The SENGO project (Strengthening Environmental NGOs in China, June 2002-June 2004)

Problem definition

The booming economy and the resource-intensive development strategy that China has pursued over the past decades have led to serious environmental problems. The Chinese government acknowledges the need for environmental measures to ensure sustainable development. However, many problems remain, one of which is the gap between policy intention and implementation. An effective check and balance system is lacking in society, while policy is frequently implemented in a topdown manner with scant regard for regional variation. To effect good governance in the environmental field, the strengthening of civil society by allowing more space to green non-governmental organisations (NGOs) is inevitable.

Background

Modern industrial society cannot do without NGOs as mid-level players between the government and the citizenry. Although this point is realized by the Chinese government, the current political climate is not conducive for environmental NGOs. The 1998 regulations for the registration of social organisations promulgated by the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MOCA), actually increase the control over NGOs. In spite of this, the past five years have witnessed a boom in NGOs – in particular in the environmental field. In the Chinese context most of these "NGOs" could rather be called "GONGOs": Government Organized Non-Governmental Organizations. It aptly captures the dilemma most of these social groups face. To be effective, they either lean on the government, or work in areas that are more limited compared to the activity scope of their foreign pendants, such as Milieudefensie and Natuurmonumenten. Most NGOs are institutionally weak. They lack human and financial resources, while there is a great need for increased international contacts.

The proposed project springs from the requests of environmental NGOs in China. After extensive talks with a great variety of NGOs during two pilot missions from 26 Sept.-24 Oct. and 14-19 Dec. 2000, four have been selected on the basis of their internal organisation, independency from the government, field of activity, and proposed area of cooperation. They are: 1) the Beijing Foundation for Environmental Protection (BFEP); 2) the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV); 3) the Institute of the Environment and Development (IED); and 4) Friends of Nature (FON). In addition, the newly established NGO Research Center at Qinghua University (NGORC) has been selected as the main coordinating counterpart at the Chinese side.

Long and shortterm objectives

The longterm objective of the project is to enhance good environmental governance by integrating green NGOs in policy-making. The shortterm objectives include: 1) the institutional strengthening of four NGOs; 2) the support of environmental sub-projects proposed by the Chinese NGOs; 3) the provision of policy advice through research.

Project output

  1. improved human, material resources and management skills of the NGOs;
  2. internationalization of the NGOs and dissemination of project results;
  3. positive involvement of NGOs in certain areas of environmental policy-making (specified below);
  4. improved communication between NGOs and government;
  5. achievement of sub-projects’ aims.

Effects of cooperation

During the economic reforms the Chinese government has come to realize its limitations. Therefore, it is actively seeking to promote the growth of "intermediary social organizations." However, at present there is little experience and expertise how voluntary civic organizations can be integrated in policy-making. For these reasons, the project focuses on one of the most vibrant sectors of civil society: environmental NGOs. Through human resource development and capacity-building of environmental NGOs, the project seeks to improve their leverage towards the government and within society. In addition, the project will strengthen the communication between NGOs and state departments. The project falls squarely within the field of good governance and improved environmental management of the Dutch policy for international cooperation. Longterm sustainability of the project will be effected through:

dissemination through various media including international and Chinese publications, conferences and internet.

Project organization

The main co-ordinator of the project is Wageningen University (Environmental Policy Group) together with Tsinghua University (NGO Research Center) as the principal local co-ordinator. On the Chinese side four other Beijing institutions participate: i) the Beijing Foundation for Environmental Protection; ii) the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims; iii) the Institute for Environment and Development; iv) Friends of Nature.

In the Netherlands, Both Ends and the Dutch Ministry VROM are partners. The general board consists of a Wageningen University based project director and manager, a Tsinghua University based project manager, and one member of each partner institution. The general board meets once a year to discuss the annual plan for the coming year, in which all major activities and budget allocations are decided. The executive project management is done by the two project managers. They meet frequently and have intensive contacts via various media. An internal communication system keeps other project participants informed on the decisions of the executive project management.

Note: A proposal for this project has been submitted for funding.