The “public debate” on environmental protection
Source: Green Earth Volunteers
Author: Wang Yongchen
On our third day visiting Paris, Chinese environmental NGO delegates finally met with the members of a local NGO, Committee 21. This NGO works out of an apartment whose size is similar to the offices of many small Chinese NGOs.
Despite their small operation, however, the work they do is anything but insignificant. Among their 460 members, there are local government workers and business professionals; scientific researchers and scholars; and there are also volunteers. The main objective of Committee 21 is to provide linkages for parties related to the environment, be it an individual or an organization.
Cozy office - crowded with all nine of us
Keeping clean on the streets of Paris - garbage collection and bike paths
Founded in 1992, Committee 21 initially focused on encouraging local government and private enterprises to take a personal stance on environmental issues. Committee 21 has since then broadened its goals to the sustainable development of cities and markets through consultations and management.
All enterprises have social responsibilities. Committee 21 began acting as a consulting party after helping one such enterprise identify and fulfill its corporate social responsibility. Even a multinational such as Coca-Cola has identified approaches to fulfilling their corporate social responsibility with the help of Committee 21, instead of relying solely on scholarly opinion.
In France, corporate social responsibility commitments are legally binding.
In our dealings, we focus more on coordinating negotiations between the local government and enterprises instead of turning to the public. Many enterprises related to the environment are our members. We also impart our working methods to other associated NGOs.
It is very encouraging to see French enterprises embracing the concept of incorporating environmental protection into corporate strategy. Right now, French enterprises need standardization regarding environmental approaches. And we are working on establishing legislation in this area.
There are certain French NGOs who are unwilling to cooperate with the government and enterprises. In this case we act as coordinators.
The majority of Committee 21’s funding comes from their members, among them are corporations such as Coca-Cola.
Chinese NGOs should learn from the French in this regard. How many of us have corporate members? We should make efforts to establish cooperation between government and enterprises.
Our meetings with French local NGOs revealed that they are doing things we’ve never even really considered before.
On October 26, 2011, we met with the members of the Southern Coordination Organization (SCO), also known as “Earth Union”. They are a group of 130 NGOs working in the fields of climate change, education, gender equality and infrastructure development.
SCO’s projects on climate change include:
International level forestry management projects;
Financial commitment of 30 billion Euros in the year 2012;
Professional evaluations on the effects of climate change on agriculture and providing statistics to related government departments. Attending international conferences on climate change, and cooperating with China in response to climate change.
SCO believes that influencing government policy is more important than promoting public awareness.
The office of the Committee of Economy, Society and Environment
A governmental project starts with a public survey. First, the administrative court appoints an independent citizen as the primary investigator. His/her mission is to ensure that the survey is conducted in a lawful manner, and to write a report based on an analysis of the gathered data. Related government departments may conduct further surveys based on revised plans. The cost of surveys are the responsibilities of business proprietors. It is said that there are thousands of such public surveys in France annually.
After a project is launched, the coordinating process continues with an emphasis to examine whether the local government have fulfilled their commitments using a variety of methods. In addition, a program evaluation is conducted three to five years after the end of the program to see whether the results are consistent with the original intent.
The Committee of Economy, Society, and Environment includes 10 associations, including the French Federation of the Natural Environment, with a total of 850,000 members. The committee annually receive 50,000,000 Euros from the State. Minimum wage in France is 1,050 Euro per month. Its employees earn twice the amount of the minimum wage, and they can hold a second job.
According to a representative of the committee, [we call in Chinese] Wei Er Lu, the committee is at a standstill if the government refuses to listen to advice regarding environmental protection. There are worker’s unions and business owners working in the committee, therefore the government cannot afford to ignore their advice, for fear of public demonstrations and negative social influence.
Wei Er Lu continues, “The committee is a place where we can reach agreement on certain issues. And society needs such a place. I am not an expert on the management of protests, but I have participated in protests as an ordinary citizen. French protests are usually nonviolent demonstrations, though. We have a culture and tradition of demonstrations. There are some conflicts between the demonstrators and law enforcement, but this occurs much less nowadays. The government has improved their negotiation methods.”
Dialogues related to environmental protection exist, but have Chinese environmental NGOs ever participated in negotiations? China lacks the culture and tradition of conducting dialogues and negotiations between government and enterprises. I hope that after this visit we will learn to foster the development of information disclosure and public participation toward environmental protection in China.
Translation group: Laurens Bistervels, May Yunna, Susan Li, and Yang Xiaoyuan