18th Party Congress

Pollution targets will test new leadership

Poor environmental legacy and rising public anger could prove a headache for leadership

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2012, 4:49am

The inclusion of "promoting ecological progress" as a goal in the Communist Party's constitution yesterday, following a decade of unprecedented environmental disputes and protests, sets a nearly impossible target for the party's next leadership, analysts said.

They said the high status given to "ecological progress" - party-speak for environmental protection - on a level with economic, political, cultural and social development, showed the party was fully aware of the extremely high environmental price paid for the country's economic boom and that such development was not sustainable.

But they also said that protecting the environment would test the wisdom of the next leadership, especially given the poor environmental legacy - rampant pollution and rising public anger - being left by outgoing party chief Hu Jintao .

Wang Jinnan , deputy director of the Chinese Academy of Environmental Planning, said "promoting ecological harmony" remained a rather vague concept that lacked guidelines capable of dealing with the conflicting claims of fostering economic growth and conservation.

The idea was first included in Hu's speech to the 17th party congress in 2007. But the country's first attempt to gauge the true price of environmental destruction ended in failure soon afterwards.

The "green GDP" project, which incorporated the cost of environmental damage in gross domestic product figures and was first introduced in 2004, was scrapped after 2008 due to strong resistance from local officials.

Application of the concept showed the economic cost of environmental degradation was equivalent to 3 per cent of GDP in 2006 and to 3.9 per cent in 2008.

Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian told a press conference on Monday that environmental issues were "sensitive", following street protests over industrial expansion plans in recent months, and admitted the trend of overall environmental degradation was yet to be reversed.

Ma Jun , director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a mainland NGO, said the next leadership would probably face even more social unrest as pollution spreads.

"How to deal with China's growing pains will be a huge test for the new leaders," he said.