For decades, China’s government has focused on economic growth and has paid less attention to the associated environmental consequences. But today, the need for environmental regulation is more widely recognized as a critical ingredient for continued, sustainable growth in the world’s most populous country. In a new RFF discussion paper, Green Growth (for China): A Literature Review, we examine the concept of green growth in general and take a look at what it means for China to pursue such a path going forward.
The concept of green growth, as advanced by various international development organizations and governments, emphasizes environmentally sustainable economic growth. If growth is allowed to proceed with no consideration for the impacts on air and water quality, ecosystem degradation, and biodiversity, for example, the economy will eventually no longer be able to advance without harm to public health or the loss of precious natural resources. The concern over public health impacts in China is very real, with troubling levels of air and water pollution. Only 3 out of 74 large cities in China met official air quality standards in 2013, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
So how does China move forward on a path of green growth? With a governance structure often characterized along the lines of economic decentralization and political centralization, it is not as simple as introducing policies at a national level. Perhaps most important, China needs to reform its cadre evaluation system to remove perverse incentives for officials not to pay attention to environmental protection. This is critical—and there has been progress in this direction. But the scale of the environmental problems and the high stakes involved require innovative policies and fresh thinking, in China and elsewhere. On this note, international groups such as the World Bank and the United Nations recognize the need for a global network that can “identify major knowledge gaps in green growth theory and practice.” Policy advisers in China and the global environmental community have much to do.