China’s Green GDP accounting team faces the risk of being disbanded in coming weeks unless seniors leaders step in to save their stalled experiment, a high-level source close to the State Environmental Protection Administration tells CDT. Team auditors hope to get word soon from heads of the State Council about their future. “But our only hope might be for [President] Hu [Jintao] himself to intervene,” he says, adding, “That looks unlikely, though.”
Dismissing the team, while a highly disputed pilot effort, would be a severe blow to nascent efforts to greenify the government’s development targets – as environmentalist Ma Jun explains on China Dialogue today. Less than one year ago, SEPA and the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) co-issued the team’s first report on the economic hit from environmental abuses for the year 2004. But the release of 2005 figures – originally set for this March – has been postponed indefinitely. Tensions have mounted between the two bodies over the techniques, the financing and most of all the political frictions undergirding the project, especially as top cadres vie for promotion ahead of the 17th Party Congress (for details, read March post and this fine Reuters report).
In recent weeks, finally, the gloves came off…
At a July 12 news conference, NBS chief Xie Fuzhan said the team was suspending publication of Green GDP reporting because there was no internationally recognized standard and methods and data to come up with one were lacking. Green GDP team captain Wang Jinnan fired back at a presser on July 23, blaming discord between the two bodies and resistance from local local governments for the hold-up. “Now the covert struggle (ÊöóÊñó) has become an overt struggle (ÊòéÊñó),” comments the source.
About two months earlier in May, he says, the NBS and SEPA each submitted reports stating their positions to the State Council. NBS wanted the reporting to be kept internal as a mere reference, if not abandoned completely. SEPA pushed to forge ahead with publication of the figures. The vice premier who oversees environmental affairs, Zeng Peiyan, saw at the time that that the two were clearly “quarreling” (Âè´Êùø). His top aide, vice-general secretary Zhang Ping, became the point man on the case and has been soliciting views opinions from other central officials as well as the provinces.
“Of course, provinces like Ningxia, Hebei, Inner Mongolia, and Shanxi” – which have worst pollution “have been on the record all along as opposing Green GDP,” says the source. “Even those that are fairly cooperative, like Jiangsu and Guangdong, won’t come to SEPA’s support.” The Green GDP team’s main political momentum, to all appearances, has come externally: from the state media.
But signals of support from Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao have helped in the past. When SEPA first proposed the idea several years before research ever began, but NBS was not interested in cooperating at the time. The stats bureau changed its tune, however, after Hu spoke out in favor of experimenting with Green GDP at a public forum in 2004. The Green GDP Team was established that year with reps from both sides. Although provincial officials were always opposed, particularly in the poor central and western regions – more reliant on cheap, polluting industries – former NBS heads Li Deshui and Qiu Xiaohua were comparatively cooperative. But relations with SEPA went south after Qiu went down on charges of bribe-taking and bigamy late last year, and Xie Fuzhan replaced him. Provincial bosses outrank NBS chief in the government hierarcy, and critics charge Xie’s more of a bureaucrat than his predecessors, and hence more concerned with his own personal image. “He wants to get promoted,” concludes the source.
NBS representives are no longer staffing Green GDP team meetings, so all further number crunching is on hold for the moment, the source says. “They can’t do anything without statistics bureau data.”
He anticipated that the State Council would address the issue somehow, internally at least, prior to the Party congress, which he expected to be held in the latter part of September.
Ironically, even as Green GDP founders, the final political report of the Party Congress is expected to place far greater emphasis on environmental protection than any in the past, says the source. “So maybe Hu does not realize how important Green GDP is to his ‘scientific development concept’ ÔºàÁßëÂ≠¶ÂèëÂ±ïËßÇÔºâ,” he says. “Hu and them are so busy with the personnel arrangements for the ‘Big 17th’ that they probably have no time to pay attention to this.”
Environmental advocates have been hoping that Green GDP reports would pave the way for incorporating the figures into the official assessments of local officials, now largely based on growth figures. “That would have been the next big step,” says the source. “But if you can’t accomplish the first, how can you manage the second?”