The U.S. will expand its monitoring of air pollution levels in China and make the results public despite objections from Beijing, American ambassador Gary Locke said Thursday.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing and consulates in Shanghai, Chengdu, and Guangzhou have been measuring air quality levels in the four cities and tweeting the results, drawing anger from Chinese authorities who have said the action flouts international laws.
Locke indicated that plans were underway for the remaining U.S. consulates in Wuhan and Shenyang to also monitor the pollution levels in the two cities.
“We have been criticized by the Chinese government for having such a monitor, but we feel it is our duty,” Locke said, speaking in Washington at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“We are expanding this to all the different consulates throughout China,” he said.
In June, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin called on foreign diplomatic missions in China to stop issuing environmental readings out of respect for the country’s laws.
Chinese environmental protection minister Wu Xiaoqing said that issuing the readings defies diplomatic conventions.
The hourly tweets of air quality readings provided by the U.S. diplomatic missions using their own equipment have become an alternative reference point for some Chinese citizens.
Chinese forecasts often predict slight air pollution even when the city is shrouded in haze, reports have said.
The U.S. figures include measurements of particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers—known as PM2.5—which form one of the most harmful types of air pollution and which China had omitted from its air quality figures until recently.
Municipal environmental bureaus in Beijing and some other cities started issuing PM 2.5 readings for the first time in January, and China has announced plans to make them part of air quality monitoring nationwide by 2016.
But still, the U.S. advisories often show a large discrepancy with China’s pollution indicators.
Locke said there is a strong demand for the U.S. readings from city residents concerned about the air they breathe.
“So many Chinese citizens are coming onto our website and using the information to make decisions involving their families,” he said.
“It has created a lot of support among the Chinese people calling for more accuracy in the pollution levels put out by the Chinese government.”
Coal-fired power plants, cars, and construction have all pushed pollution to sometimes unhealthful levels in many of China’s major cities, which are often blanketed in visible smog.
Locke said the popularity of the unofficial air quality monitoring provided by the U.S. diplomatic missions is tied to greater scrutiny of environmental information among Chinese citizens.
“We are seeing a growing sentiment among the Chinese people themselves calling for more environmental activism and environmental protection.”
Reported by Rachel Vandenbrink.