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INTERVIEW | MA JUN, ENVIRONMENTALIST

We all have to be stake holders to SAVE OUR EARTH Ma Jun s career from environmental warrior to government advisor illustrates that hina is increasingly accepting activity and ta ing advice on green issues seriously. a un is a hinese environmentalist non fiction writer, environmental consultant and ournalist. rom he wor ed as an investigative ournalist for the o th hina orning ost ong ong ta ing over as bureau chief of the paper in ei ing. n he wrote hina s ater risis which outlined the most serious problem affecting hina today. ressed by his readers he set up the influential NGO, IPE (Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs) to try and help solve the problem. or his futuristic thin ing Ti e maga ine named a un as one of the world s 100 most influential people in 2006. Excerpts from an interview |44| India-China Chronicle

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What inspired your book, China’s Water Crisis? Working as an investigative journalist for the >South China Morning Post<, I witnessed the impact of water pollution. At the time I wrote “China’s Water Crisis” I was seeing rivers running dry, dwindling lakes in South China and the destruction of entire eco-systems. I also witnessed the use of wetlands for building factories and the building of vast hydroelectric dams. Has the government paid any attention to the book? In the last ten years the government has reacted to the environmental crisis in China despite the incredible pace of development. The policy of “development at any cost” has been questioned. We are now seeing a great deal of attention being paid to the sustainable use of water. However despite the change in attitude from the government and the increase in public awareness of environmental issues, we are yet to see an improvement in the quality of water in our rivers. Who is responsible for improving the water quality? The readers of my book have forced me to look for solutions. After looking at the potential tools to improve the situation I knew that the only way to really improve things was to take an extensive multi-stakeholder

THE AIM IS TO EDUCATE THE PUBLIC ABOUT ISSUES OF POLLUTION SO THAT THEY CAN MAKE INFORMED CHOICES. INFORMED CHOICES ABOUT WHICH PRODUCTS THEY BUY. INFORMED CHOICES ABOUT HOW THEY PARTICIPATE IN SOCIAL LIFE. India-China Chronicle |45|


INTERVIEW | MA JUN, ENVIRONMENTALIST

approach involving government, private business, NGOâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s and public volunteers. The government alone cannot tackle the issue of environmental degradation. The public and the private sector need to be involved and there must be opportunity for healthy interaction between all parties. So what is your contribution to the clean up? Once I had written the book that highlighted the issue, I thought that the best solution was to facilitate multi-stakeholder dialogue by setting up my NGO. Therefore I established the Institute of Public and Environ-

mental Affairs (IPE) www.en.ipe.org. cn. The website shows a national Water Pollution Database. Using Google map you can pinpoint which rivers are polluted, the origin of the effluence and information about the violators. I gathered information on all 31 provinces in China and made it accessible to the public in a manageable form. My aim was to encourage people not to look for new supplies of water, but to use the available resource more efficiently e.g. by reducing pollution. Has your climate change website been effective? The website profiles the companies

that our polluting and since setting it up 150 companies have come to explain what went wrong and how they are trying to address their pollution problem. We are moving towards a model of: Appreciating water scarcity >> a Stakeholder Exchange >> Redress How has the website evolved? Last year I changed the website from a database of polluters to a change management tool. Now companies can track their suppliers and instantly check to see if they are polluters. Companies do this before choosing suppliers and then track the pollution index performance of their suppliers once they are engaged. The website prompts suppliers to make public disclosure regarding their polluting activity. Who uses your website? Companies such as GE, Nike and Walmart use our website to undertake regular screening of suppliers. They reference the site as part of their due diligence process to select which companies they will work with. Do you collaborate with the Chinese government? I work with the government to gather the data on the pollution indices for different regions. The local governments provide the information and then it is my job to present it to the public in a user-friendly form. China is making progress on environmental transparency. This is demonstrated by the fact that I have a growing list of violators now numbering over 50,000. Central government officials are aligned with my objectives. Sometimes local government officials can be obstructive when we first meet. Some major companies are not always in a good mood when we first meet but they tend to be more cooperative when we explain what we are doing. Do companies contest your data on pollution? It is important that our data originates from credible sources. We give the companies an opportunity to

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explain what they are doing or to provide some self-defence. If a company wants to remove a record of their polluting activity from our website they need to go through an independent audit. The environmental audit is undertaken by a professional company in conjunction with a local NGO based on our own ‘auditing protocol’. Today we work with over twenty local NGO’s to undertake this process. Can the public report polluters to your website? To remain effective the website requires collaboration between diverse stakeholders including NGO’s, local and Central government, lawyers, media, supply chain managers, responsible corporate citizens, private business and the local community. Members of the public do report incidents of pollution to our website and we investigate. Currently there are a lot of environmental regulations and laws in China but they are difficult to enforce especially in remote provinces. The cost of violation is often lower than the cost of enforcement for companies. The court system is yet to take a proactive stance towards dealing with cases of pollution. In this relative legal vacuum, the IPE website provides an alternative way in which members of the public can make their voice heard on issues of pollution and stop the damage. How do you fund your NGO? The NGO has several sources of funding: Foundations in China and abroad Joint projects with large NGO’s such as WWF and RDC Individual donations Volunteerism Actually most of our research is done by the dedicated work of individual volunteers. Has life for NGO’s improved in the last 10 years in China? Things have improved a lot for NGO’s in China in the last 10 years. The government is providing a bigger space for civil society. The biggest challenge I still face is how to increase the trust between government, NGO’s

and the private sector. It is important that NGO’s stick consistently to their goal and always act in a professional manner. Collaboration with other stakeholders is essential if NGO’s are to be sustainable. They must work in an increasingly innovative way. What improvements for NGO’s in China would you like to see in the next 10 years? I would like to see a turning point in policy and transparency. As regards pollution I would like to see an improvement in water quality too. I think that there is hope. We just need to find the right incentives. The ultimate driving force for an NGO such as IPE is the Chinese public. The aim of IPE is to educate the public about the issues of pollution so that they can make informed choices. Informed choices about which products they buy. Informed choices about how they participate in social life. Informed choices about how they can impact their own futures. I just provide the information so that they can make their own green choices. Is China unreasonably vilified as the global polluter? We need to develop a common but differentiated response to the role of each country in contributing to climate change. Western countries need to make a historical assessment

of their impact on global warming. In the meantime developing countries such as China and India have to act responsibly. It is not helpful to point a finger but to recognize our duties and work out a solution. In a globalised world this solution has to be sought together. China makes cheap T-shirts but they are usually worn thousands of miles away. Producers and consumers have to connect to agree a workable solution. Our website tries to create a platform where we can connect these global dots. Was Copenhagen important? Very important! Even if we did not ‘seal a deal’ between countries it was important that the developed and developing world at least met. It is a starting point to try and combat a global threat. What is needed is a ‘carbon disclosure mechanism’ for corporations so that the real price of goods can be passed on to the consumer. I hope that our NGO can help with this process. At least if companies appreciate the size of their carbon footprint they can move towards paying for the price of pollution by carbon trading etc. Will the world end in 2012? Do not lose hope; we have until 2050 at least. For now log onto www.en.ipe. org.cn

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