Environmental NGOs Join Forces to Submit Legislative Proposals

China Development Brief, No. 53 (Spring 2012)

中文 English

Advocacy and policy influencing have long been underdeveloped areas in the NGO sector, but as CDB Senior Staff Writer Guo Ting reports, recent years have seen more progress, particularly in the environmental sector where NGOs are partnering with mainstream players such as political and business elites, academics, and media to craft and submit legislative proposals.

In March 2012, the last session of the 11th National People’s Congress (NPC) and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) convened concurrently in Beijing, in what is known colloquially as the Two Congresses (两会). Because of the rise of social media and the development of NGOs, which coincided with an upcoming change in NPC and CPPCC membership at this parliamentary session, NGOs put forward a number of proposals at this year’s Two Congresses. These proposals from “outside the system” on subjects ranging from environmental protection to disability rights, labor, and gender1. For example, the China Dolls Care and Support Association (瓷娃娃罕见病关爱中心) continued to promote legislation to help prevent and cure rare diseases.  The “Occupy the Men’s Room” (占领男厕所) movement that recently spread throughout the country also attracted the attention of NPC and CPPCC  members. Volunteer groups involved in the movement handed officials proposals with titles like “Improving Public Bathroom Standards” ((Editor’s Note: The “Occupy the Men’s Room” campaign was promoted in several cities in February of this year to promote gender equality in the construction of public toilets.  As part of the campaign, women occupied men’s public bathrooms and asked men to wait for three minutes to make their point that there are a shortage of women public toilets)).  On microblogs and other online forums, labor organizations such as the Blue Shirt Society (蓝衣社) are calling on representatives to introduce motions to clarify the legal status of migrant workers.  With the support of LGBT organizations, the sociologist Li Yinhe (李银河) has published appeals on blogs and microblogs, seeking a representative willing to sponsor a same-sex marriage law.  These NGOs and individuals have attracted the attention of the media and the public for their influence on lawmaking.  Among them, the environmental protection sector seems to have the most traction, due to many years of public involvement and advocacy from politicians, academia, the media, and the business community.

On March 2nd, 2012. the Beijing Society of Entrepreneurs and Ecology (北京市企业家环保基金会, SEE Foundation) and Tencent’s Green Channel (腾讯网绿色频道) jointly hosted a meeting to formulate proposals for the NPC and CPPCC.  CPPCC member Wan Jie (万捷), along with several leading academics and NGO representatives, introduced three environmental protection proposals from the SEE Foundation, Friends of Nature (自然之友), the Chengdu Bird Watching Society (成都观鸟会) and several other organizations.

As a board member of the SEE Foundation, last year Wan Jie raised a proposal to prohibit consumption of shark  fins.  The motion, co-sponsored by Yang Lan (杨澜) and 45 other CPPCC members, was sent to the Ministry of Commerce.  Following up on the efforts by Wan Jie and the SEE Foundation to ban the trade of a commodity was no small task.  It required the involvement of several ministries in a complicated, time-consuming process. In the end, the shark fin campaigners were not satisfied with the results of their efforts.  This year, however, they changed their strategy. Wan Jie partnered with NPC representative Li Liguo (李立国) to propose limiting the consumption of shark fin, especially at official banquets, instead of completely banning its consumption2. From a legal standpoint, this motion is much easier to implement, since it would only involve a few relevant ministries under the State Council to insert this limitation clause into a rule on consumption.  It also goes along nicely with a recent trend in cutting government spending.

As the shark fin proposals evolved over the two years, the influence of NGOs could be seen at every turn.  During last year’s campaign, environmental protection organizations such as the SEE Foundation, Friends of Nature, and many others participated, even using the Chinese reaction to a California ban on shark fin sales as part of their case.  When he re-introduced the proposal this year, Wan Jie had Steve Trent, then the director of the China office of the international wildlife preservation NGO WildAid, by his side for expert commentary on the fate of sharks and the ocean’s ecosystem.

Before joining forces with the SEE Foundation, Wan Jie had also put forth other proposals.  Many were, in his words, “forehead-slappers”.  Starting in 2010, the SEE Foundation, Friends of Nature, other environmental organizations and advocates formed a think tank.  This think tank was able to incorporate the environmental organization’s demands into proposals that were then sent through NPC and CPPCC members who also held positions in the foundation.  Using this same approach, a second proposal entitled “Promoting the Development of the Natural Resources Recycling Industry” (hereafter the Recycling Industry Proposal) was issued this year.

The Recycling Industry Proposal was developed during three years of collaboration by the SEE Foundation and Friends of Nature on waste sorting.  This year the esteemed environmentalist Huang Xiaoshan (黄小山), perhaps better known by his Weibo alias “Donkey Shit (驴屎蛋)”, who built a sustainable house out of garbage, joined the team.  According to Huang and Friends of Nature Secretary General Li Bo (李波) , garbage is not as simple as it seems.  It involves complicated systems and processes that requires  reducing the amount at its source as it is being produced.  When it comes to setting up a system for classifying, gathering, transporting, and managing waste, the key is to recycle the waste.  The best way to solve this problem is to promote a recycling industry that circulates goods just like the blood in our veins, using this circulation to “turn garbage into jade.”  Recycling waste into usable products thus addresses the twin problems of overflowing landfills and scarce resources.

To put together the “Recycling Industry Proposal”, Friends of Nature and Huang Xiaoshan have been inspecting Beijing’s landfills and following Hebei garbage pickers to collect data about what resources they collect.  They have also gathered data from Huang’s sustainable house, as well as guidance from China Urban Construction Design & Research Institute’s (中国城市建设研究院) head engineer Xu Haiyun (徐海云). This adds up to a strong lineup.

A third proposal submitted at the Two Congresses was entitled “Regarding Flaws and Recommended Amendments in the Environmental Impact Assessment Law”, came mainly from the Chengdu Bird Watching Society.  China’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Law was promulgated in 2003.  According to Chengdu Bird Watching Society director general Shen You (沈尤) and Friends of Nature’s Li Bo, the drafting of the EIA Law involved input from several NGOs from the start; one might even call it China’s most participatory law.  But once it was implemented, the law was often unable to support environmental protection.  For example, many assessments relied on traditional environmental science, such as limiting water pressure, soil, and noise.  But ecological factors such as the relationships among different species were ignored.  Shen You thus believes the EIA Law still has much room for improvement.

Li and Shen are also suspicious of the environmental impact assessments for China’s infrastructure construction binge which is focused on bringing electricity, water, and roads to rural China.  Citing the example of dams on the Yangtze River (长江), they claim “this is like cutting the stomach out of a sick person and then asking them to sign up for the operation.”

As a southwestern environmental organization, the Chengdu Bird Watching Society has successfully submitted proposals to the NPC and CPPCC as a result of Shen’s position as the deputy chair of the Zhigong Party (致公党)in the Sichuan Provincial People’s Consultative Conference3. Therefore, the EIA proposal was submitted at the central level by two Zhigong Party delegates from Sichuan, Yang Xingping (杨兴平) at the NPC and Chen Jie (陈杰) at the CPPCC .

Not all proposals coming from civil society organizations will become law. But the involvement of NGOs and their allies in advocating for environmental issues through the NPC and CPPCC demonstrate new possibilities for public participation in the legislative processes in China.

  1. Editor’s Note: the author uses the term “outside the system” to refer to grassroots NGOs with few or no ties to the government, as opposed to GONGOs 

  2. Editor’s Note: Li Liguo also happens to be the Minister of Civil Affairs. 

  3. Editor’s Note: the Zhigong Party is one of the eight legally recognized “democratic parties” that participates in the CPPCC under the leadership of the Communist Party. The Provincial People’s Consultative Conference is the provincial branch of the CPPCC. 


2012年3月,我国第11届政府任期内最后一次“两会”在京召开。由于互联网新媒体的兴起、民间组织的发展,更适逢“换届”之年,今年“两会”前后,民间组织推动人大代表、政协委员们提出来自体制外的提案议案更加常见,并遍及环保、残障、劳工、性别等多个领域。如瓷娃娃罕见病关爱中心继续推动以医学专家为主体的代表委员们提出罕见病防治立法  ;近来在全国各地遍地开花的“占领男厕所”行动也引起多位人大代表、政协委员关注,在行动小组的志愿者草拟的建议书基础上递交“完善公厕设计标准”等提案  ;劳工组织蓝衣社在论坛、微博等渠道呼吁代表、委员提出明确农民工身份的议案  ;著名社会学家李银河则在 同性恋组织的支持下,多年不改初衷,在新浪博客与微博发出求助,继续寻找愿意代为递交同性婚姻立法提案的人大代表   。这些民间组织或个人在法律政策层 面的倡导行为吸引了许多媒体与公众的关注,其中环保领域由于多年来公众参与程度较高、积累的倡导资源不论政界、学界、企业界、媒体各方面等都相当深厚,因此多家组织在本次“两会”中联手推出提案,表现尤为突出。
身为SEE基金会理事的万捷去年就曾提出关于鱼翅消费的提案,与杨澜等45位全国政协委员联名呼吁制定禁止鱼翅贸易的法规,后来这一提案被全国政协转入商务部。根据万捷和SEE基金会的追踪,由于禁止一项贸易的立法需要涉及多个部门,办理流程复杂,所需时间漫长,他们对后续反响并不满意。因此今年改变策略,由万捷联合人大代表李立国提交关于约束鱼翅消费的提案,不再直接提出禁止鱼翅贸易,而是建议政府出台禁止公务和官方宴请消费鱼翅的规定。此举不仅相对 立法来说操作更为简便——只需请国务院相关部门在限制三公消费规定里把这一条加进去,也能顺应当前政府不断减少公务支出的大趋势。
在两年的提案转变中,处处可见民间组织的身影。去年提案的时候,“大自然保护协会、阿拉善SEE生态协会还有自然之友等很多NGO都参与其中”,并调研美 国加州立法禁止销售鱼翅后华人的接受程度,以为佐证。在本次提案向媒体推介时,万捷身边坐的是野生救援组织WildAid主席史帝夫,随时就鱼翅贸易对鲨 鱼命运、海洋生态的影响进行专业说明。
“静脉产业”提案是SEE基金会和自然之友连续三年推动的垃圾分类提案在2012年的发展,今年还请来这两年因建设垃圾分类的样板“绿房子”而扬名的环保 公益人士“驴屎蛋”黄小山加盟。根据自然之友总干事李波和黄小山的解释,垃圾问题不是单一的问题,而是非常复杂的系统工程,从它的产生时就需要关注的源头减量,到建立分类收集、运输、处理的系统,还需关注的关键问题是废品回收。而良性的废品回收解决方法就是建立静脉产业,即像血液循环一样,运用循环经济理念“变废为宝”,通过垃圾的再循环和资源化利用,既解决废品回收问题,也解决资源短缺问题。
当日交流会推出的第三个环保提案是主要由成都观鸟会推动的《关于<环评法>存在缺陷和建议修改》的提案。《中华人民共和国环境影响评价法》(以下简称《环评法》)于2003年颁布施行,据成都观鸟会理事长沈尤和自然之友总干事李波介绍,《环评法》自施行之日 起始终有民间环保组织参与到实施细则意见收集和草案的修改过程当中,可谓是中国的法律之中最有参与性的领域。但《环评法》在实施中,仍然时常不能对环保行动给予支撑,比如很多项目工程做环境评估的时候,所依据的资料都基于传统环境学的范畴,如界定水压、土壤、噪音等来做环境影响评价,而对于环境保护中基于 生态学的部分,如物种之间的联系等在《环评法》中被忽视,因此沈尤认为《环评法》条文或者说法律规定的范畴还有许多需要改进的地方。

CDB Senior Staff Writer

Translated by Eric Couillard

Reviewed by Andrew Wells-Dang

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