Although administered from the top-down, China's environmental governance is characterized by decentralization, a feature that has been cited as the cause of poor implementation of policies at the local levels. To address this implementation gap, the central government in China has instituted environmental targets in its evaluation system of local leaders. However, the system of performance evaluation based on statistics and indicators has revealed problems of data and information abnormalities, falsification, and collusion between local officials to hide or misrepresent data. Little academic attention has been paid to sub-national institutions in place for data collection, reporting, and verification in China. This paper seeks to understand how institutions collect and transfer environmental data in China's vertical governance structure, as well as the challenges faced primarily by provincial Environmental Protection Bureaus (EPBs) to shed light on why discrepancies and gaps in environmental data might exist. Using data gathered from semi-structured interviews of environmental protection officials in nine provinces and two municipalities across China, this paper provides an analysis of environmental monitoring, reporting, and verification at primarily the provincial level. The consequences of a complex, decentralized environmental monitoring system in China has meant provincial environmental protection bureaus face a multitude of challenges, including a lack of institutional coordination, weak incentives for environmental performance evaluation, limited autonomy for enforcement, and varied capacity and public demand for improved information.
Environmental Practice 15:280–292 (2013)