07/23/2007, 00.00
CHINA

Local authorities and central bureaucracy against green GDP

The State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) insists economic growth data should include environmental and resource use costs. Local authorities are against, fearing that it might show lower growth rates. Bureaucratic infighting in Beijing is the result.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Local authorities and China’s the National Bureau of Statistics' (NBS) have opposed attempts to calculate the environmental cost of the country’s economic growth, said Wang Jinnan, Vice-President of the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning (part of the State Environmental Protection Administration or SEPA), which is in charge of the project. The release of a "green GDP" report computing the cost of pollution and ecological degradation in 2005 had been "indefinitely postponed” since it cannot be calculated without the cooperation of local governments and the NBS, he explained.

A report issued in September last year for 2004 had calculated that environmental degradation that year cost 511.8 billion yuan (US$ 67.7 billion) or 3.05 percent of gross domestic product based on pilot research in ten provinces. But for Professor Wang the estimate was only a fraction of the full toll on economic growth, which should also include the cost of consuming natural resources.

“The fact that the green GDP calculation has received so much opposition, especially among local government leaders, proves its usefulness and highlights how difficult it is to promote a green growth path,” he said.

“Taking out the costs of environmental damage would lead to a huge fall in the quality of economic growth in some areas. “"At present many areas still place GDP above all else,” Wang added.

The report for 2005 shows "losses from pollution and reduction in the GDP indicator even higher than the 2004 report", and this could be crucial to many officials' promotion prospects.

For SEPA GDP growth data are inaccurate since they do not consider environmental and resource use costs. Green GDP proponents therefore want these costs included in the calculations.

NBS Chief Xie Fuzhan has challenged the feasibility of the project due to its methodological flaws, going so far as to reject the term "green GDP", saying it was unheard of around the world and no other country had done the calculation before.

However, Professor Wang countered that whilst the methodology might pose some problems it is not a good enough reason to abandon the project. He further noted that other countries include environmental costs in calculating their economic development and that the United Nations has been working on similar research since the 1990s.

Although the SEPA and the NBS have been at odds with one another, Wang said, it is unusual for them to be in such an open conflict.

A final decision on the fate of the green GDP index will be made by the State Council, SEPA sources said. (PB)

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