文章 Articles

After green GDP, what next?

The battle to introduce green GDP in China is over, and the environment has lost.  Ma Jun reports.

Article image

With China's National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicating there is no way green GDP data can be made public, and the report from the main green GDP study group "delayed indefinitely", it seems three years of efforts may have come to an end. The NBS's decision, beyond their stated conviction that the calculation methods are undeveloped, is also influenced by the fact that no other country publishes official data of this type.

In many countries it would usually be NGOs that would calculate and publicise this kind of data, rarely governments. But at the same time, there are few countries like China, where local governments bear so much of the responsibility for balancing economic growth and environmental protection. For this reason, China is in greater need of a method for calculating "green GDP" if it is to realise sustainable development.

A government official’s job is to make the public richer. Economic development affects household incomes, employment and standards of living. and so most national governments use economic growth indexes like GDP to evaluate government performance, which reflects economic output and income levels. But if that growth is achieved at the cost of ruining the environment and wasting resources, this pollution and damage to health will not be reflected in GDP figures.


So why don’t western countries use a measure of "green GDP"? Because in practice, it is hard for their governments to solely pursue economic growth alone; their actions are limited by elected representatives and by the courts, not to mention by the voters. Local communities will refuse schemes that put the economy too far ahead of the environment – or even vice versa. A local government that opts to pollute the drinking water and poison the air for the sake of economic growth will find itself out of office at the next round of elections, and the incoming politicians will respond to local opinion and restore balance.

Because we evaluate the success of our officials in a different way, our local government officials bear more responsibility for that balance. In the west, public participation and the jockeying for influence of different interest groups both present local governments with a limited range of choices. In China, however, public participation is limited and officials are generally free to put their own plans into action; a combination of power and freedom that ensures this responsibility rests in their hands.

But unfortunately many of them fail to find this balance. GDP is seen as the only real goal, and is the main way of evaluating performance. This leads officials to reduce environmental requirements for new projects in order to attract polluting and dangerous industries; and then protect them from environmental regulators. The local environment might be polluted, but the increased local GDP results in the officials to blame being promoted. Therefore, the blind pursuit of increased GDP continues.

China's central government has now made the scientific concept of development a higher priority than ever before, and stress the harmony between man and nature. But if that is to guide local government behaviour, the habit of only pursuing GDP must be broken, and that means changing the way in which official performance is evaluated. In today’s China, introducing green GDP calculations may be the cheapest of the practical options to achieve that end.

The plight of the green GDP project reflects the current conflict between the environment and the economy, and demonstrates how relying on one system alone is not enough to change current concepts of growth and government performance. The environmental authorities have long been aware of this, and as one of the leaders of the green GDP project said: “scientific green GDP data will help scientific policy-making; and public participation and democratic rule of law are the only way to ensure that policies serve the greater interest.” We should promote public participation in environmental protection, and I am sure that when local officials realise the depth of feeling about the environment they will realise the need for green GDP data.


This article first appeared in the Southern Metropolitan Daily 

Ma Jun is the director of Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, the organization that produces the China Water Pollution Map website, which was launched on September 14, 2006. He is also an environmental consultant with Sinosphere Corporation.


Homepage photo by Brian's Eye


Now more than ever…

chinadialogue is at the heart of the battle for truth on climate change and its challenges at this critical time.

Our readers are valued by us and now, for the first time, we are asking for your support to help maintain the rigorous, honest reporting and analysis on climate change that you value in a 'post-truth' era.

Support chinadialogue

发表评论 Post a comment

评论通过管理员审核后翻译成中文或英文。 最大字符 1200。

Comments are translated into either Chinese or English after being moderated. Maximum characters 1200.

评论 comments

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




It feels bad to see the setback of China's green GDP. I agree that effective ways must be figured out to force local governments to do the right things.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




Don't know what to say!

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Learn to be mature!

There is a young man lived in the West. He comes from a small but wealthy family and works very hard to feed everyone in the house. When this young man step into middle-age, the family was enlarged and he earned more property for the family, but his healthy was declined very much due to the overload of work when he was young.

Now there is another young man in the East. He was from a huge and declined family. He loves his family very much and worked 100 times harder than others in order to feed his brothers and sisters, and also to rebuild the reputation of his family. He spent 14 hours to work a day which made he has not time to rest and recovery. His hard work gained great achievement in a short time, but he and his family does not really realized that the excessive work is nibble his health, depleted his energy. Sadly, one day when someone told him the health situation, what he worried is not his health, but the task to help his family and rebuild the reputation.

I believe everyone knows development is the really goal. But what does it mean “DEVELOPMENT”? To make more money, or to live in modern flat? Maybe it means to be mature, more understand how to balance the gain and loss.

However, one may never know what does “gain” mean before you make it and the taste of “loss” before you did. This is the way to mature, we can not jump from the extravagant teenage to the considerate adult.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Comment 3 is great

It is a good comment by way of figuration.

The elegance and spirit of this nation with old civilization is being encroached by anxiety and panic; And its beauty is damaged by pollution and excessive resource consumption.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


3楼的评论很有意思 呵呵 比喻把抽象的东西一下子具体化了

Interesting comment

The 3rd comment is very interesting, as abstract conceptions have been made clear and embodied by metaphor.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


对于为什么中国须要/发觉有用的绿色GDP体系, 即使是西方国家并不采纳这一所谓有用的绿色GDP,所作出的解释确实是很动听。我认为利益方面也必须被列入讨论的话题。我正怀疑如何确保绿色GDP成果的一致性。当然我们能够看到的是环境的退化,因此,最重要的是把焦点集中在如何尽快的实施预防和解除问题的办法,那为什么必须把焦点放在成本上呢?

Analysis to solutions

Very clever explanation about why China might need/find useful Green GDP even if western countries don't use it.
I think whats also needed is to talk about the benefits.
I also wonder about how to ensure the integrity of green GDP results. Surely we can all see the enviro degredation anyway, so why do we need to focus on the cost, when whats more important is focussing on implementing prevention and clean-up solutions as fast as possible?

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous






James Greyson www.blindspot.org.uk

Yes, include the relevant costs

Comment 6 offers a way forward. Politicians love uncorrected GDP since it adds up both productive and unproductive costs, magically turning damage into a positive indicator. Whether government policies work wonders or wreak everything, GDP tends to keep going up. Politicians won't give this up easily but there are ways to try.

Firstly you need to show that GDP as usual is a dead end. The key is that it doesn't measure economic inactivity - when damage makes materials, ecosystems, land, waters, people and communities unavailable to contribute to tomorrow's GDP. The Stern report warns that this could cut GDP by up to 20% just from climate effects alone.

The second trick is given in comment 6. The relevant cost to quickly build into economics is the cost of prevention. Knowledge about damage has been around for decades and has brought only minor tinkering improvements.

The third step is to 'internalise the externalities' - to allow the price of preventing problems to be built into prices. This is far more powerful than trying to correct GDP. New forms of economic instruments are available which could do this, turning China's lofty goal of 'circular economics' into a reality and allowing economic growth to continue sustainably.

James Greyson www.blindspot.org.uk

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




[email protected]

More economic tools to fight against pollution

Evaluating performance using Green GDP is still a planning way to approach environmental problems. It depends absolutely on the functioning of the government, while ignores the subjective initiatives of firms themselves. At the mean time, there are too many problems in its actual implementation. This approach is probably fundamentally wrong. Moreover, in China, SEPA itself is powerless. If SEPA raised a concept called Green GDP without the support of other powerful departments like the Ministry of Finance and the Development and Reform Committee, no one will really treat it seriously.

In order to protect the environment, we should think more in economic terms, employing more economic tools to control pollution. For example, environmental tax can be introduced to firms, forcing them to really include environmental effects into operational costs, thus their decision making process. Only within this market mechanism can firms and other members of the society really shoulder the responsibility of environmental conservation.

[email protected]