Rift over release of green GDP figures

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 March, 2007, 12:00am

Statistics officials urge environmental watchdog not to reveal latest details

The mainland's attempt to calculate the environmental cost of its economic growth has suffered a major setback, with the release of the latest green GDP figures looking set to be postponed because of technical difficulties, bureaucratic wrangling and resistance from local authorities, according to mainland media reports.

The National Bureau of Statistics has urged the State Environmental Protection Administration not to publish the new figures, due out next week, which highlight the worsening environmental degradation across the country, the 21st Century Business Herald newspaper reported. Both agencies are involved in the pilot project of putting a price tag on China's pollution.

The report quoted internal bureau correspondence as saying that the estimated pollution cost of economic development in 2005, especially the provincial breakdown, should only be a reference for top policymakers instead of being released publicly.

It was now up to the State Council to make a final decision on whether to release the figures, the report added.

Although the bureau and environmental watchdog have long had differences, even public spats, over the feasibility of green GDP calculation, they last year published the mainland's first estimate of the cost of environmental damage, for 2004, after it received approval from the top leadership.

But the latest rift has cast further uncertainty over the future of the attempt. Since its introduction in 2004 with the backing of the environmental watchdog, green GDP calculation has been strongly opposed by development-minded local authorities who say it has added restraints to their pursuit of economic growth.

Several provinces have even threatened to pull out of the project after the first green GDP report showed the mainland economy lost 511.8 billion yuan in 2004, or about 3 per cent of GDP, due to pollution.

Statisticians and other experts have said the country is not ready for a green GDP and have questioned the methodology used.

A bureau spokeswoman said yesterday that the project was only experimental and the figures for 2004 were only about pollution. 'You cannot compare the definition of green GDP and the figures released last year. They are not results of a green GDP calculation yet,' she said.

The Beijing News quoted a government source as saying that the bureau's shift came from the inclusion of a breakdown of pollution costs by provinces and municipalities, which would irritate local governments and powerful interest groups.

Beijing also would be embarrassed by the calamitous results of the calculation, which were said to be much worse than the 2004 figures.

But Sepa's outspoken vice-minister Pan Yue, a staunch supporter of the project, said the real environmental cost could be as high as up to 13 per cent of the country's GDP each year.