NGOs aim for a bigger role in sustainability

Chinese environmentalist Zhang Xinsheng thinks the greatest challenges that human beings face today are the depletion of resources and environmental degradation, apart from economic crisis and unbalanced social development.

At a forum hosted by Eco Forum Global during the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro on June 22, Zhang, secretary general of the organization, said Chinese NGOs can and should play a bigger role in pushing for global sustainable development initiatives.

The forum, titled Importance of Informal Mechanism Beyond Rio—A Commitment From China’s Civil Society, was attended by a group of dignitaries, including Maurice Strong, former Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme and Secretary General at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, Mohan Monasinghe, Nobel laureate and ex-Vice Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change , as well as the moderator, Hans d’Orville, Under Secretary of UNESCO, which was in partnership with Eco Forum Global in hosting the sideline event. Other participants included Chinese officials, NGO representatives, entrepreneurs, academic scholars, as well as official representatives of UNESCO.

Eco Forum Global is an informal, international NGO based in China dedicated to facilitating cooperation among key decision makers from the government, business, academia, the media and other organizations. The organization promotes eco-civilization, believing that such a goal is not an option for mankind, but an inevitable course.

Zhang, also former Chairman of the Executive Board of UNESCO, pointed out at the forum that since the 1992 Earth Summit, the world has encountered greater difficulties than ever before, with the Earth’s environment deteriorating to an extent that it can hardly recover by itself. Given this scenario, he said, what we need to do is to take a “holistic and integrated approach.” This means NGOs and individuals should be more deeply involved in the decision-making process and actual practice of sustainable development. Greater attention should also be paid to how sustainability commitments are to be made and fulfilled, and how a knowledge-sharing platform can be set up in the developing world, he said.

Strong spoke highly of the Chinese government’s initiatives on sustainable development during the past decades. He said that in his travels around China in recent years, he was amazed to find sustainable development has become a “people’s movement guided by the people’s government.”

“What China does matters to the world, and what China is doing is actually a tremendous source of encouragement,” Strong said.

Recalling NGOs’ role in the Earth Summit in 1992, Strong said NGOs have a major impact on the decisions reached at the meeting. With the current financial and economic crisis in full swing, the conditions for implementing sustainable development goals are more difficult. The role of NGOs therefore has become more important. He said it is his belief that there needs to be a people’s movement to mobilize more individuals to engage in sustainable development initiatives.

Fan Hengshan, Secretary General of the Chinese preparatory committee for Rio+20, said the Chinese government has made great efforts to promote public participation in eco-friendly activities and green economy transformation, and will continue working in that direction in the days ahead. To do so, he said the authorities will have to try to improve existing mechanisms and set up various platforms to more fully bring into play the role of NGOs and the broad public in China.

Other panelists who spoke at the forum included Liao Xiaoyi, founder of the Earth Village environmental protection center in Beijing, and Huang Ming, Chairman of Himin Solar, a world leading maker of solar energy products based in Nanjing, east China’s Jiangsu Province.

Liao expressed her wish to contribute more to improving the environment as an NGO, while Huang elaborated on his commercial approach to promoting sustainability. He reiterated his ambitious plan to establish 50,000 “climate marts” around the world within five years.

Just before the close of the forum, Zhang announced his organization’s two-point commitment to pushing up sustainable development in China. One is to build a platform mobilizing social forces and convening stakeholders, seizing opportunities to promote green transformation and inclusive development, and the other is to build a bridge between leading Chinese and UN institutions and mechanisms in order to get them more involved in global sustainability efforts.

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