Contrary to its low-profile posturing to achieve 7 percent GDP growth this year, the government is focusing unprecedented attention on a brand new "green GDP" system.
The environmental watchdog, the State Environmental Protection Administration, is working with the National Bureau of Statistics on an environmentally adjusted domestic product system that underlines the synergy between the economy and the natural environment.
While conventional indicators of economic performance have failed to take into account the actual scarcity of natural resources, the new system will tabulate environmental and economic factors.
Once completed, the green GDP system will be an important gauge for evaluating the work performances of local governments.
Such a policy shift seems to be working well in diverting the focus that used to be restricted to the economic figures to a model that coordinates economic growth and environmental protection.
In the past, the annual GDP growth target, once publicized, would attract the most attention and be a hot topic for debate at the annual sessions of the National People's Congress and the National committee of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
But not this year. That enthusiasm is apparently giving way to prudent discussions on how to coordinate economic progress with environmental protection.
The country is getting more serious about advancing in line with a sustainable model.
The policy shift is an urgent response from decision-makers to the current stern situation and serious warnings from nature.
Over the past 25 years the nation's average yearly GDP growth has been maintained above 8 percent.
The outstanding achievements, however, have been made at the cost of excessive consumption of natural resources and environmental degradation.
As economic growth figures weigh heavily on the evaluation sheets of local officials, it is no surprise the price paid in terms of resource loss and environmental damage have been overlooked.
The per unit output value produced in China consumes mineral and energy resources three times that of the world average, according to Li Peilin, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Such a growth mentality cannot continue, especially in a country with a huge population where per capita resources are far lower than the world's average.
Though a timetable for the birth of a complete calculation system on green GDP is not yet available, the statistics department disclosed that beginning this year local resources, environmental and ecological changes will be listed separately when figures on economic growth are published.
If the system is carried out faithfully, it is justifiable to expect local governments will be genuinely motivated to give serious consideration to the environment and resources when mapping out their development plans.
(China Daily March 10, 2004)