China Counts £130bn Cost of Economic Growth

Jonathan Watts of the Guardian reports on new figures calculating the environmental cost of China’s economic growth:

In one of the longest-term accountings of ecological degradation, the China academy for environmental planning calculated that the cost of pollution spills, deteriorating soil, vanishing wetlands, and other impacts surged to 1.3tr yuan (£130bn) in 2008. This was equivalent to 3.9% of the country’s GDP. Most of these costs do not appear on corporate balance books or government budgets, but they are accumulating year by year to an environmental deficit that threatens the country’s long-term prospects.

The central government has increased efforts to clean up the nation’s notoriously filthy air and contaminated water, but the report’s authors – who are affiliated to the Ministry of Environmental Protection – say the cost of pollution spills and other environmental damage rose by more than 74.8% in the five years up to 2008.

The true figure could be even higher as the authors acknowledge their data is incomplete. A 2007 study by the environment ministry and the World Bank estimated the annual cost of pollution in China at 780bn yuan. This did not fully take into account other forms of environmental degradation, such as loss of biodiversity, desertification and soil decline through over-intensive farming.

In the past week, officials have warned that drought and soil erosion threaten Beijing’s water supply and the nation’s food security.