November 4, 2010 / 10:57 AM / 9 years ago

Tired of choking on growth, China launches green GDP

BEIJING, Nov 4 (Reuters) - Growing fast but choking on smog is just not good enough for a new “green development” index that China launched on Thursday.

The index, which in part revives an earlier attempt to put a price on pollution, is a small example of how China is gradually changing its course after years of pursuing fast growth with little regard for the environment.

It ranks cities and provinces according to their performance in striking a balance between economic expansion and environmental protection.

In its first edition, it gave top marks to the capital city of Beijing and ranked the coal-rich mining province of Shanxi at the bottom.

The world’s largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, China has pledged to seek a greener growth model and to make big cuts in energy intensity. But getting gross domestic product-obsessed officials to fall in line remains a challenge.

Analysts have said that the government must place greater emphasis on people’s welfare and the environment in assessing cadres, but such a system is hard to develop.

Li Xiaoxi, a professor with Beijing Normal University who led the design of the index, said it could serve as a tool for appraising officials in future, but added that it was just an academic exercise so far.

“We hope China’s top decision-makers will find our book valuable and incorporate it into official documents,” Li said.

The green development index, which was compiled by the National Bureau of Statistics and two universities, factors in 55 detailed indicators, from per capita CO2 emissions to the share of environmental spending in overall fiscal expenditure.

China’s Environment Ministry and the statistics agency previously tried to develop a “green GDP” measure, but scuppered the project because of resistance from local governments.

In 2006, they reported that pollution had cost China 511.8 billion yuan, or 3 percent of GDP, in 2004. No further reports were published after that. (Reporting by Zhou Xin and Simon Rabinovitch; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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