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China mulls using "green indices" to evaluate officials

NANJING, July 4 (Xinhua) -- China is mulling using environmental indices as a yardstick to evaluate the performances of local governments and officials as the country seeks to convert its development mode to a green one, experts said Sunday.

The new assessment criteria has been proposed in a draft of China's 12th Five-year Plan (2011-2015), which the government is currently working on. The draft is to be reviewed and is expected to be approved in March 2011 by the nation's top legislature, the National People's Congress.

"This means local governments will have to implement more effective measures to upgrade industries, save energy and cut emissions, rather than simply focus on GDP growth," said Hu Angang, a top policy advisor, at a theme forum of the Shanghai World Expo in Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province. The two-day forum ended Sunday.

With GDP the most significant indicator in evaluating the performances of local governments and officials, many tend to neglect the environmental factors while concentrating on economic growth.

"The 12th Five-year Plan will not only be China's first national plan for 'green development' but also the historical starting point on the nation's path towards a 'green modernization'", said Hu, also a prominent economist at Tsinghua University, who has been a member of the research team to draft the 10th, 11th and 12th five-year plans.

"Altogether, 24 indices in the current draft are about green development, covering more than half of the total index number of 47. Some of those 'green indices' would be used to assess local governments and officials," he added.

"For instance, indices on 'water consumption per unit GDP', 'proportion of clean coal consumption', 'decrease in natural disaster-resulted economic losses', and proportion of GDP invested in environmental protection' are in the category of assessment criteria in the draft," said Hu.

"As a large developing country with a population of 1.3 billion people, China is under unprecedented pressure for both economic development and environmental protection," said Zhou Shengxian, China's Minister of Environmental Protection, at the forum.

"The old path of economic growth based on environmental pollution, implemented in developed countries over the past 300 years, is not feasible in China, and China can not afford the losses brought by this development mode," he added.

After the international financial crisis broke out in September 2008, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) advocated the development of a "green economy" worldwide.

Many countries have turned to a "green recovery" by developing new energies, environmental protection and recycling the economy.

In China's 4-trillion-yuan (about 570 billion U.S. dollars) economic stimulus plan, funds for energy savings, carbon reductions and ecological construction reached 210 billion yuan. Adding on the 370 billion yuan in funds used for innovation, restructuring and coping with climate change, "green investment" accounted for 14.5 percent of the stimulus plan. It indicates the government is shifting its values from traditional "profit maximization" to "welfare maximization."

China showed its determination to develop a green economy last year prior to the Copenhagen Conference, promising to cut its carbon dioxide emissions per unit GDP by 40 to 45 percent by 2020, compared with the level from 2005.

Experts at the forum believed that, to live up to this promise, China must create more regulations focusing on "carbon emission cuts" in the 12th Five-year Plan and put such reductions into the assessment criteria for officials.

There will be much more "green investment" in China's 12th Five Year Plan than the previous one, and the extra investment in energy-saving and emission-cut technologies will grow to 1.9 to 3.4 trillion yuan in the upcoming plan from the current 1.5 trillion yuan, according to a Mckinsey report.

Despite China's "green determination", it is never an easy task to achieve the target because of the country's fast GDP growth, the long-dominating energy-consuming economic development mode and a lack of environmental-protection awareness among citizens, experts said.

There is still a long way to go for China, as its current energy utilization rate is only one fourth of that of developed countries, said Maurice Strong, a former Under secretary-General of the United Nations and the first executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, at the forum Saturday.

"In the new round of China's economic and social transformation, the 'black cat' will be out of the game. Only a 'green cat' is good cat," said Hu Angang, making a joke about a Chinese saying - "It doesn't matter if a cat is black or white so long as it catches mice."

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