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Highlighting Green Factor in Economy

China's rapid economic growth has astonished the whole world.

But equally astonishing is the cost the country has paid, especially in damage done to the environment.

"Every increase in revenue, we gain at the expense of much higher energy consumption and more serious environmental pollution," said Vice-Minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration Pan Yue.

He listed a series of statistics to warn people of the situation.

The energy consumed in China for each unit of output gained is 2.4 times more than the world average.

The amount of sulphur dioxide (SO2), a major pollutant in air, discharged per GDP unit in the country is 68.7 times that in Japan, 26.4 times that in Germany, and 60 times that in the United States.

Meanwhile, China's water supply per capita is only one fourth of the world average. Its northern regions and parts of its western lands rank high in the world among areas with the most severe water deficits.

Last year, the discharge of waste water in China totaled 50 billion tons. Contained in the sewage were 12.9 million tons of COD (chemical oxygen demand), a major pollutant in water, an amount that is 62 per cent beyond what the environment can withstand.

The discharge of SO2 in 2003 was 12 per cent more than the year before and 81 per cent more than the environmental carrying capacity.

Soil erosion is accelerating. In regions such as northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Shaanxi Province and southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, half of the land area is suffering from soil erosion.

To make things worse, many pollution-related accidents have occurred in China in recent years, causing great losses, Pan said.

One of the latest incidents is the pollution in the Tuojiang River in southwest China's Sichuan Province, which grabbed nationwide attention.

The incident occurred in February and March on the Tuojiang River, which feeds into China's main shipping artery, the Yangtze River.

More than 1 million people were left without drinking water for nearly a month after a combination of synthetic ammonia and nitrogen from a chemical fertilizer plant leaked into the river.

"Look at my skin, there is so much swelling on my arms and legs. They were all caused by the polluted water," a local newspaper quoted Li Xusheng, a nurse with the People's Hospital in Jianyang as saying.

The leak killed about 500,000 kilograms of fish in the river and the direct economic loss is estimated at 300 million yuan (US$36 million), according to media reports.

Green GDP valued

Realizing the importance of protecting the environment as the country develops, China's decision makers have started to take action.

The State Environmental Protection Administration and the National Bureau of Statistics are working jointly to create a "green GDP" (gross domestic product) measure. They hope the measures would offer clear statistical guidance and make the local administrations take a green approach to economic development.

The environmentally adjusted domestic product, or green GDP, will be calculated by subtracting resource depletion and other environmental externalities from the GDP to better illustrate the interrelationships between the environment and the economy.

The green GDP index will evaluate the performance of local governments with the aim of fulfilling the top Chinese leadership's vision of a comprehensive, balanced and sustainable development.

The new concept, though long overdue, is expected to increase public awareness of the damage caused by the present growth mentality based on excessive consumption of natural resources and serious environmental degradation.

Agreeing that green GDP is a good idea, Hu Tao, chief economist of the Policy Research Center for Environment and Economy under the administration, said the complex standard will be difficult to implement.

While many countries are also seeking to develop similar standards, "there will be no feasible way of calculating a useful green GDP in the foreseeable future," he said.

This is because it is too difficult to calculate the true value of environmental factors, which have too many uncertainties. Unifying environmental and economic data into one coherent calculation is also a daunting challenge.

"The economy and the environment are indeed two very different variables," he said.

Hu said that the economy and the environment should be considered separately.

Therefore, creating a multi-index development assessment system using GDP and a system to assess the environment should be the objective, he said.

Also, the administration has in conjunction with the organization department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the country's top body in charge of officials' management, started to study how to include environmental protection into the country's system that assesses official job performance.

Well aware of the environmental protection need, some regions in China have already started to take environmental protection seriously.

Regions which have formulated criteria judging environmental performance include south China's Guangdong Province, Chongqing, north China's Hebei Province and southwest China's Sichuan Province, said Feng Dongfang, a researcher with the administration's Policy Research Center for Environment and Economy.

Feng was one of the experts who conducted a survey on such practices in some of the provinces last year and early this year.

In Chongqing, assessment of how leading Party and government officials at various levels perform in environmental protection started early in 2000.

The assessment is held every year.

Results of the assessment is publicized by media, informing the public which county or township is doing well and which is doing badly.

According to the results, local officials are awarded or punished based on their performance.

The practice has helped push officials to take environmental protection more seriously, Feng said.

But she said there is still a long way to go.

In most cases, the assessment of local leaders' environmental protection performance fails to be a really decisive factor affecting the promotion and demotion of officials, Feng said.

Many officials interviewed during the survey still pay scant attention to environmental protection, she said.

She attributed the situation to the loopholes in the system that decides official appointments.

A compulsory performance review regarding environmental protection should be given higher priority in official promotion or demotion, she said.

Local efforts

Local governments are making efforts to improve their regulations.

In February, the Chongqing municipal CPC committee and government issued a renewed regulation on assessing leading Party and government officials' performance in environmental protection.

Under the regulation, offered by the Chongqing environmental protection bureau, officials who are judged poor for two consecutive years must not be promoted, while those who are considered poor for three consecutive years will be demoted.

The municipal CPC committee and government will reward those who do excellent for three consecutive years, granting them recognition and a monetary reward.

Hu said the study on standards, according to which officials' performance in environmental protection is assessed, should be strengthened.

The assessment should focus on fields which can really be affected by officials' performance, he said.

For example, if air in one district in Beijing is polluted, it is unfair to say district officials have not done well, because the polluted air could be brought from other districts.

(China Daily July 20, 2004)

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