Environment vital for officials' advancement

Updated: 2012-12-13 14:00


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NANCHANG - Officials from East China's city of Nanchang are pursuing promotions not through the traditional method of raising the local GDP, but by protecting the environment.

"Ecological progress" now accounts for one-third of the criteria used to evaluate officials from the city's Wanli district, where over 70 percent of the land is forested.

Previously, environmental protection accounted for just 12 percent of the criteria used to grade local officials, with economic performance accounting for 60 percent.

But in 2008, the municipal government decided to increase the weight of environmental efforts in order to prevent officials from putting too much emphasis on speeding up the local economy and neglecting to protect the local environment.

Because of slow economic growth, Wanli had ranked last among Nanchang's districts for years. But since the evaluation was changed, environmental protection and a "green" GDP have become the consensus of Wanli's officials, said Wan Liping, head of the publicity department of the city's Communist Party of China committee.

Cao Rongxiang, an environmental researcher at the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, said emphasizing ecological progress will help local leaders answer the CPC's call to tackle severe pollution and other environmental issues.

Last month, Hu Jintao said in his keynote speech to the CPC's 18th National Congress that the CPC must prioritize ecological progress and achieve lasting and sustainable development for the Chinese nation.

The congress later adopted an amendment to the CPC constitution that ranks ecological progress alongside economic growth as a key aspect in China's overall development.

"The government's perception of growth will determine the success or failure of promoting ecological progress," Cao said. "In the government, the evaluation and promotion of officials is a core driving force."

China's rapid economic growth has been facing growing challenges, as its current growth model features high energy consumption and high levels of pollution that cannot be maintained.

Experts say that if China's appetite for energy continues to grow at its current pace, its resources will be stretched to the extreme.

Public fury directed at local governments for failing to protect the environment has increased dramatically in recent times. Massive protests were staged in two cities this year, with local residents angrily proclaiming their opposition to the construction of paraxylene plants.

Beijing residents have also voiced complaints this year, with tens of thousands of online posts about the city's poor air quality. Their actions prompted a nationwide change in the way air quality is monitored, with the adoption of stricter monitoring standards in some cities.

Although the congress's advocation of ecological progress has addressed the public's demands, the CPC still needs to find ways to put its plan into action. Many officials still concentrate on boosting their jurisdictions' GDP, as good economic performance all but guarantees them a better position.

"Therefore, we must establish a restrictive mechanism and apply the mechanism to the way officials are evaluated," said Wu Bin, director of the ecological research center under the State Forestry Administration.

Several provincial governments have started to put more emphasis on using environmental performance to evaluate officials. However, the progress made will depend on whether leaders at all levels can change their perception of growth, Cao said.