28. 05. 2012

Goldman Prize

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On Tuesday last week, I spent much of the day in the company of a Chinese environmentalist called Ma Jun.  He and I sit on the high-level Sustainability Advisory Group for Unilever, and I was in China with Unilever assessing progress on it’s Sustainable Living Plan.

Ma Jun has recently been honoured with one of this year’s Goldman Prizes – which is just about the highest accolade there is in the world of environmental activism.  He’s only the third Chinese recipient since the Goldman Prizes were launched back in 1989.

Ma Jun is involved in umpteen things in China at the moment, but probably his greatest achievement is the China Water Pollution Map back in 2006.  This has made it possible for campaigners, government officials (and even the regulators themselves!) to check out exactly which companies (or state enterprises) are responsible for breaches of environmental regulations in the water environment.  As I heard all over again on this visit, China’s environmental standards are as good as any European country - the problem is that they are just not enforced!

As an investigative journalist on the South China Daily Post, Ma Jun got to see how to confront some of these breaches before he became a full time environmental campaigner back in 2000.  What’s so intriguing is that the kind of “radical transparency” pioneered by Ma Jun’s Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs was once seen as dangerously subversive by the Chinese government.

It seemed to me, ten years on, that there’s now a sense that the more progressive elements in the Government/Communist Party are actually quite pleased that organisations like the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs are out there providing the ammunition that others need – particularly when it can be directed at Western multinationals!

It’s a truly inspiring story.


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