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China's leadership in creating a measure of national wealth that takes account of environmental costs is being held back by the National Bureau of Statistics, say Jianguo Liu and Jared Diamond in this Science article.

In 2004 China unveiled a 'Green GDP' in place of the conventional computation of gross domestic product, which does not subtract the costs of environmental damage. However, the bureau has refused to publish the second Green GDP report, citing methodological failings. Jianguo and Diamond point to a widespread belief that some government officials' concern over the high economic costs of environmental destruction was a major factor. They hope domestic political pressure will lead to publication.

"The forces of environmental destruction have overwhelmed protection efforts," they say: environmental regulations are often ignored by local officials and China's State Environmental Protection Administration has just one-eighth the staff of its US equivalent.

Jianguo and Diamond advocate a strong national body to coordinate all government departments concerned with economic development and environmental protection.

The "pollute first, control later" path followed by industrialised countries will not work in China for a variety of reasons, they argue, not least because natural resources are more limited than in the past.

Linked to full article in Science