Recent years have seen the continued maturation of IoT, Big Data, 5G, AI and other new-generation IT technologies, and with that has come an accelerated rollout of informatization, Big Data, and AI tools for environmental pollution control. By this point in the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), the informatization infrastructure that is so characteristic of eco-environmental Big Data in China has become an integral support for environmental governance.


1. Developments in Eco-environmental Big Data in China

China’s rapid environmental informatization began at the dawn of the 21st Century.

Smart environmental protection was first mentioned around 2012 with the construction of Smart Cities and was intended for smart application in fields such as water affairs. The rapid promotion of the National Environmental Monitoring Network, launched in 2015, laid a strong foundation for eco-environmental Big Data and then, in 2016, the former Ministry of Environmental Protection proposed ideas for the construction of eco-environmental Big Data.

Big Data, Internet Plus, and IoT Plus together with data-based insights, data-based management, and data-based policies were seen as key to driving the modernization of environmental governance systems and capacities, and stronger data analysis would support administration and help determine better policies. Quantifying management with environment quality as an evaluation metric further drove the push to talk about pollution emissions from a data perspective, and to use that data assess and evaluate the implementation of environmental improvement work.

The Ministry of Ecology and Environment solidified its proposal of construction of a large Big Data platform for information resource and data sharing combined with a large collaborative governance system in its 2018-2020 Eco-environment Informatization Infrastructure Proposal. The targets laid out in the report – to make eco-environment decision-making comprehensively scientific, make eco-environment monitoring precise, and make eco-environment public services convenient – were all definitively achieved within the five year deadline.

By 2020, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment had informatized eco-environmental clouds, exclusive eco-environmental networks, integrated fixed pollution source databases, eco-environment information maps, and network and internet portals, and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment continued to develop a comprehensive informatization platform for eco-environmental management, several phases of which were successfully completed in 2021.


2. Major Relevant Policies during the 14th Five-Year Plan


At the beginning of the 14th Five-Year Plan, a series of relevant policies and plans were released to accompany the overall acceleration of digital government construction, the further clarification of the requirements for informatization infrastructure across the entire environmental industry, and the increased requirements for informatization infrastructure in other industries such as the low carbon industry.


Focus on Promoting Administrative Informatization and Digitization

Since the beginning of the 14th Five-Year Plan, the Central Government increased its focus on infrastructure for the informatization and digitization of government administrative affairs, with policies accelerating the overall informatization of government departments such as the Guiding Opinions on Strengthening the Building of a Digital Government (2021) and the Guidelines for the Building of a National Integrated Government Big Data System (2022). Environmental management is included in all policies and plans relevant to government informatization as a key component.


Accelerate the Digitization of Eco-environmental Management

Establishing eco-environmental management informatization and digitization infrastructure has become a major means of environmental management in China. Development requirements have also been issued for the informatization of more niche fields such as environmental monitoring, aquatic pollution control, atmospheric pollution control, and solid waste disposal.

Table 1
Informatization and Digitization Requirements declared in Major 2022 Eco-environment Policies

Policy Name Department Issue Date Requirements
14th Five-Year Plan: Ecological and Environmental Monitoring Plan Ministry of Ecology and Environment January 2022 Improve levels of Big Data-based monitoring. Strengthen data mining. Perform comprehensive assessments.
Implementation Plan on Accelerating the Comprehensive Utilization of Industrial Resources Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and 8 other Departments January 2022 Encourage the use of AI, Big Data, blockchain, cloud computing, industrial internet, 5G, and other digitization technologies to strengthen whole-lifecycle management of resources.
Opinions on Further Strengthening the Prevention and Control of Heavy Metal Pollution Ministry of Ecology and Environment January 2022 Establish and improve a monitoring and early warning system for heavy metal pollution.
Increase the level of informatized monitoring.
14th Five-Year Plan: Marine Ecological and Environmental Protection Plan Ministry of Ecology and Environment January 2022 Combine and apply advanced monitoring technologies such as remote sensing, continuous fixed-point, rapid on-site, and video surveillance with technological frameworks such as Internet Plus, Big Data, cloud computing, and AI to achieve precise and intelligent monitoring and surveillance of eco-environmental quality in coastal and bay regions.
Seek out a smart regulatory platform to establish beautiful coasts and waters.
Guiding Opinions on Accelerating the Construction of Urban and Rural Environmental Infrastructure NDRC, Ministry of Ecology and Environment, and 4 other Ministries and Commissions February 2022 Sufficiently utilize Big Data, IoT, cloud computing and similar technologies to drive the smart upgrading of urban environmental infrastructure.
Encourage the development of a smart disposal system to manage the collection, storage, transfer, transport, and disposal of urban waste.
Use digitization to boost the innovation of operation and regulatory models.
Accelerate the establishment of an informatized national medical waste management platform.
Notice on the Work required to Further Advance the Informatization of the Environmental Management of Hazardous Waste Ministry of Ecology and Environment June 2022 Continue to advance work on the informatization of the environmental management of hazardous waste.
Further strengthen links to and application of the National Solid Waste Information System.
Yellow River Basin Ecological and Environmental Protection Plan Ministry of Ecology and Environment and 4 other Ministries and Commissions June 2022 Accelerate the adoption of new eco-environment technologies such as simulation models, IoT Big Data, remote cloud monitoring.
Promote the establishment of eco-environment Big Data and the application of early warning reports.
Improve the systems and mechanisms for sharing eco-environmental data for the Yellow River basin and delegating tasks.
Implementation Plan for the Safe Disposal and Resource Reclamation of Sludge NDRC, Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, Ministry of Ecology and Environment September 2022 Encourage the informatized management of the entire sludge lifecycle, including production, transport, and disposal.
Strengthen the analysis of sludge disposal data.
Optimize operations for more precise management.


Promote Informatization in Low Carbon and other Areas

The Working Guidance for Carbon Dioxide Peaking and Carbon Neutrality in Full and Faithful Implementation of the New Development Philosophy, the Action Plan for Carbon Dioxide Peaking Before 2030, and the Implementation Plan for Supporting Carbon Peak and Carbon Neutrality with Science and Technology (2022-2030) form part of a series of policies and plans adopted by the Chinese government since 2020 to promote the development of low-carbon goals. All of these pieces of legislation lay out requirements for monitoring and managing emissions and the informatization of this work, such as the requirements to promote the development of technology to measure carbon emissions, to accelerate the application of novel technologies such as remote sensing and measurement, Big Data, and cloud computing to the measurement of carbon emissions, and to improve the level of statistical accounting defined in the Action Plan for Carbon Dioxide Peaking Before 2030.


3. The Current State of Eco-environmental Big Data in China

China began working to speed up the implementation of eco-environmental Big Data in 2016. Requirements regarding the construction of such Big Data infrastructure have been issued in increasing number and frequency by departments at all levels of government, from the Ministry of Ecology and Environment right down to provincial and city administrations. The demand market for eco-environment Big Data construction has slowly been increasing in size and scale with each project that is implemented and was worth 1 billion CNY by the end of the 13th Five-Year Plan in 2020.

Further clarification of new construction targets and requirements laid out in the 14th Five-Year Plan — particularly the expanded scope and increased number of targets for environmental monitoring — means that regulatory capacity needs to be upgraded, which has resulted in further increased market demand to meet the new construction requirements. The Research Report on Eco-environment Digitalization in China (2021) released on the digital environmental services platform Green Nest (绿巢) claimed that the platform had found 6,115 projects from publicly available information, and that the total amount of all contracted projects for the development of eco-environmental Big Data infrastructure granted by governments at all levels exceeded 17 billion CNY.

However, not all information is publicly available, and when we look at the actual budgets set by governments at all levels for projects in these fields, we can make an educated guess and estimate the actual scale of this market to fall between 20 and 25 billion CNY.


(1) Construction Details and Individual Project Scales: Start with the Practical, Adapt to the Local

Eco-environmental Big Data construction projects take many different forms based on the target, product, positioning, and budget of each individual project.

Large, comprehensive platform projects often include the construction of IoT monitoring networks, IT support platforms, Big Data centers, application layers for analysis, and presentation layers for decision-making. These elements come together to form a comprehensive, intelligent eco-environment platform that meets regional or specific environmental needs. Specialized projects are designed to fulfil tangible needs, and the end product is generally a targeted combination of one or more components like IoT network construction, data control, and app development.

The scale of each individual project differs with the project requirements, making them difficult to generalize, but most large-scale platform construction projects adopt a unified approach to planning and phased implementation.


(2) Inter-regional Differences Vast as Implementation Spreads Slowly

Governments across the nation are gradually promoting key eco-environmental Big Data work in line with both central Ministry of Ecology and Environment and local requirements. The pace of development, however, is unbalanced as factors such as existing infrastructure, practical requirements, and capital allocation differ greatly between regions. Eastern coastal provinces like Guangdong, Jiangsu, Shandong, Zhejiang, and Fujian together with regions like Hebei, Henan, and Beijing have seen Big Data infrastructure grow more rapidly than places in Northeastern, Northwestern, and Southwestern China. When we look at actual projects undertaken in 2021, we can see that Shandong, Jiangsu, Hebei, and Guandong lead the national rankings for both construction projects and construction capital.

Every province had begun work on constructing eco-environmental Big Data platforms by 2021, but those provinces that had begun work earlier — like Fujian — had already started using the initial version of their platform and moved onto second-stage projects aimed at improving and expanding functionality. However, even those provinces that left the starting line a little later have now completed the initial top level design and infrastructure assembly stages, which allows them to accelerate the remaining work.

By the middle of the 13th Five-Year Plan, provincial capitals, heavy industrial cities with greater demand for environmental governance, and some eastern coastal cities with more stable economic foundations had already begun actively building their local eco-environmental Big Data platform. At the same time, chemical engineering heavy industry parks and industrial agglomerations were becoming key components in the construction of ‘Wisdom Parks’ and engaging in specialized IoT-integrated Big Data platform construction work to create hazardous gas early warning systems, comprehensive pollution source monitoring and other necessary solutions for their parks.


(3) Project Development in Different Fields: Further Advancements in the Control of Air Pollution

Eco-environmental Big Data construction projects are being undertaken across a wide range of fields, including atmospheric environmental management, marine environmental management, solid waste disposal, soil and sewage management, radiation management, and natural eco-system management. Of the projects already started, there is a large concentration of projects related to atmospheric and marine environmental management.

The 12th and 13th Five-Year Plans were densely packed with policy requirements for air pollution control in particular and set out some fairly specialized policies for niches like industrial flue emission control, fine particulate pollution prevention and control, and the control of ozone and VOCs. As implementation of these policies began there was a flurry of research, scientific management, and scientific decision-making regarding issues such as regional air environment quality monitoring, supervisory pollution source monitoring, air pollution early warning systems, emissions lists, and pollution source traceability; simultaneously, the constant rollout of new technologies like micromonitoring stations, mobile monitoring equipment, remote satellite technology, and high-altitude platform stations only led to an increase of the governmental focus on eco-environmental Big Data construction projects for atmospheric environmental management at all levels.

The beginning of the 14th Five-Year Plan ushered in an era where demand for IoT-integrated Big Data projects did nothing but grow in the marine and atmospheric environment fields. The informatization of marine environmental management garnered increasing focus as policies requiring the protection of the Yangtze and Yellow River Basins and the control of black and odorous rivers in urban area were strengthened and expanded in scope.

In addition to these two fields, Dual-Carbon policy targets and key task implementation has seen the undertaking of some preliminary research and platform construction projects regarding Peak Carbon Emissions and Carbon Neutrality informatization.

The tangible details of these projects are growing clearer by the day, and their number is expected to increase as supporting technological solutions also grow more mature.


(4) Overall, Development is still in the Rapid Construction Phase

Eco-environmental Big Data projects are generally split into phases such as preliminary design, project build, project operation, and rolling functionality upgrades. While some projects have been fully completed and put into operation, a small number of projects — those which began earlier — are already in the upgrade and iterative work phase; however, even the completed projects are still falling far short of meeting actual management requirements and thus are still in the ‘build’ phase.


(5) The Popularity of the EPC Model and the Gradual Shift towards Data Service Upgrades

The EPC model is the most common project build model. Clear requirements are set out by the government, and a professional enterprise then provides equipment and build services. Service models are, however, being constantly optimized and upgraded as requirements expand and diversify. In some regions governments become deeply involved at all levels of the project and engage in the procurement of monitoring equipment, professional software, platform build services, and operating services, gradually moving towards the direct purchase of data, trend research, and early warning services as the professional enterprise(s) become more and more involved in the project.

The environmental pollution third party service model and environmental housekeeping model have also become widely used since eco-environmental Big Data projects began.


4. Eco-environmental Big Data Trends in China

The newest Five-Year Plan has introduced targets for the continual improvement of the ecology and environment, levelling up and expanding the battle to prevent and control pollution in even more forms; combined with the new Dual-Carbon targets, this means that demand for increased environmental management capacity will only grow.

Naturally, eco-environmental Big Data will remain a major key element of modern environmental governance systems.


(1) A More Comprehensive Understanding of the Current Environment

Environmental monitoring is the foundation upon which all environmental management rests and is an important basis for scientific management decisions. The application of advanced sensing technologies such as RFID, remote satellite sensing, and transducers allow management departments to gather timely, accurate, and comprehensive environmental data, which can then be used to understand, evaluate, and predict emissions and environment quality.


(2) Smooth Business Flows encourage Efficient Management

New pollution control philosophies such as pollution and carbon reduction, integrated water and soil management, and the integrated management of aquatic resources, environments, and ecology have transformed the single-factor eco-environmental management strategies of the past into systematic, consolidated systems and policies. However, the internal processes of departments managing the ecology and environment and their information transfer practices still leave much to be desired, and often form a roadblock to achieving the required development.

Eco-environmental Big Data builds that are reconstructed and re-assembled by eco-environmental management processes facilitate the integration of technology, business, and data, and further facilitate co-operative inter-level, inter-region, inter-departmental, and cross-industry management and service;


(3) Improve the Scientific Basis and Targeting of Policies

The depth and breadth of eco-environmental controls continue to increase, and administrative departments are now required to pinpoint issues and implement precise measures, on top of being able to think systematically and plan holistically.

Establishing scientific environmental governance benefit analysis models based on emission reduction channel simulations provide top-level guidance on eco-environmental governance, allowing departments to achieve total, source, and structural emission reduction goals.


(4) Boost Transformation from Management to Service

Environmental problems have only grown more complicated as our economic society has developed, and eco-environmental protection work is starting to require both enterprises and communities to come together to achieve results.

Business and community facing institutions and third-party organizations and the development of tools and platforms to digitize and apply public information have simplified administrative approval processes, strengthened information services, promoted corporate environmental data disclosure, facilitated the good faith development of third-party services, and promoted public participation.


(5) Rapid Development in Eco-environmental Big Data Construction-adjacent Industries

Eco-environmental Big Data requirements in China have given birth to a new market of enormous size where suppliers have formed organic multi-dimensional supply chains. Market players include: research laboratories and institutes of higher learning that research development mechanisms, top level design, and specialized data modeling; professional environment informatization and comprehensive software development enterprises that develop Big Data centers and app features; professional IT enterprises that develop network transmission and maintain network hardware equipment; monitoring IoT enterprises that develop IoT technology and produce monitoring equipment; and general operating companies which work on all aspects of the projects.

New, high-quality players have been entering the market continuously since its expansion began and the competitive landscape has already begun taking shape as the industries involved rapidly innovate and develop.

We expect that foreign-funded enterprises — including Japanese-funded enterprises — that demonstrate competitive advantages in the fields of environmental monitoring, carbon monitoring, AI technology, and professional environmental management software development will also benefit and gain new development opportunities.