China’s green economist stirring a shift away from GDP

Niu Wenyuan, a senior economist and government adviser is trying to clean up his polluted country one data set at a time and, in the process, wean political leaders off their obsession with GDP growth. It is an uphill task. Eight years ago, Niu tried and failed to introduce a “green GDP”, which would have factored environmental costs into measurements of China’s economic progress. 

That proposal was killed off by provincial leaders who feared their GDP achievements – and promotion prospects – would be undermined by a full accounting of the damage being done to the environment. Undaunted, Niu has returned to the fray with a new “GDP quality index” that measures the economy not just by size, but by sustainability, social equality and ecological impact. 

Launched this summer, the index is currently more of an academic exercise than an indication of government priorities. But it has provoked a fierce debate because of the influential position of Niu, who is adviser to the state council (China’s cabinet), chief scientist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and director of the Chinese Ecological Economics Society. 

Niu’s formulation combines five elements: Economic quality; social qualityz; environmental quality; quality of life; and management quality. This allowed officials to give the excuse that it was too complicated at the end of trials in several provinces. It is believed that green GDP statistics continue to be compiled by the government, but they are kept secret due to political sensitivities.

Original article published at

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