Today our search for innovative approaches
to governing takes us to Communist China, where the government recently
announced it will be considering environmental welfare when judging the
performance of local governments. This means the powers that be in China
will assess economic performance by a ratio of carbon emissions to GDP, instead
of basing performance assessments on GDP alone.
The decision is expected to lead to
government and private investments of $438.9 billion in low-emissions energy in
the first stage of the move to energy alone. These technologies will most
likely include nuclear, solar, wind, biomass power and clean coal technologies,
although some environmentalists question the positive impacts that nuclear,
biomass and clean coal energies are purported to have.
For too long, lax regulations were used by
China as a way fueling economic growth. The country gained a trade advantage
over countries with stricter regulatory oversight. Having caught up with
industrialized countries, however, China is now one of the world’s leading
polluters. It is finally beginning to realize the hidden costs of wanton
pollution – and it isn’t
just global warming the Chinese are worried about.
More than a quarter of the estimated 2
million people killed by air pollution in the world every year are Chinese.
Dirty water is estimated to kill just under another 100,000. One study
blamed pollutants for the significant
increase in birth defects from 2001 to 2006, years in which the
Chinese economy grew at a breakneck pace. Now, it appears the Chinese
government is finally getting serious about reducing its carbon
footprint. Li Ganjie, vice minister of environmental protection, even
went as far as saying that local officials who don’t meet emissions-to-GDP
growth ratios will receive a pink slip - presumably served up on recycled
“If we fire them when they fail in
environmental protection and carbon reduction goals, our economy will see more
sustainable development,” Ganjie claimed.
This no-nonsense attitude towards
deficient local officials marks a significant change, according to Dr. Ping He,
President of the International Fund for China’s Environment (IFCE). Dr. He said
that the change indicates “a stronger push from the Central government,"
and added that the new policy was “quite impressive.” China has worked
towards environmental clean-up in the past, but officials who failed to meet
goals were merely denied promotions.
Still, this has not deterred China from
making progress. Dr. He said that not only do the Chinese expect to be on
target for emissions reductions by 2010, but that China will be a world leader
in some green technologies, including solar, wind and biomass.
This attitude, typical of many countries
in Europe and Asia, has led some in Washington to worry that the U.S. is shooting
itself in the foot when it comes to clean energy technology
“Clean energy is to this decade and the
next what the Space Race was to the 1950s and ‘60s,” EPA head Lisa Jackson told
the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee earlier this week. “And
America is behind.”