An environmental group in China has launched a smartphone application that enables users to view regional pollution levels and factory emissions in real time.
Around 15,000 factories in China report their air emissions to local government entities on an hourly basis. Local government entities then publish the information online. Now, for the first time, this new app consolidates the information in a user-friendly format. It allows people around the country not only to see pollution levels in different provinces, but also to identify which factories are the largest emitters. Factories are color-coded on a map by emission levels, making it easy to identify the worst offenders.
The publishing of this information on regional government websites and its subsequent consolidation in this new app demonstrates a change in direction for the Chinese government in its approach to environmental transparency. For decades the government encouraged economic development at any cost and covered up many of the consequences of unregulated growth. Now, with air quality in many parts of the country at critical levels, and continuing to worsen, the government is beginning to take more drastic measures to control it. A few years ago secrecy and the protection of factory operations would have trumped these concerns, and this app would likely never have been allowed to exist. Now, priorities are beginning to shift – at least in regards to air pollution.
While the Chinese government is certainly encouraging improved environmental practices in some cases, the country still has massive environmental and social sustainability problems. China is still clocking a staggering 7.5% annual GDP growth, and for the foreseeable future, economic development still reigns supreme.