Top legislators and experts are applauding the idea, dubbed "green GDP assessment," as an effective way to increase local officials' environmental awareness and spur them to action.
Pan Yue, deputy director general of the State Environmental Protection Administration, said on Monday that the administration is working with the Organization Department of the Party Central Committee to introduce such a system in some provinces.
Under the new system, performance ratings of local officials in protecting the environment would affect future promotions.
Southwest China's Sichuan is one of the pilot provinces where the system was implemented last year, said provincial governor Zhang Zhongwei, who is a deputy to National People's Congress (NPC).
He said Tuesday that the system adopted in Sichuan evaluates officials at three grades. Those who fail to meet the environmental protection target are downgraded, no matter how well they perform economically.
Zhang hailed the expected nationwide introduction of the system as good opportunity for China and an effective way of demonstrating its commitment to a "scientific concept of development."
The new concept, advocated by top leaders like President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, stresses sustainable economic and social advancement together with protection of natural resources and the environment.
"Our experience is that such an evaluation is effective in mobilizing local officials to pursue sustainable development," said Zhang.
Applying the plan to himself, Zhang says he has pledged specific accomplishments in environmental protection to the provincial people's congress, which is responsible for electing him as governor.
"My goal is to clear the Minjiang, Tuojiang and Jialinjiang rivers in five years," he said.
If he fails to meet the announced goals, the governor would face censure by the congress, said Zhang.
Sichuan Province has benefited substantially from the system, he said. A healthy natural environment builds a strong foundation for developing tourism, which is becoming a pillar industry of the province.
Professor Zhao Chenggen of the School of Government at Peking University said such a system is a "very good thing'' for China.
China's rapid economic growth of past two decades has, in some areas, come at the expense of the environment, said Zhao, who described such growth as unbalanced development.
Environmental protection is an important component of balanced development, he said.
However, creating a fair, impartial and easily understandable evaluation system is not easy.
"Technically, it is one of a most difficult things to create a system to evaluate the performance of officials, such as what kinds of indices should be included," said Zhao.
An NPC deputy from a northwestern province told China Daily on condition of anonymity that it is unfair to include officials in western China in such system.
Coastal provinces made remarkable economic progress in the past two decades with little consideration for the environment, while the economic boom in the western provinces just begun.
The deputy complained that the coastal provinces are now able to invest more money in environmental protection, but that western China does not have the funds to implement more pollution control measures.
Zhao responds that if the central government carries out the balanced development strategy across the country, it will give more compensation or financial aid to the western provinces to help them realize healthy and environmentally friendly development.
(China Daily March 10, 2004)