China's local officials may become a little more careful when approving projects in the future, because environmental consequences, if any, will affect whether they get a good or bad evaluation along with gross domestic product (GDP) figures.
"A new assessment system for local officials including environmental indicators is in close review. We hope this could help to change China's current growth models which drain resources and damage the environment," said Pan Yue, vice director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), China's environmental watchdog.
China has reached a GDP of US$1.33 trillion in 2003, and plans to quadruple this figure in 2020. "If not well-handled, the fast growing economy may lead to terrible pollution," said Pan.
Pan believes local officials who merely chase GDP figures should be largely responsible for the pollution. He said there will be hardly much change until they are liable for environmental consequences.
"An official who expands economic growth at huge environmental cost may well be promoted to a higher position, for he is evaluated mainly by the GDP growth. That explains why many highly polluting projects are approved and shielded from SEPA's crackdowns," said Pan.
According to Pan, SEPA is working with the National Statistics Bureau and the Organization Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the Party's human resource organ, to draft a comprehensive assessment plan with a variety of criteria including environmental indicators.
There are, however, several technical problems to solve in doing so. "For example, which indicators should be used? And how much should they weigh in final decision? " said Pan.
He suggested several options, including the maximum pollutants the environment can accommodate and the total emission amount.
Pan's plan is applauded by the advocates of the "Green GDP," a concept that means what is left after the environmental damages and recovery costs are counted out from the GDP.
Advocates say that the "Green GDP" is a more reasonable standard to evaluate local officials' performances and, in turn, China's overall economic achievements.
However, there are difficulties in using "Green GDP" as an assessment standard.
"The first one is that environmental damages, which often occurred later, cannot be put into the account book in the same period. The second is, it is difficult to price them," said Ma Zhong, the deputy dean of the Environmental Science Department of the Beijing-based Renmin University of China.
"The foundation for the Green GDP system is a well-established property right regime for resources and environment assets, which will develop gradually as China's market economy matures," said Ma Zhong.
(Xinhua News Agency February 20, 2004)