China considers accounting for forest benefits

9 March 2004, Beijing, China

Integrating China’s tropical forest assets into the national accounting system has come a step closer with the development of a valuation framework for tropical forest resources, according to a conference held last week in Beijing.

The ITTO international workshop on tropical forest environmental and economic accounting and green policy was hosted by the Chinese Academy of Forestry under ITTO project PD 39/98 Rev 2 (M) on 2–5 March 2004. It was attended by about 60 people, including representatives of the Chinese State Forestry Administration, the State Statistics Bureau and the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, and participants from eight ITTO member countries.

During the last decade many countries have adopted policies in which environmental protection has taken a prominent place. The main goal has been to arrest the decline of environmental values to ensure the sustainability of the many goods and services that ecosystems deliver.

However, despite such efforts, surveys show that environmental degradation continues in many parts of the world. For example, the 2000 edition of UNEP Global Environmental Outlook concludes that the state of the environment is worrying (or much worse than in the previous assessment) in each of the following areas: global climate change, biodiversity decline, air pollution, water quality and quantity deterioration, disruption to the nitrogen cycle, chemical risks, and the state of global fisheries.

One of the problems is the lack of monetary value that conventional economics places on many of the global, regional and local-scale services provided by ecosystems. Forest resource accounting, or ‘green’ accounting, is an attempt to address this problem by including environmental values in national economic accounts.

This workshop allowed the ITTO project team from the Chinese Academy of Forestry to present its findings in four key reports, a framework for tropical forest resource accounting, a framework for intergrating tropical forest assets into the national accounting system, and two case-studies that examined the potential for forest-resource accounting in Hainan Province. The workshop also heard papers from other Chinese and international experts on experiences in natural resource accounting.

Participants agreed with an independent evaluator who reported that the ITTO project had produced a significant impact during its four years of implementation, particularly in raising awareness among Chinese economists and policy-makers of the role of ecosystem products and services in national well-being and of the need to account for these in mainstream economics. The project had stimulated debate in China’s mass media about the social and environmental values of the country’s tropical forests, helped to train several research students and facilitated close links between key government agencies at the national and provincial levels. Through its case-studies it has also opened the way for provinces to adopt natural resource accounting into their accounting systems and should therefore encourage greater efforts to ‘balance the books’ in environmental health. Although change to national accounts could take some time, the level of interest in China in this sort of approach looks set to grow quickly.

The Chinese versions of the project’s four main reports are now being printed, and English, French and Spanish versions are under preparation.

For more information and copies of the project documents contact:

Mr Hou Yuanzhao or Ms Wu Shuirong
Research Institute of Forestry Policy and Information
Chinese Academy of Forestry
Wanshoushan, Haidian District
Beijing 100091, China
Tel 86-10-6288 9731, 86-10-62888322
Fax 86-10-6288 4836