Advisor: Daniel Esty
Where a paucity of information regarding environmental degradation and natural resource depletion has often plagued environmental decision-making, evidence-based approaches and emphasis on measurement can improve management processes. The process of gathering environmental information is time-consuming and often difficult, given the scattered nature of such information and the variation in quality of data (Adriannse et al., 1988). As a result, environmental decisions historically have relied too heavily on “educated guesses but not hard facts,” allowing critics to dismiss the severity of pollution control and natural resource management (Esty, 2001). The need for more transparent, robust information is particularly salient when applied to China – a rapidly developing country that faces a multitude of sustainable development challenges.
Advancing a “scientific concept of development” in conjunction with “harmonious society,” President Hu Jintao has ushered in a new era of development that reflects a greater emphasis on data-driven approaches and sustainable growth. A significant challenge for the Chinese government is reconciling economic expansion with continued environmental degradation. To address this challenge, the government has set ambitious energy and environmental targets in national policies such as the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2006-2010), which calls for a 20 percent reduction in energy intensity and a 10 percent reduction in pollution.
Toward these goals, scientific tools and data-driven approaches will aid China in tracking progress toward national targets, spotting critical areas of concern, and in better assessing environmental change and performance for improved policy choices. One scientific approach that has recently emerged relies on remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) to objectively and more accurately assess environmental change. Remote sensing refers to “the science and art of obtaining information about an object, area, or phenomenon through the analysis of data acquired by a device that is not in contact” with what is being studied (Lillesand et al., 2008). GIS then integrates data derived from remote sensing with other spatial data (e.g. maps) and non-spatial data (e.g. tables) (Ehrlers, 1996). Together, remote sensing and GIS technologies can facilitate data collection, information extraction, and analysis.
The hypothesis advanced through this research is that remote sensing can inform environmental measurement, monitoring, and decision-making in China. Asserting that remote sensing and GIS technologies can lead to the acquisition of improved data regarding environmental conditions in China, this hypothesis will be tested through two parts. First, remote sensing and GIS methods will be used to develop indicators of environmental change and performance in China, compared to traditional methods of measurement. Second, an evaluation of how satellite-derived data compare with existing Chinese environmental information will determine whether remote-sensing and GIS-derived indicators can provide a more accurate source of information to improve decision-making ability in China.