This video features Green Hunan, a non-government, non-profit organization located in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province. Green Hunan worked with the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) last year in a first attempt to develop a city-level Pollution Information Transparency Index (PITI) for a total of 14 major cities in Hunan.  You can see the 14 cities including 6 from IPE’s analysis and an additional 8 conducted independently by Green Hunan in the diagram on the left.

Xiaoyan Dai, Green Hunan’s Operations Director was recently recognized by Circle of Blue as an “Action Figure” for this work in trying to make local leaders more transparent and responsible for releasing environmental information to the public. In this video, Xiaoyan describes some of the challenges they confronted the first year in conducting their assessment. Many local environmental protection bureaus weren’t even aware that they were required to release pollution information, according to 2008 “Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on Open Government Information” (the link is to a translated version in English).  Another obstacle they have faced is in terms of dissemination of their results to local leaders and measuring the impact of the Index in terms of whether or not the data and rankings are making a difference in local leaders’ behavior.  Xiaoyan mentioned to me that after they completed their initial ranking, they sent their results to each one of the local EPBs, and while most acknowledged receipt of the report, they did not receive any feedback on the results.  She feels that perhaps the best way to get feedback on the pilot effort and rankings is to convene all local leaders together to discuss the Index, using a bit of peer pressure to raise awareness of local performance on information transparency.

Another potential stumbling block is in the meaning and communication of the scores and rankings themselves. A PITI measures performance on information transparency and fails to take into consideration environmental performance.  What this means is that a city like Zhangjiajie (the site for 2009’s blockbuster Avatar),

Screen-Shot-2012-08-16-at-9.41.19-AMwhich has pristine environmental quality because throngs (and I mean, throngs, having been there myself the weekend after my visit with Green Hunan) of tourists travel there to bask in its natural beauty, rank last in the PITI.  Cities like Hengyang, which is one of the most polluted in Hunan, ends up ranking first. So there could be some danger in touting the results of a PITI too much, particularly without the context of environmental quality or performance.

I presented on our own Environmental Performance Index )EPI) to Xiaoyan and Green Hunan, and they were excited to potentially develop a Hunan city-based EPI, similar to the efforts in Zhejiang (see previous post). I think paired together with the EPI, Green Hunan’s PITI may be able to have the kind of desired effect to push both performance and transparency forward in their province.