China is struggling to introduce a system to assess 'green GDP' — the economic cost of pollution, environmental damage and natural resource usage — reports Jane Qiu in this Nature article .
The green GDP scheme subtracts the environmental costs from the normal gross domestic product to help mitigate environmental problems and guide new development.
The government is accused of blocking an official report ranking all 31 provinces of China according to their green GDP, saying the accounting methodology is too crude for the findings to be meaningful.
But critics say the real reason is that some local governments have lobbied central government against the scheme.
Economic development has traditionally taken precedence over environmental concerns in China. Local officials are judged largely on their ability to increase economic growth, so green GDP could become a stumbling block to success.
There also remain technical hurdles to any green GDP scheme, such as taking into account all environmental damage and calculating the market value of environmental impact.
As one economist puts it, whether the report is released or not, "you don't need the numbers to tell you that environmental problems in China are worsening".