Environmental data collection in China is fraught with gaps in data availability, temporal interruptions, and inconsistencies between sources. These data woes come at a time when China faces a pivotal juncture in environmental policy. Tremendous growth in the country’s industrial capacity and increased consumer demand have transformed the nation into the world’s second largest economy; however, the resulting air pollution, rising greenhouse gas emissions, and soil and water contamination threaten public health and the country’s ability to continue harnessing its natural resources.

In recent years, China’s government has shifted towards more quantitative and scientific approaches to data collection, environmental management, and policy making. For example, the Foul and Filthy Rivers mobile app encourages citizens to flag polluted waterways for government review. In the city of Guiyang, the public has access (via a mobile app) to the data from 120 monitoring stations collect real-time environmental quality data on air, water, and noise metrics. This work occurs in collaboration with a number of non-governmental organizations that help to synthesize and collect environmental information, identify companies that violate regulations, and develop ways to incentivize green investing.

A suite of papers by Data-Driven Lab explores how new and innovative forms of data collection – “third wave data” – could help China meet the challenges of data-driven environmental policymaking. One paper, Addressing Gaps in China’s Environmental Data: The Existing Landscape, examines and identifies the most pressing gaps in China’s environmental data. Another, The Potential for Citizen-Generated Data in China, maps citizen science initiatives underway in China and around the world, to identify possible opportunities and challenges in applying third-wave data strategies – from citizen science and crowdsourcing to the use of satellite data – to fill these information gaps. The project’s executive summary distills the key findings from both papers, and outlines next steps for leveraging third wave data to support environmental management in China.

All of these resources can be explored here.