Popularizing and adopting new ideas in environmental policy-making is vital to sustain healthy development of China's society and economy. Otherwise, good development strategies, dubbed by top officials as "scientific concepts of development," may simply descend into slogans, said Vice Minister Pan Yue of the State Environmental Protection Administration.
Pan called for speeding up research on and the implementation of the green GDP concept.
Green GDP is an amendment to traditional GDP calculations that deducts the costs of environmental factors occurring during economic growth.
Some analysts say that if environmental costs are deducted, China's average annual GDP growth during the 1985–2000 period would drop about 2 percentage points.
Niu Wenyuan, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, points out that while China's economy has grown rapidly, its economic achievements have been gained through high consumption of resources and ecological degradation.
"This mode of development cannot last over the long term," Niu said at a Green China forum held in Beijing in April.
Using the new way of calculating GDP, environmental protection would naturally be included in the system for assessing officials' job performance, said Pan. Factors such as changes in air and water quality and the number of environmental complaints should be added to these standards, and officials who seek GDP growth at the cost of the environment should not be promoted, he said.
Feng Dongfang, a researcher with the Policy Research Center, agreed. She said environmental protection is too small a part of the country's current performance appraisal system.
Pan also indicated that the government should give more encouragement to public participation in environmental protection.
According to the law on environmental impact assessment, which took effect last September, governmental bodies should hold hearings to solicit public opinion on development programs that may cause damage to the environment before such programs are approved.
Despite that, Pan said that the role the general public plays in environmental protection still needs to be strengthened.
He also suggested an ecological compensation mechanism.
Rural residents consume less than urban ones, discharge fewer pollutants and possess less environmental protection infrastructure, he explained. Therefore, a fixed channel through which cities compensate rural regions for environmental damage should be established.
Similar mechanisms may be formulated between eastern regions and western ones, upper reaches and lower reaches of rivers, or developed countries and developing ones, he added.
Pan also said that the government should give priority to developing new energy sources and a circular economy, while creating financial and other incentives for environmental protection.
Xia Guang, director of the Policy Research Center, lauded Pan's ideas, but he said it will take time for them to become reality. A great deal of research remains to be done, he noted.
(China Daily July 20, 2004)