In a potentially big step towards achieving its target of sustainable growth by 2020, China's government is developing a green measure of gross domestic product (GDP). We suggest that the country's upcoming audit of its natural-resource assets would provide an ideal opportunity to launch this 'green GDP', which factors the environmental costs of economic growth into the conventional GDP.
The government is recognizing that economic growth comes at too high a price. The cost of China's pollution damage roughly quadrupled from 2004–13, and has accounted for up to 3% of annual GDP over the past decade. Each year, there are 350,000 to 500,000 premature deaths from particulates in cities (Z. Chen et al. Lancet 382, 1959–1960; 2013). Indeed, the health cost of air pollution amounts to one-third of total environmental costs.
Although China's original green GDP programme of 2006 was shelved within a year, studies on a green GDP index have never stopped. In the push for green development, faster economic growth is no longer the priority. And under China's latest Five-Year Plan (see Nature 531, 425–426; 2016), local governments are now accountable for environmental quality and ecological conservation.
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Scientific Reports (2017)