Climate Change and Public Interest
New Ways of Participation
March 31, 2012, 8.30 - 17.30
Christoph Bals, Prof. Zhang Jianwei, Cao Haidong, Sun Yang, Andreas Landwehr, Zhang Huan, Prof. Zhou Zhijia, Azure Ma, Dr. Patrick Schröder, Prof. Berthold Kuhn, Qin Xudong, Wang Lixia, Prof. Dr. Wang Shuyi, Prof. Li Ji, Dr. Peter Hefele
On March 30th/31st the KAS | Shanghai and the Research Center for Environmental Law (RIEL) jointly organised a workshop on the role of civil society in climate and environmental protection.
Citizens are more and more engaged in climate and environmental protection and therefore want to have greater influence on the formulation of the climate policies of their respective countries. In his welcome remarks Dr. Peter Hefele, Director of the KAS | Shanghai, pointed out that climate and environmental protection are becoming a significant part of Germany’s foreign relations and especially important in the bilateral relations with China. The exchange between the two societies is also expanding as can be seen by the multitude of platforms and cooperation projects of German and Chinese NGOs. The challenges for climate protection in China are huge. In order to cope with them an enhanced legal framework, professional environmental journalism as well as effective NGOs are required.
In the first panel Prof. Dr. Zhang Jianwei from the School of Law of Henan University described Chinas plans of setting up a carbon emissions trading system. In doing so China can learn from the experiences made in the EU with its emission trading system (EU ETS) which has been introduced in 2005 and several regional and voluntary schemes, i.e. in Australia and the US. As China has become the world’s largest emitter of CO2, the international pressure on the country to contribute to international emissions reductions has grown immensely. Prof. Zhang sees this pressure as a positive factor to strengthen the efforts within China. The state council has decided to establish a nation-wide voluntary emissions trading system in China by 2015. In order to prepare its establishment several pilot projects have been launched already. In order to reach this goal several obstacles have to be dealt with according to Prof. Zhang. These obstacles comprise an insufficient legal framework, a lack of public awareness as well as lacking technical knowledge for example in the area of measuring carbon emissions.
Christoph Bals, director of the German NGO Germanwatch and main speaker from the German side, explained the major challenges for Germany in implementing the “Energiewende” (energy transformation). Germany plans to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% until 2050 (as compared to 1990) and to increase the share of renewable energies in electricity production to 80% within the same period. The federal government has furthermore decided to shut down all nuclear power plants by 2022. According to Mr. Bals this should not be seen as an additional challenge, but rather as a chance, because the profits made from old atomic energy plants have held back electricity companies from investing in renewable energies so far. He calls the “Energiewende” the “first big experiment to completely transform the energy system of an industrialised country”. In order to reach this goal the participation of civil society is of utmost importance. 80% of the German population are in favour of the “Energiewende” and the support by companies is growing as well.
During the following discussion the support for developing and emerging economies in the field of climate protection as well as the future of atomic energy in China were debated. Christoph Bals pointed out that building new atomic power plants, not only because of the high risk but also because of economic reasons, is not viable any more. Because of the immense construction costs he predicts an overall decline in the use of atomic energy worldwide. Furthermore he explained that the major challenges for carrying out the “Energiewende” in Germany can be seen in extending the grid and building adequate storage facilities.
During the second panel the role of media for spreading knowledge about climate change, its effects and possible solutions were discussed. The participating Chinese journalists highlighted the role of Media in the fields of climate and environmental protection in China. They try to scrutinize the data published by the government and to stimulate the debate on certain issues. Furthermore they support the initiatives of NGOs and even organise their own initiatives. Andreas Landwehr, director of the German Press Angency (dpa) in Beijing, stressed that media has to bridge the gap between climate change and experiences in daily life, in order to influence awareness and behaviour. Moreover the press should give people that suffer from environmental degradation a voice. Zhang Huan, editor of the news website green.sina.com, described the growing significance of internet journalism in the area of climate and environmental issues. Besides more than 400 newspapers and magazines which have specialised on environmental issues, several hundred websites that report exclusively on this topic already exist as well. Through them even faster spreading of knowledge and mobilisation for the participation in campaigns are possible.
The third panel broached the topic of the role of NGOs in climate protection in China. Firstly, Prof Dr. Zhou Zhijia from the School of Public Affairs of Xiamen University gave an overview over the development of environmental NGOs in China. Their numbers and their influence on the political process have grown very fast in recent years. The high political dependence on the government and financial dependence on companies that support them were mentioned as major challenges. Therefore the government should provide them with further space – not only in the field of environmental protection – as they meanwhile have developed a high professional competence. Ma Azure, the director of Xiamen Green Cross, gave concrete examples of the daily work of environmental NGOs in China, describing a number of projects carried out by her own NGO. Through concrete projects they are trying to raise the awareness among the population, enhance public participation and act as lobby and consulting agencies towards local governments.
In the final round table discussion German and Chinese experts as well as student activists debated how civil society involvement in the field of climate change could be further enhanced. Prof. Dr. Berthold Kuhn, School of Public Affairs of Xiamen University, highlighted that new models for an alternative lifestyle have to be developed and spread. Qin Xudong of the China Reform Magazine added that social media contributes to greater participation because they make spreading information and mobilising the population more easy and at the same time force the government to increase transparency of its actions. Traditional media has to become more independent as well in order to increase its role of conveying problems and solutions to the public. The participating student activists pointed out that conveying knowledge on environmental and climate change topics should become an integral part of education in school as well and that the trust between the government and civil society has to be strengthened.