22 February 2019

POLICY WATCH: Funds shortage casts pall over air monitoring

China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, plans to build a nationwide network over the next three to five years to monitor the health impacts of air pollution. However, a lack of funding at different government levels may hamper the efforts.

In a bid to reduce emissions and tackle air pollution, the nation aims to build 43 monitoring stations in 16 provinces and municipalities that are frequently shrouded in heavy smog, Xinhua reported on Oct. 5, citing Xu Dongqun {徐東群}, an official at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report said the central government would allocate funds for the project but it did not elaborate on specific amounts or funding sources. If the system is to have any stability, the authorities need to include long-term funding provisions in government budgets at various levels to cover the cost of running the stations, observers said.

There are signs though that China is willing to pay for a cleaner environment. Beijing announced last month that it would spend more than 1.75 trillion yuan (US$285.5 billion) to clean up the air across the country within five years. Clean technology and equipment providers are almost certain to benefit from this largesse.

Dozens of cities across China are already putting systems in place to monitor air quality. In September, the central government ordered that all 338 provincial-level cities start monitoring six airborne pollutants, including hazardous fine PM2.5 particles, by the end of 2015 and release the results.

In all, 47 of those cities started initial work on the systems in January, and another 116 cities were ordered to follow suit by the end of 2013. However, 26 of the 116 cities did not put out tenders for the monitoring equipment until mid-July, due mainly to a lack of funding, according to China Environmental News, a newspaper run by the Ministry of Environmental Protection. 

Central government subsidies for these stations vary across the country. In China’s west, for example, Beijing covers 80 percent of the cost, while in eastern cities, the subsidies stretch to only 40 percent of expenses, according to observers.

In the past, 661 stations in 113 cities monitored the air daily, detecting levels of three major pollutants: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and PM10 particles. The central government covered about half the operating costs, with an annual subsidy of 20,000 to 50,000 yuan for each station.

However, those stations now have to test the air for three more pollutants: PM2.5, ozone and carbon monoxide, according to the new air-quality standard released on Feb. 29, 2012.

Those new requirements raise the operational costs to about 200,000 yuan a year for each station, leaving a larger funding gap because Beijing’s subsidy remains unchanged.

– Contact the reporter at [email protected]




Freelance journalist

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