Head off climate risks by thinking beyond GDP, economists urge China

China is aiming to bring emissions to a peak by 2030, though it currently remains unclear at what level they will peak. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - A team of influential economists has urged China to adopt a new development model based on “well-being” rather than gross domestic product (GDP) growth to fulfil its 2060 net-zero emission goals and head off the mounting threats of climate change.

In a report published on Thursday, the team – which includes two former chief economists of the World Bank – also called on China to cap total fossil fuel consumption and establish a detailed “pathway” for reducing emissions.

The report and its recommendations have already been submitted to the Chinese government. Co-author Nicholas Stern, chair of Britain’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, told reporters he hoped they would play a constructive role in China’s 2026-2030 five-year plan.

The old development model drove rapid growth in China over the last four decades but is putting the world at “grave risk”, the report said.

China is aiming to bring emissions to a peak by 2030, though it currently remains unclear at what level they will peak. Prof Stern said it needed to set a specific numerical target to bring “clarity” to its decision-making.

The report also called on China to give greater prominence to public transport and set a timetable for the elimination of fossil-fuel vehicles. China should also promote low-carbon agriculture, including plant-based meat and dairy, it said.

China began experimenting with “green GDP” in 2005 as concerns mounted about the environmental damage done by rapid industrialisation. A 2006 government report concluded that environmental losses amounted to 3 per cent of total GDP, but critics believed the actual figure was much higher.

Though the green GDP project was cancelled in 2009, China promised in 2013 to abandon a “growth-at-all-costs” model and said GDP would no longer be the sole criterion on which officials would be assessed.

Some provinces have recently resumed efforts to create new indicators reflecting the environmental costs of development, with central Hubei using a pilot “gross ecosystem product” that can be applied to individual districts, rivers or development projects.

China is home to 16 of the 20 global regions most vulnerable to climate change, data showed on Monday. REUTERS

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