BEIJING - Most big cities in China still failed to publish adequate pollution information in 2011 despite the gradual establishment and consolidation of a nationwide environmental protection transparency mechanism, a newly published report found.
Only 19 out of 113 cities got a passing score of 60 out of 100, based on the Pollution Information Transparency Index, jointly developed by the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) and US-based Natural Resources Defense Council.
The average score was 40. But the result is already an improvement compared to the average of 31 for 2008, when the study was first conducted, and 36 for 2009 and 2010.
"This shows an environmental transparency mechanism (has been in the process of) being established in China since the country mandated by law the publication of pollution information in 2008," said Ma Jun, director of IPE. "But we're still at a very initial stage, especially with more than 10 cities scoring less than 20."
Zhu Xiao, an associate professor with the law school at Renmin University of China, said the majority of the 113 cities still failed to fully abide by the laws and regulations on pollution information disclosure. "If they do, they can easily get a score around 65," said Zhu, who was involved in designing the index.
Ningbo of Zhejiang province and Shenzhen of Guangdong province topped the transparency ranking, scoring over 80, with other cities in the Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta also achieving big breakthroughs in 2011, the report found.
But some major polluting provinces, such as Shandong and Sichuan, and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, were criticized over their poor performance with regard to publishing pollution information.
"For instance, Shandong province, the country's biggest emitter of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide (two major air pollutants), even saw some of its cities regressing on information disclosure," said Ma.
Cities in western China are generally lagging behind on publishing pollution information. This is seen as cause for concern because the development of the country's vast and ecologically fragile western region has already brought with it polluting industries.
Environmental experts found that the stubbornness of those local governments that withhold pollution information is the major obstacle.
Dai Renhui, partner of Beijing Huanzhu Law Firm, which focuses on environmental lawsuits, said all his attempts to apply for pollution information from county-level governments had failed.
Liu Shuai, from the environmental protection committee at Hunan provincial people's congress, had similar experiences in the province, which has been hardest hit by heavy-metal pollution.
"This is because some local officials are still obsessed with making decisions without listening to public opinion and some are simply afraid that publishing pollution information will reveal problems and cause themselves trouble," Liu said.