A report released last month suggests that the Chinese government may be underestimating levels of pollution in Chengdu by more than half. The report was created by a local think-tank using data from Uber, as well as other local taxi companies. The report found that existing estimates of emissions were underestimating pollution by about 6.5 metric tons per day, or almost 60 percent. The think-tank has said that data from cab companies such as Uber may be more reliable since it does not allow local governments or carmakers to obscure the results in any way. Researchers have pointed out that this model for determining carbon emissions may soon be used to determine true emission rates throughout China.

Chengdu has been found to have some of the worst air pollution in China, second only to Beijing itself.  Chengdu is positioned in the Sichuan Basin, a geographical setting which by nature traps pollutants from escaping. Beijing faces similar problems on the North China Plain. The only real answer is to reduce emissions, but this prospect puts pressure on the government as well as private industry.

The government has been perceived as somewhat ambivalent towards collecting data on this issue, accused of providing incomplete information, and of using relatively lenient standards to assess levels of acceptable pollution.

China is the world’s primary source of greenhouse gases since it overtook the United States in 2007. Health problems related to air pollution in China are estimated to cause over 1.6 million deaths annually. In some parts of China, the health impact is considered equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes a day. Much of this pollution is from byproducts of Northern China’s massive coal industry, combined with record amounts of car exhaust.

This new challenge to the government’s measure of emissions may add tension to what has already been a thorny legal area in China. Uber has faced challenges to its expansion into China since launching there in 2013, including crackdowns from the government, which has given mixed messages on the legality of online ride-hailing services. Full legalization of such services is expected soon, according to Uber, but for the moment it is a grey area, enforced differently in various cities across China. Uber is in tight competition with competitors in China for market share, spending 1 billion a year to compete with it’s well funded rival, Didi Chuxing.

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