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  Straits Times 19 Oct 07
China: Green GDP unlikely to be revived soon
By Tracy Quek

BEIJING - HOPES for a quick resurrection of China's 'Green GDP' evaporated this week, even as top leader Hu Jintao pledged in a major address to promote conservation and environmental protection.

In his 150-minute policy speech on Monday, President Hu spoke of the need to reduce pollution, save energy and recycle as part of realising a 'scientific concept of development' in China - a term broadly taken to mean a more sustainable way of growth.

But he did not once mention the Green GDP - a system of assessing the economic cost of environmental degradation - during his report delivered at the opening of the Chinese Communist Party's five-yearly political congress.

To the further disappointment of some local environmentalists, a senior official with China's top economic planning agency told reporters on the sidelines of the congress yesterday that it would take 'considerable time' before a workable version of this controversial statistical system is devised.

'There does not yet exist a complete or scientific method of calculation or assessment of a Green GDP,' said Mr Zhu Zhixin, vice-chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, when asked for the latest Green GDP figures.

China's State Environment Protection Agency and the National Bureau of Statistics jointly released China's first nationwide Green GDP report in September last year. It revealed that environmental pollution cost China 511.8 billion yuan (S$99.5 billion) in economic losses in 2004, amounting to 3 per cent of that year's total economic output.

Environmentalists heralded it as a new and more accurate way of assessing China's growth. They had hoped the indicator would force local governments to turn away from pursuing growth at all cost.

However, since then, disagreements between the two agencies over the feasibility of continuing to produce such a controversial figure have stalled work.

Local governments have also protested against the project, anxious that their growth figures could be drastically reduced or even cancelled out if the cost of pollution were factored in.

Assessing the Green GDP is complicated and involves subtracting a whole basket of environmental factors, such as the cost of environmental damage and resource consumption, from traditional GDP.

In China's context, only the cost of pollution is taken into account due to the complexities of assessing other figures.

Professor Jiang Wenran of the University of Alberta wrote in a recent paper that delays in releasing subsequent Green GDP reports 'have demonstrated the strong resistance to such a new approach to measuring development'.

But local environmentalists are convinced the Green GDP is needed to turn attention to green goals. Mr Ma Jun, director of the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, wrote in a recent paper: 'If (scientific development) is to guide local government behaviour, the habit of only pursuing GDP must be broken. 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.'

Beijing 'stopped release of green report' Straits Times 24 Jul 07
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