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As China pushes ‘Green GDP,’ officials fear careers may depend on cutting the costs of pollution.
Jonathan Ansfield and Melinda Liu, Newsweek
…The awards show was both a sign of the importance Beijing places on the green-GDP campaign, and the problems it faces.
The TV spectacle is a production of the State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), a cutting-edge bureaucracy that has been using publicity to pressure the provinces into embracing the idea of factoring environmental losses into overall GDP growth statistics. After the green-GDP concept emerged overseas in the late ’90s, SEPA and the National Bureau of Statistics enlisted provincial and local authorities in 2004 to try to quantify green GDP. After much number crunching, the team (including Gao) released the first national green-GDP report in September, tallying total losses at $64.5 billion.
The controversy was immediate. Truth be told, the green-GDP concept remains fuzzy to many, as officials struggle to calculate losses due to myriad factors, from water pollution to land erosion, industrial accidents to lost workdays, that are hard to put numbers on.
…In the past, economic-growth statistics were a huge consideration in whether a local cadre shot up the career ladder. Now the notion that you have to be “green” as well as profitable, though not yet formalized, has bureaucrats worried. It is forcing some local apparatchiks to face the uncomfortable fact that they’ve been trading environmental quality for the sake of quick profits. “Local governments ask, ‘What do I want first: environmental quality or money?’ Of course they take the money,” says one government adviser on green GDP, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t cleared to speak on the topic.
(15 Jan 2007)
Confusion over energy
James Rose, The Standard
I am not one who has been shy to criticize the Chinese Communist Party’s approach to environmental sustainability.
While there are those in the higher echelons of the party who are no doubt keen to see the country’s environment at least considered in the country’s headlong rush toward becoming an economic superpower, the lack of a true democratic process undermines much good work. For example, China needs a debate on alternative energy that, to date, it has not had.
Take biofuels for instance. The use of agricultural products such as sugarcane or wheat has created a dilemma over whether crops should be used to feed people or fuel vehicles and industry.
The matter is of course particularly acute in the mainland, where the world’s largest national population puts enormous pressure on food security. Moreover, the party has, notwithstanding occasional horrific food policy reversals during Mao Zedong’s weirdest phases, historically put food security as its chief priority.
Mainland leaders more or less nailed their colors to the mast late last year when concerns were raised about the rising prices of certain crops, such as corn, due to increased demand from biofuels pioneers.
It was a trend underlined late last year when Beijing stepped in to limit the use of corn and other edible grains for use in biofuels, claiming rising prices were severely undermining food security.
…There are a number of issues to be seriously considered, many of which have been outlined in a paper recently written by energy commentator Sharon Astyk, who presents her views about biofuels mainly in a US context, but says a lot that is worth considering by China. In an 11-point outline of the social and environmental issues surrounding the development of biofuels technology and industry, she details many of the sort of political discussion points that should be part of the political/civil public policy matrix China so sorely needs.
Probably the most significant issue Astyk raises for China is the size and shape of a local biofuels industry. She argues that for a sustainable biofuels industry to emerge it must be both organically based and small scale.
Part II: China’s Coal Future
Peter Fairley, MIT Technology Review
To prevent massive pollution and slow its growing contribution to global warming, China will need to make advanced coal technology work on an unprecedented scale.
While China’s desire to end its dependence on foreign oil is helping to drive huge capital investments in liquefaction technology, the country’s power producers are moving much more slowly to take advantage of coal gasification. What they, like their American counterparts, are missing is an incentive to upgrade from conventional pulverized-coal plants to the more expensive gasification plants. According to Li Wenhua, the former 863 program manager (who now directs gasification research in China for General Electric), Chinese industrialists perceive pulverized-coal plants as a license to print money. “People say you shouldn’t call it a power plant; it’s a money-making machine,” says Li. As yet, no power company has been willing to be the first to hit the off switch.
Ironically, China’s move to a more open economy has hampered efforts to deploy more innovative technologies.
(5 Jan 2007)