How the Green GDP Report was Greened

It’s been hard not to catch a whiff of foul politicking behind China’s first-ever Green GDP Report, which emerged earlier this month. The environmental regulator (SEPA) and State Statistics Bureau officially set to work on the index, designed to count the cost of pollution and resource mismanagement to economic productivity, in early 2004. Yet as recently as May and June of this year, anonymous SSB officials, bemoaning the technical difficulties of the equation, suggested in separate news reports (linked below) that the project either would be scuttled or indefinitely delayed. Then on September 7-8, with little forewarning, the SSB and SEPA came forth with their initial findings. In 2004, according to their tabulations, the economic price tag of environmental pollution and waste was 511.8 billion yuan (US$84 billion), the equivalent of 3.05% of national GDP. But even at the Sept. 8 news conference held to publicize the release, SEPA’s maverick Vice Minister, Pan Yue, and his colleague from the SSB, Commissioner Qiu Xiaohua, were quick to note that these calculations were only partial; government “localization” and their “technological limits” obscured the whole. Fanning suspicions further was the very title of the report: “China Green National Accounting Study Report 2004 (Public Version).” If this was the “public version” (gongzhong ban ÂÖ¨‰ºóÁâà), what about the internal one? What was rubbed out of it?

Chief among the cuts, a source tells Biganzi, was a statistical breakdown by provinces. Regional estimates were publicized, but “Originally, rankings of all the provinces were going to be included,” said the source, a person close to upper echelons of SEPA.

“The worst was Hebei province – around six percent,” he said. “Second-worst was Shanxi.”

That version of the report was set to be issued in August, until word of its contents got around, he said. “Provincial leaders were against publishing it. So they [leaders of SEPA, the SSB and the State Council] knew the provinces would not be pleased if they went ahead.”

So score a couple face-saving points for the provinces. In their ongoing P.R. battle with Pan and SEPA, the devil’s usually in the details.

September 17, 2006 6:15 PM