, noses and feels to obtain monitoring data should be phased out and transitioned into the refined and accurate regulatory model featuring the coordination of monitoring and supervision.

4. The fact that mountains, lakes, rivers, forests and farmlands constitute a complete system poses new requirements for an overall environmental monitoring system

To promote ecological progress, we must follow the principle of respecting, protecting nature and following its objective law and adhere to the belief that mountains, lakes, rivers, forests and farmlands constitute a community of life, an ecological system which cannot be divided. This is the philosophy for ecological conservation and also the fundamental principle for reforming the environmental monitoring system in China. To uniformly monitor ecological elements like water, air, soil, forests, grasslands and oceans, it is important to have an overall plan and arrangement of all monitoring networks associated with upwind and downwind, upstream and downstream, ground and underground, land and ocean. At present, demo activities are being conducted in all departments and regions. For example, Ministry of Environmental Protection is monitoring air quality in areas with serious air pollution and issuing early warnings.

II. The Status Quo and Problems of China’s Environmental Monitoring Network

Thanks to the progress made in more than fifty years in the past, China has created a monitoring network covering varied ecological and environmental elements like water, air, soil, forests, grasslands, and oceans, which has played a major role in resource conservation and environmental protection in China. Disadvantages of the existing network, however, begin to show up under the new circumstances.

1. Monitoring networks in all relevant departments are isolated and information barriers are common to see

The same environmental element is concurrently monitored by different departments. A range of departments, including Ministry of Environmental Protection, Ministry of Land and Resources, Ministry of Water Resources, State Oceanic Administration, State Forestry Administration, have the function of monitoring environment. They manage their own monitoring networks in line with the corresponding laws and regulations (see below). For example, Ministry of Environmental Protection, China Meteorological Administration, and Ministry of Transport manage three different but partially overlapping air monitoring networks. And likewise, eight departments are involved in water monitoring. Different departments, when monitoring the same environmental element, often differ in monitoring areas and densities of monitoring sites, and monitoring methods, indicators and regulations, causing different and even contradictory results and hindering comprehensive, objective and accurate assessment of environmental quality in China . In addition, different departments release different results, which, to a certain extent, could affect government credibility. The root cause for inconsistent data from various departments lies in the overlapping, vague or even conflicting environmental monitoring functions stipulated in relevant laws and regulations.

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