Congressional skeptic on global warming demands records from U.S. climate scientists

The dome of the U.S. Capitol in Washington is seen behind the emissions, and a smokestack, from the Capitol Power Plant, the only coal-burning power plant in the nation’s capitol, on March 10, 2014.  (EPA/JIM LO SCALZO)

Written October 23, 2015. 

Joby Warrick joined the Post’s national staff in 1996. He has covered national security, intelligence and the Middle East, and currently writes about the environment.

The head of a congressional committee on science has issued subpoenas to the Obama administration over a recent scientific study refuting claims that global warming had “paused” or slowed over the last decade.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and a prominent congressional skeptic on climate change, issued the subpoenas two weeks ago demanding e-mails and records from U.S. scientists who participated in the study, which undercut a popular argument used by critics who reject the scientific consensus that man-made pollution is behind the planet’s recent warming.

Smith’s document request to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ordered the agency to turn over scientific data as well as internal “communications between or among employees” involved in the study, according to a letter Friday by the House committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (Tex.). Johnson accused Smith of “furthering a fishing expedition” by looking for ways to discredit NOAA’s study, which was published in June in the peer-reviewed journal Science.

“It is a disturbing trend for the legitimacy of this committee,” Johnson said in the letter to Smith. She linked the subpoena to previous requests by the committee’s Republican staff seeking information about NOAA’s climate researchers, which Johnson called “a serious misuse of Congressional oversight powers.” Noting that NOAA routinely publishes supporting data for its studies, Johnson said Smith had “not articulated a legitimate need for anything beyond what NOAA has already provided.”

[U.S. scientists say the global warming “pause” never happened.]

Smith, responding to Johnson’s letter, said the subpoena was not “harassment” but “appropriate constitutional oversight.”

“This scandal-ridden administration’s lack of openness is the real problem,” Smith said in a statement released by his office. “Congress cannot do its job when agencies openly defy Congress and refuse to turn over information. When an agency decides to alter the way it has analyzed historical temperature data for the past few decades, it’s crucial to understand on what basis those decisions were made.”
Smith, a lawyer who became chairman of the science committee in 2013, has repeatedly rejected mainstream scientific views about climate change, while accusing the Obama administration of undermining the U.S. economy with policies that seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In writings and speeches, Smith has frequently cited scientific studies that suggested a slowing or even a halt in the rise of global temperatures since 2000.

[Scientists reject claim that the solar changes are causing climate change.]

The existence of a warming “pause” came under question following several new scientific analyses early this year. The study that prompted the subpoenas was led by NOAA’s Thomas Karl, who heads its National Centers for Environmental Information, and was regarded by many experts as a bombshell in the climate change debate.

The NOAA study reported on a series of adjustments to the agency’s influential temperature data set, seeking to address “residual data biases” affecting some sources of measurement, such as ocean temperature measurements taken by ships.

The result was that the “newly corrected and updated global surface temperature data … do not support the notion of a global warming ‘hiatus,’” Karl and his fellow researchers reported.

“Our new analysis now shows the trend over the period 1950-1999, a time widely agreed as having significant anthropogenic global warming, is 0.113°C [per decade], which is virtually indistinguishable with the trend over the period 2000-2014 (0.116°C [per decade]),” they continued.

Chris Mooney contributed to this report.

Article Disclaimer: This article was published by The Washington Post and was retrieved on 10/30/2015 and posted here at INDESEEM for educational and information purposes only. The thoughts, views, opinions, and analysis expressed in the article remains those of the author. Please cite the original source and INDESEEM accordingly.


Giving soils a voice

Written by: By Juliet Braslow, CIAT Soils Research Area Coordinator, October 27, 2015.

We don’t directly drink or breathe soil, so it’s often forgotten as we trample over it.

Raising awareness and inspiring action for promoting and protecting our soils has been a central focus throughout this International Year of Soils (IYS). We need healthy soils for a healthy life because the bottom line is that no soil = no food.

We are nearing the end of this year of soils and are taking stock of progress made. How can we continue the momentum into 2016 to keep the soils profile high?  Yet this has just been the start – and a turning point for soils on global, national and local agendas.

Around the globe, diverse groups of people are gathering around the table, not over a meal per se, but to discuss where all meals start: the soil. However, we often end up preaching to the converted, to those who already believe in the importance of understanding, protecting, investing in one of our most precious resources. Awareness-raising and outreach beyond the inner circle of ‘soil converts’ is what IYS has done,  to get the public excited and engaged in the soil beneath their feet.

The evidence is clear in the level of engagement and outreach there has been around the topic. Partners of the European network for soil awareness (ENSA) have been using some very creative approaches: leveraging art to speak for soil (Decrustate 2015), soil playing cards, political initiatives (People4Soil), calendars, citizen soil science (Tea bag index), school activities, hands-on exhibits and much more. They’ve taken soils to the people.

And once you are there, what do you tell them? How do you go beyond raising awareness to give them a reason to care and take action?  It hasn’t been easy. But we developed tools and guidelines to follow to figure out how to best craft, target and deliver the pitch.

There are many resources out there, but sometimes it’s just easier to jump in and try, get feedback and adapt your pitch. That is just the process I led the ENSA network through last week to practice “giving soils a voice.”

We started by distilling our key messages. If you just had 30 seconds to tell someone why they should care about soils, what would you say? Mark Twain once said: “I would have written that shorter, but I didn’t have the time.” Find the time so your message can get through the information chaos of our world and stick in the mind of your listener.

Here’s a fun exercise to try and perfect your key message:
Imagine you had a quick minute to tell someone why she should care about soil
1. Write down what you want to say
2. Cross out words until you have the shortest sentence you possibly can
3. Deliver your simplified message to someone (person A)
4. Have that person (A) tell a person (B) who wasn’t in the room what you just said
5. If a person (A) who hears your simple message can repeat it accurately to the next person (B), you’ve got it!
6. If they don’t say exactly the words you want repeated go back to simplify it some more and try steps 3-4 again.

Now you have your key message, but how do you package that message in an engaging way? With a pitch. If you think about it, we’re all pitching and receiving pitches every day in one way or another. From making the case for what we want to eat for dinner to my pitch to get you to read this far in this blog.

Here are 5 simple pitching principles:
1. Know your audience – Who are you trying to convince? What interests them?
2. Be clear and crisp with your facts – use figures wisely and no jargon
3. Give it a human angle – Put a story behind your facts to create an emotional connection
4. Know your ask – What do you want someone to DO? Can your audience take this action?
5. Focus on soft skills – It’s not always what you say, but how you say it. Be confident and humble. Engage your audience.

Most people these days are so overwhelmed with information that your message has to be simple and delivered in a catchy way to make it through the information clutter. It should go beyond informing to empowering someone to take action for the biggest impact. This can be the most challenging part of a pitch to craft, but the most powerful. If you communicate exactly what you are asking your listener to do, and it’s something they really can do, they are much more likely to take the first step. Wouldn’t you?

What is my pitch to you? Make the most of your meetings, coffee breaks, field visits and chance encounters by having your key messages and pitches practiced and ready to pull out of your pocket to inspire and empower.

Article Disclaimer: This article was published at the CIAT Blog and was retrieved on 10/29/2015 and posted here at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The views, thoughts and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors. Please cite the original and this source (INDESEEM) accordingly.


Clemson researchers and IT scientists team up to tackle Big Data

Media Release

Jim Melvin, Public Service Activities October 29, 2015


Alex Feltus is an associate professor in genetics and biochemistry at Clemson.
Alex Feltus is an associate professor in genetics and biochemistry at Clemson. Image Credit: Jim Melvin / Clemson University

CLEMSON — While researchers at Clemson University have recently announced an array of breakthroughs in agricultural and life sciences, the size of the data sets they are now using to facilitate these achievements is like a mountain compared to a molehill in regard to what was available just a few years ago.

But as the amount of “Big Data” being generated and shared throughout the scientific community continues to grow exponentially, new issues have arisen. Where should all this data be stored and shared in a cost-effective manner? How can it be most efficiently transferred across advanced data networks? How will researchers be interacting with the data and global computing infrastructure?

A team of trail-blazing scientists and information technologists at Clemson is working hard to answer these questions by studying ways to simplify collaboration and improve efficiency.

“I use genomic data sets to find gene interactions in various crop species,” said Alex Feltus, an associate professor in genetics and biochemistry at Clemson. “My goal is to advance crop development cycles to make crops grow fast enough to meet demand in the face of new economic realities imposed by climate change. In the process of doing this, I’ve also become a Big Data scientist who has to transfer data across networks and process it very quickly using supercomputers like the Palmetto Cluster at Clemson. And I recently found myself — especially in just the past couple of years — bumping up against some pretty serious bottlenecks that have slowed down my ability to do my best possible work.”

Big Data, defined as data sets too large and complex for traditional computers to handle, is being mined in new and innovative ways to computationally analyze patterns, trends and associations within the field of genomics and a wide range of other disciplines. But significant delays in Big Data transfer can cause scientists to give up on a project before they even start.

“There are many available technologies in place today that can solve the Big Data transfer problem,” said Kuang-Ching “KC” Wang, associate professor in electrical and computer engineering and also networking chief technology officer at Clemson. “It’s an exciting time for genomics researchers to vastly transform their workflows by leveraging advanced networking and computing technologies. But to get all these technologies working together in the right way requires complex engineering. And that’s why we are encouraging genomics researchers to collaborate with their local IT resources, which include IT engineers and computer scientists. This kind of cross-discipline collaboration is reflecting the national research trends.”

In their recently published paper titled “The Widening Gulf between Genomics Data Generation and Consumption: A Practical Guide to Big Data Transfer Technology,” Feltus, Wang and six other co-authors at Clemson, the University of Utah and the National Center for Biotechnology Information discussed the careful planning and engineering required to move and manage Big Data at the speeds needed for high-throughput science. If properly executed, sophisticated data transfer networks, such as Internet2’s Advanced Layer2 Service, as well as the inclusion of advanced applications and software, can improve transfer efficiency by orders of magnitude.

“Universities and other research organizations can spend a lot of money building supercomputers and really fast networks,” Feltus said. “But with research computing systems, there’s a gulf between the ‘technology people’ and the ‘research people.’ We’re trying to bring these two groups of experts together and learn to speak a common dialect. The goal of our paper is to expose some of this information technology to the research scientists so that they can better see the big picture.”

It won’t be long before the information being generated by high-throughput DNA sequencing will soon be measured in exabytes, which is equal to one quintillion bytes or one billion gigabytes. A byte is the unit computers use to represent a letter, number or symbol.

Kuang-Ching “KC” Wang is an associate professor in electrical and computer engineering and also networking chief technology officer at Clemson.
Kuang-Ching “KC” Wang is an associate professor in electrical and computer engineering and also networking chief technology officer at Clemson. Image Credit: Jim Melvin / Clemson University

In simpler terms, that’s a mountain of information so immense it makes Everest look like a molehill.

“The technology landscape is really changing now,” Wang said. “New technologies are coming up so fast, even IT experts are struggling to keep up. So to make these new and ever-evolving resources available quickly to a wider range of different communities, IT staffs are more and more working directly with domain science researchers as opposed to remaining in the background waiting to be called upon when needed. Meanwhile, scientists are finding that the IT staffs that are the most open-minded and willing to brainstorm are becoming an invaluable part of the research process.”

The National Science Foundation and other high-profile organizations have made Big Data a high priority and they are encouraging scientists to explore the issues surrounding it in depth. In August 2014, Feltus, Wang and five cohorts received a $1.485 million NSF grant to advance research on next-generation data analysis and sharing. Also in August 2014, Feltus and Walt Ligon at Clemson received a $300,000 NSF grant with Louisiana State and Indiana universities to study collaborative research for computational science. And in September 2012, Wang and James Bottum of Clemson received a $991,000 NSF grant to roll out a high-speed, next-generation campus network to advance cyberinfrastructure.

“NSF is increasingly showing support for these kinds of research collaborations for many of the different problem domains,” Wang said. “The sponsoring organizations are saying that we should really combine technology people and domain research people and that’s what we’re doing here at Clemson.”

Feltus, for one, is sold on the concept. He says that working with participants in Wang’s CC-NIE grant has already uncovered a slew of new research opportunities.

“During my career, I’ve been studying a handful of organisms,” Feltus said. “But because I now have much better access to the data, I’m finding ways to study a lot more of them. I see fantastic opportunities opening up before my eyes. When you are able to give scientists tools that they’ve never had before, it will inevitably lead to discoveries that will change the world in ways that were once unimaginable.”

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant Nos. 1443040, 1447771 and 1245936. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

Article Disclaimer: This article was published by Clemson University and was retrieved on 10/29/2015 and posted here at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The views, thoughts, research findings, and information contain in the article remains those of the authors. Please cite the original and this source accordingly.



Opinion: No such thing as a free lunch, we should invest in the land

Dürre in Kalifornien

Drought in California

We all know that if you are spending more than you earn, there is a tipping point from which you can never recover. It is the point of bankruptcy.

The same is true of productive natural resources like land. Imagine that we have a land account, instead of a credit account. It is limited, and if we take too much without paying, it may not recover. The status of our land account today is unhealthy.

We are degrading fertile land faster than it can recover. In some cases, we are simply abandoning degraded land. We are not investing enough to ensure there will be productive land for the future. Land degradation, like credit, happens quickly, but recovery from it is not as fast. We are moving closer and faster towards that tipping point. We must change course.

Land being degraded too quickly

Globally, we have about 15 billion hectares of land, but only about half is usable for agriculture. This is our total agricultural land account. So far, we have degraded close to a quarter of the land available.

UNCCD Monique Barbut ExekutivsekretärinMonique Barbut is the head of the UNCCD, the UN convention fighting against desertification

We degrade 12 million hectares of land every year, on average. Most of it can be reclaimed, but we have degraded and then abandoned 500 million hectares of farmland. Moreover, more than half of all our agricultural land is moderately to severely degraded. This is unsustainable.

To live sustainably, each of us needs 0.07ha (700 square meters) of arable land as an absolute minimum. In 1961, we each had access to 0.45 ha (4,500 square meters). In 2011, 50 years later, that figure dropped to 0.2 ha (2,000 square meters). We simply don’t have another 2500 square meters to lose.

Demand for land is increasing

We are three times above the absolute minimum threshold. However, the gap is closing fast as demand rises for fertile land to produce biofuels and to reconvert arable land into forests to sequester carbon dioxide. Land grabs are increasing as freshwater sources in all regions of the world decline.

Urbanization too is on the rise and will seal yet more land. Prolonged droughts and floods will degrade some of the remaining fertile land due to climate change. At the same time, the global population will be growing. These needs will take more of the fertile land we need to produce food.

Bodenverschmutzung in ChinaWe have to establish equivalent ecosystems as compensation for degraded land, says UNCCD executive secretary Monique Barbut

Unless we follow a different path, we will need to clear at least 4 million hectares of new land every year on average, only to meet the demand for food up to 2050. The growing demand for land can, but need not, result in crises if we make investments that add value to our land account.

The first is to avoid degrading any new natural land and ecosystems. The second is to reclaim a hectare of previously-degraded land in the same ecosystem and within the same timeframe, whenever we degrade land. This will start to balance our land account.

Investing in sustainability

This vision may become the new global norm in September when governments agree on the Sustainable Development Goals.

But we can do more. We can turn our land account into a surplus by investing money to reclaim all the land we can from the two billion hectares that is degraded.

There is no time to waste. Land degradation is threatening the most vulnerable communities, from Darfur to Syria. Mass migrations are gathering pace as people lose their means of livelihoods. By 2045, more than 135 million people could migrate due to desertification alone.

The American economist Milton Freidman popularized the saying, “there is no such thing as a free lunch,” in praise of the free market. But the saying is just as relevant today in terms of land use. Fertile land is limited. Our survival depends on it. If we continue cashing in on it, without investing back into it, there will be consequences. There no such thing as a free lunch, not even for the land that produces it.

Monique Barbut is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.


Article Disclaimer: This article was published at Deutsche Welle and was retrieved on 10/28/2015 and published here at INDESEEM for educational and information purposes only. The thoughts, views, opinions, and information expressed in this article remains those of the author. Please cite the original and this source accordingly.


Loss of fertile soils a food security risk

Compost worms

Going underground

The number of organisms living in a handful of soil outnumber all humans on the planet. They ensure that the humus layer stores nutrients and water. After oceans, soils represent the planet’s largest carbon bank. Soils store more carbon than all the world’s forests combined.


Worldwide deterioration of soil quality is a disaster in the making, warn experts like Jes Weigelt of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany.

“The situation in many regions of the world is very serious,” said Weigilt, who coordinated Global Soil Week in Berlin. “The world population is growing steadily. But usable land is shrinking,” Weigilt stated.

“Every year, 24 billion tonnes [metric tons] of fertile soil is lost: through erosion, development, flooding, mining – or through intensive agriculture.”

Not all ground is fertile

Land is not the same as soil, explained Luca Montanarella of the European Commission. He heads the European Soil Bureau Network on Lake Maggiore in Italy.

Infographic: Agricultural land use per capita

Arable land is being lost at a rate of 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles) per day, Montanarella says. He clarified that the biggest losses are from the construction of roads, cities and industrial facilities.

Removing, sealing and compacting soil kills off the billions of microorganisms, bacteria and fungi that make a handful of earth a living microcosm. Once that life has been eliminated, all that remains is dead matter.

“Soils are renewable,” said Montanarella. “But we [creation of fertile soil takes] thousands upon thousands of years – not time spans that we can count in human generations.”

Soil preservation as development goal

Soil experts in the European Commission hope that the worldwide protection of soils will find a prominent place in the new sustainability development goals (SDGs) to be adopted by the UN general assembly in fall. These SDGs provide the political foundation for sustainable development in developing and industrialized nations.

For Montanarella, soil conservation counts among the most important requirements for sustainable development. And agriculture in particular must become sustainable, he thinks.

“If we want to maintain food production in Europe, we must protect our most fertile soils from destruction,” said Montanarella.

And he highlights another problem: “Regions like the European Union do not have enough soil for their own consumption, and are therefore dependent on imports from other countries.”

Globalizing soil

EU countries import 35 million tons of soy beans and soy meal from north and south America every year – to use as feed for pigs, chickens and cows.

Cultivation of primarily genetically modified soy for export uses land in developing countries that could go toward sustainable agriculture.

But even in industrialized countries like Germany, globalized industrial livestock farming presents a pollution problem.

“[Animal waste] is the root of considerable environmental problems in Germany, particularly in regions with intensive livestock farming,” explained agrarian economist Knut Ehlers of the German Environment Agency.

Infographic: Land use in Germany

Public burden

Although manure is also a fertilizer, too much is toxic for soil and water. The environmental impacts of factory farming “ultimately fall on the taxpayer,” said Ehlers.

Such agriculture is unsustainable, Ehlers stressed. He hopes that aiming more public attention to the issue of soil depletion on the national and EU levels will lead to more sustainable policy-making, and development of organic agriculture.

“We need agriculture that doesn’t just pursue maximum profit,” Ehlers said. “There must be more focus on the interplay between agricultural yields and other ecosystem services.”

Healthy soils, healthy foods

Building more sustainable agricultural practices benefits not only the environment, but also human health, said Swiss agriculture and development expert Han Herren. Recognized with the Alternative Nobel Prize Right Livelihood Award in 2013, Herren proposed that a variety of foods be cultivated.

“That would mean more and better crop rotation, resulting in fewer soil diseases, more microorganisms in the soil – and therefore healthier soil.”

Article Disclaimer: This article was published at Deutsche Welle and was retrieved on 10/28/2015 and posted here at INDESEEM for educational and information purposes only. The thoughts, views and information expressed in this article are those of the author only. Please cite the original source and our source accordingly.



The way forward for African universities


During a speech at the University of Johannesburg on 30 July 2015
Former South Africa President THABO MBEKI during a speech at the University of Johannesburg on 30 July 2015

This is the text of a speech delivered at the University of Johannesburg on 30 July 2015

I think the critical phrase is – “situate higher education at the centre of the development agenda”

We have gathered here at the University of Johannesburg to consider an important matter – “Moving Africa’s Universities Forward”.

I am certain that it is a matter of common cause among us and particularly the distinguished leaders of our universities that there has been extensive discussion over the years relating to the matter of the role and place of the African university in the 21st century.

We also have the advantage that only four months ago we had the first African Higher Education Summit on Revitalising Higher Education for Africa’s Future, which was held in Dakar, Senegal.

Even before that, in 2009, the Association of African Universities issued its “Abuja Declaration on Sustainable Development in Africa: The Role of Higher Education”, adopted at its 12th general conference of that year.

Even earlier, in 2006, UNESCO convened a colloquium at its headquarters in Paris under the theme – “Universities as Centres of Research and Knowledge Creation: An Endangered Species?”.

Though this colloquium was not focussed on Africa, nevertheless it came to conclusions which are directly relevant to the very theme this summit has convened to discuss.

I have mentioned all these initiatives to make the point that I believe that we have a pretty good idea of the matters on which we should focus to move Africa’s universities forward.

What remains to be done is to elaborate the practical and realistic programmes that should be put in place to achieve the objectives which have been identified.

I am certain that it is not necessary for me to list the catalogue of measures on which Africa must act to achieve our common objective of moving our universities forward. You are in any case better educated about this matter than I am.

However, it may not be amiss if I recall the principles mentioned in the draft declaration and plan of action adopted at the Dakar African Higher Education Summit. As you know, the document says:

“We agree to be guided by the following principles:

1. Provision of high quality, pan-African and globally competitive education;

2. Promotion of world class culture of research and innovation;

3. Provision of adequate resources;

4. Promotion of access, equity, and accountability;

5. Promotion of institutional autonomy and academic freedom;

6. Pursuit of operational excellence in institutional management;

7. Pursuit of the engagement of African academic communities in higher education policymaking;

8. Strengthening linkages to society, economy, and employers;

9. Building inter-institutional collaborations; and,

10. Pursuing mutually-beneficial internationalisation initiatives.”

I believe that all of us here are perfectly familiar with the detailed obligations which attach to honouring these principles including with regard to such matters as:

  • Increasing student enrolment, paying attention to the involvement of women;
  • Increasing the appropriately qualified teaching staff to maintain the necessary teacher/student ratios;
  • Ensuring adequate access to books and journals, the internet and ICT;
  • Building the physical infrastructure to enable the university to discharge its teaching, learning, research and community responsibilities;
  • Addressing issues of epistemology and curriculum development;
  • Attending to the matter of the employability of the graduating students in the economy, the state and the community;
  • Instituting a quality assurance system;
  • Focusing on the issue of the expansion of knowledge through research, publication and the access of students both to the practice and outcomes of research and encouraging innovation;
  • Optimising learning and research possibilities by establishing linkages among the African universities and institutes and establishing centres of excellence, including research institutes and universities, and drawing on the African intelligentsia and professionals who have left the continent through the so-called brain drain;
  • Increasing the intake of students and lecturers especially from other African countries while avoiding weakening the capacity to deliver quality higher education in any one of our countries; and generating the necessary funds to finance all these complex processes on a sustainable basis.

Needless to say, the challenge to achieve these objectives is not merely a technical matter. I strongly believe that it requires the right mind-set to bring about the important changes which I suppose are a matter of common cause.

In this respect, with your permission, I would like to cite some comments that have been made on the matter of the future of the African university, comments with which you will be familiar.

In his paper, “Tertiary Education and Development in Sub-Saharan Africa at the Dawn of the Twenty First Century: A Lost Hope, Or Present Opportunity?”, Raphael Ogom [of DePaul University, Chaicago] said: “In its current form, design and content, (sub-Saharan African higher education) is of limited relevance in the context of rapid social and economic changes in the region and bears little connections to the local economy and society.

“Modelled after European higher education, it has evolved from educating only a few highly qualified students into mass systems of lower quality (Bollag, 2004). This expansion, unfortunately, has not been accompanied by a grounded re-development of curricula that reflects, and is better suited, to the realities of the Sub-Saharan Africa environment and development needs.

“A re-think and re-design of the mission of higher education from the current curricula of theoretical sophistication, mismatch, and irrelevance to one that holistically aligns the educational system with the local industry and overall development needs, is long overdue… [Without this] it is likely, and regrettably so, that the socio-economic development promise of tertiary education in Africa might remain a lost hope at the dawn of the 21st century and beyond.”

I am certain that you are better placed to judge whether this assessment of our universities is correct. However I am certain that there is no gainsaying the fact that none of the changes proposed even at the Dakar Summit would make sense outside the context of the transformation urged by Professor Ogom.

In the 2009 Abuja Declaration I have mentioned, the Association of African Universities said:

“The real challenges for sustainable development in Africa are the promotion of economic and industrial development, the eradication of poverty, the resolution of conflicts, and the optimum use of its natural resources.

“[And yet] the African higher education research agenda tends to focus on purely academic and scientific objectives in order to ensure publication in refereed journals, with little regard to developmental needs because of the ‘publish or perish’ syndrome.

“Most of the research works in Africa are rarely relevant to the search for continental solutions to health, education, water, climate change, energy and food security – all sustainable development indices.

“Where research has been conducted in relevant areas, the findings have remained largely on shelves and unavailable to those who need to take action or implement the often useful recommendations.”

These observations are directly relevant to the important matter of the funding of higher education to which I will return.

But before I do so, please allow me to quote some comments made by emeritus professor Eldred Durosimi Jones of the University of Sierra Leone in his 2004 paper on “African Academics and African Universities in the Twenty-First Century: Needs and Responsibilities”.

Professor Jones writes: “[The] division between the privileged and the under-privileged [in Africa] has resulted in social and political instability which is bound to continue as long as a significant section of society is left out of the full participation for and enjoyment of the benefits of development.

“What then are some of these challenges that our academics must face if they are to fulfil their role in the surrounding society? They are to produce men and women who in addition to their particular skills as scientists, engineers, teachers, social workers, priests, artists etc., must be sufficiently aware and committed to eradicating this social scourge.

“Whatever their individual professional skills, students must emerge from our tertiary institutions with this social awareness… Programmes must be devised, preferably a general programme to be undertaken by all students irrespective of their particular discipline early in their courses of study.

“All the students should come out of such a course aware of their environment and their place in it. In these days, it must be realised that this environment is becoming increasingly global… Our aim in teaching should be to produce men and women who are both critical and creative. Our students should be encouraged to be thinkers and doers rather than accumulators of facts and received knowledge. This must be so if they are to be instruments of change, working towards the realisation of a just and consequently, stable society.”

This brings me to the very important matter of the generation of the funds needed to finance the changes needed to move Africa’s universities forward. In this regard I will refer only to the issue of public funds.

Correctly the Dakar Summit said it is necessary to “increase investment in higher education to facilitate development, promote stability, enhance access and equity; develop, recruit and retain excellent academic staff and pursue cutting-edge research and provision of high quality teaching. Appropriate investments are required at institutional, national, regional, and international levels.”

It then said: “Sustained efforts must be undertaken led by governments, and including all key stakeholders in higher education, to situate higher education at the centre of the development agenda. Establishing such a priority is a prerequisite to guarantee its funding.

“The expansion and provision of quality higher education will require proportionally higher, sustainable, and predictable levels of public funding.”

I think the critical phrase in these paragraphs is – “situate higher education at the centre of the development agenda.”

This is the development agenda to which the Association of African Universities referred, which would be addressed by the transformed universities of which Professpr Ogom wrote, sustained by the relevant research the Association of African Universities spoke about and promoted by the socially conscious graduates Professor Jones visualised.

The Dakar summit said the sustained efforts to situate higher education at the centre of the development agenda should be led by our governments.

I think this is wrong or perhaps I should say that it requires prior preparation.

Somewhere deep in its bowels, the Dakar declaration makes the critically important undertaking that: “African higher education institutions shall commit themselves to the pursuit of excellence in teaching and learning, research and scholarship, public service and provision of solutions to the development challenges and opportunities facing African people across the continent.”

In my view this important paragraph should have been placed in the very preamble of the declaration.

In all humility I would have rephrased it to read something like this: “We have gathered at this 1st African Higher Education Summit to consider the strategic question of what the African universities should do effectively to help advance the African development agenda.

“We are firmly convinced that higher education on our continent should be situated at the centre of the African development agenda.

“Accordingly, the African higher education institutions shall commit themselves to public service and the provision of solutions to the development challenges and opportunities facing African people across the continent through the pursuit of excellence in teaching and learning, research and scholarship, and community service.”

As all of us know, at independence and for some time after that, our countries viewed our universities with great pride. Indeed many of these were a direct product of our liberation from colonialism.

In very practical ways these universities were indeed situated at the centre of the African development agenda through the supply of the required educated cadre, the generation of ideas to advance the development agenda and engagement in the upliftment of communities.

There is fairly extensive literature about how the then healthy relationship between the state and the university was weakened and destroyed. In many instances, if not most, this was linked to the introduction of Structural Adjustment Programmes by the Bretton Woods institutions and the perception among the African ruling elite that the universities were serving as centres of political opposition to this elite.

These combined in a process which led to the impoverishment and weakening as well as the marginalisation of the African University from both the state and the development agenda.

Thus did it come about that in many African countries governments came to consider expenditure on universities and therefore higher education as a burdensome but unavoidable cost rather than an absolutely necessary and beneficial investment.

I therefore think that one of the major tasks our universities must undertake is advocacy to convince the so-called political class in Africa that they are indeed situated at the centre of the African development agenda and therefore need new investment significantly to improve their capacity to discharge their responsibilities relating to that development agenda.

It is only once they are convinced about all this that it would be possible for our governments to lead the process which would result in the substantially larger public funding that is required and without which many of the radical changes that need to be made will not see the light of day.

We are very fortunate that when it approved the document “Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want” in January this year, the African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government also endorsed the objective contained in that document, namely: “[To] build and expand an African knowledge society through transformation and investments in universities, science, technology, research and innovation; and through the harmonisation of education standards and mutual recognition of academic and professional qualifications [as well as] establish an African Accreditation Agency to develop and monitor educational quality standards across the continent.”

Perhaps the recognition of the need for an African knowledge society to achieve the Africa we want by 2063 is exactly the message we need to signal the commitment of our political leadership to provide the resources which will enable the African university to play its role, firmly situated at the centre of the Agenda 2063 development vision.

Time will tell how well the African state and the African university respond to the shared challenges they face!

Article Disclaimer: This article was published at Rand Daily Mail and was retrieved on 10/28/2015 and published here at INDESEEM for educational and information purposes only. The views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article remains those of the author. Please cite the original and INDESEEM accordingly.





China in Africa: Environmental Implications and the Law


Written by:  10.25.15

China’s rapid economic development over the last three decades has led to significant environmental pollution and some poor policy choices. With more than 1.3 billion people, China has the world’s largest population and has been the biggest energy consumer since 2010. As the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, China is also the highest emitter of carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming, although the United States remains the highest per capita emitter. China does understand, however belatedly, the seriousness of these challenges and is taking steps to address them.

A huge continent of 54 countries and several island nations, Africa has many climate and ecological zones; it is difficult to generalize about its environment. It now has 1.1 billion people and sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s most rapidly growing population. Africa is believed to be the continent most vulnerable to global climate change and the least able to adapt. Key environmental problems today in parts of the continent include deforestation, desertification, reduced soil productivity, pollution, and the depletion of fresh water sources. Africa has a history of periodic droughts, floods, and serious outbreaks of a wide variety of disease. While most African countries are paying more attention to environmental issues, the topic remains a relatively low policy priority.

Defining China’s Foreign Direct Investment

Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa is often confused with its aid projects, commercial deals, and implementation of contracts for African governments and other organizations. Most of the large infrastructure projects built in Africa by Chinese state-owned companies fall in the category of commercial deals or winning of contracts. Most of the financing for these contracts and investments comes from African governments, Chinese companies, and institutions such as the Export-Import Bank of China

It is not always clear what Chinese activities qualify as FDI in accordance with commonly used definitions. China has an official definition of inward FDI, which is different than the one used by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). China’s definition refers to investment in China by foreign enterprises and economic organizations or individuals to open solely foreign-funded enterprises. It also includes the running of Chinese-foreign equity joint ventures and participation in cooperative joint ventures or co-development of resources with any enterprises or economic organizations within China in the form of spot exchange, real object, or technology.

The OECD countries define FDI as having the goal of establishing a lasting interest by a resident enterprise in one economy (direct investor) in an enterprise that is resident in an economy other than that of the direct investor. This implies a long-term relationship between the direct investor and the direct investment enterprise and a significant degree of influence on the management of the enterprise. Direct or indirect ownership of 10 percent or more of the voting power of an enterprise resident in one economy by an investor resident in another economy constitutes such a relationship. China does not have an official definition for outward FDI.

Relative Concern about the Environment in Africa and China

It is useful to put the relative importance of environmental concerns in both Africa and China into perspective. Protection of the environment has never been a high priority for African governments. African leaders have traditionally been much more concerned about issues such as disease, poverty, civil conflict, ethnic violence, and religious extremism. While this remains the case, there is a growing awareness of the importance of good environmental practices and a concern that global warming will have especially negative implications for the continent.

A study by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project surveyed five of the greatest dangers in the world: religious and ethnic hatred, inequality, AIDS and other diseases, nuclear weapons, and pollution and the environment. The 44-country survey included nine African countries. All but one of the nine African countries ranked pollution and the environment as the least important of the five concerns. The situation for China is different. China was also part of the 44-country study. Of the five dangers surveyed, pollution and the environment ranked in first place.

The Environment and Chinese Companies Investing Overseas

Environmental concerns were not a significant part of China’s dialogue with Africa until recently. China took a disengaged approach to the environmental practices of Chinese companies operating overseas. In 2006, Chinese and African leaders agreed to intensify cooperation in environmental protection, to share experiences, and to boost sustainable development. In 2009, Chinese and African officials agreed to use FDI to bolster economic growth and sustainable development but did not address environmental practices of Chinese companies in Africa.

Today, China is encouraging its companies as they invest in Africa and elsewhere to follow better environmental practices. Chinese companies are making more frequent use of environmental impact assessments, sometimes even drawing on the expertise of Western companies that specialize in these studies. This development is not surprising in view of the growing concern about environmental problems in China and a deeper understanding by the government that it is not in China’s interest to export its bad practices overseas.

In 2013, China’s Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Environmental Protection issued voluntary guidelines that encourage companies investing overseas to follow local environmental laws, assess the environmental risks of their projects, minimize the impact on local heritage, manage waste, comply with international standards, and draft plans for handling emergencies. An official in China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection commented that “no side will win if the environment is neglected, and we have many lessons in this regard.”

The government-affiliated China Chamber of Commerce for Minerals, Metals and Chemicals Importers and Exporters announced in 2014 guidelines to regulate overseas mining investments and operations. They encourage Chinese companies that invest overseas to pay careful attention to labor issues, environmental protection, supply chain due diligence, and human rights concerns. While it is too soon to judge the impact of these guidelines, initial reactions have been positive.

Chinese state-owned and private companies are also demonstrating greater interest in protection of the environment. The United Nations Global Compact is a voluntary corporate responsibility initiative that commits businesses to align their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption. Principle Seven urges businesses to support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges. Principle Eight asks signatories to undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility such as self-regulation, fostering dialogue with employees and the public, and adopting appropriate codes of conduct. Principle Nine says businesses should encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies such as those that use materials more efficiently and cleanly.

More than 13,000 corporations and other stakeholders from about 170 countries have signed the Global Compact. As of 2015, 272 Chinese private and state-owned businesses, non-governmental organizations, and business associations were signatories. They include small, medium, and large companies; most are private but a number of the large state-owned companies with operations in Africa are also signatories. These member companies represent a modest percentage of the several thousand Chinese companies operating in Africa. It is also one thing to sign the Compact and another to implement its guidelines. In fact, little is required of signatories. Chinese companies, as is the case for companies in other countries, have demonstrated a mixed response to the Compact.

In 2012, the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (SINOPEC), which has been active in Africa, issued what was announced as the first white paper on environmental protection by a Chinese enterprise. SINOPEC committed to providing sufficient funds for environmental protection and agreed to adhere to clean production, to raise resource efficiency and develop green energy, and to improve emergency response systems aimed at preventing environmental risk. SINOPEC also underscored its commitment to the Global Compact.

Chinese companies most resistant to improved environmental practices in Africa are the small private companies and the medium-sized ones affiliated with Chinese provincial and municipal administrations. China’s largest companies are primarily owned by the central government. Together with state-owned banks, they control more than half of the revenue of China’s 500 largest companies. Companies owned by Chinese provinces control about a quarter of the revenue. These distinctions are important for a Western audience where the overwhelming majority of companies investing in Africa come from the private sector.

Chinese Environmental Practice and Law

A basic understanding of China’s environmental practice and law is necessary as Beijing’s domestic policies eventually tend to be reflected in its approach elsewhere, including Africa. There has been a recent focus in China on the need to confront environmental challenges. In 2008, China upgraded the State Environmental Protection Administration to the Ministry of Environmental Protection and placed it under the control of the State Council, which is the approximate equivalent to the American cabinet.

In 2012, the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China adopted “ecological civilization” as one of the five pillars driving policy. China’s National People’s Congress approved ten environmental laws and 30 resource protection laws. Local people’s congresses and governments adopted more than 700 local environmental rules and regulations and the departments of the State Council issued hundreds of environmental regulations. China’s first environmental non-governmental organization appeared in 1994. By the end of 2012, almost 8,000 environmental non-governmental organizations had registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

The China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development is a high-level, advisory body authorized by the Chinese government. The Council argues that transformative change concerning environmental protection is underway in China although desired results will not be achieved until there are additional tools, capacity, and financing. So far, the emphasis has been on controlling basic air, water, and soil pollution. While progress is being made on some problems, new ones emerge such as wider ground water pollution and more complex air pollution.


Photo Credit: Chinese construction site, Ethiopia. (SarahTz/Flickr)

The National People’s Congress adopted in 1989 the comprehensive Environmental Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China. Article 1 states that the law is intended to protect and improve the environment by “preventing and controlling pollution and other public hazards, safeguarding human health, and facilitating the development of socialist modernization.” Article 2 defines environment broadly as “the total body of all natural elements and artificially transformed natural elements affecting human existence and development, which includes the atmosphere, water, seas, land, minerals, forests, grasslands, wildlife, natural and human remains, nature reserves, historic sites and scenic spots, and urban and rural areas.”

Article 6 says that “all units and individuals shall have the obligation to protect the environment and shall have the right to report on or file charges against units or individuals that cause pollution or damage the environment.” While Article 9 gives the State Council responsibility for establishing national standards for environmental quality, Article 16 assigns responsibility to the local people’s governments to take measures to improve the quality of the environment for areas under their jurisdiction. According to Article 35, violators of the law shall “be warned or fined by the competent department of environmental protection administration or another department invested by law with power to conduct environmental supervision and management for” a specified list of infractions.

As China’s environmental challenges have become more serious, there has been growing interest in the use of the court system to deal with polluters. Traditional environmental litigation includes tort cases that seek compensation for harm caused by environmental pollution and “administrative failure to act” cases brought by local citizens against polluters, property developers, and others. The rights of individuals and other bodies to take environmental complaints to court are contained in Article 6 of the Environmental Protection Law cited above and Article 124 of the General Principles of Civil Law, which states that “any person who pollutes the environment and causes damage to others in violation of state provisions for environmental protection and the prevention of pollution shall bear civil liability in accordance with the law.”

The primary criminal law provision in the event of “major environmental pollution accidents” has historically been Article 338 of the Chinese Criminal Law, which allows for a maximum criminal sentence of seven years. In egregious cases involving fires, explosions, and the breaching of dikes, Article 115 allows for life imprisonment or even the death sentence.

There is increasing support to establish an environmental public interest litigation system, which allows any citizen, social organization, and state organ to bring a lawsuit in a state judicial organ for the sake of the public interest. A related recent development, especially since 2007, has been the rapid growth of environmental courts in China following a pollution crisis in parts of the country. More than 130 environmental courts developed between 2007 and 2013. They include environmental divisions within Intermediate People’s Court and environmental divisions or separate tribunals at the basic court level. They also include environmental panels and environmental courts, which usually allow judges to work onsite at agency offices. China’s move into environmental public interest litigation and the creation of environmental courts has been a significant legal and judicial development.

One study of the environmental courts suggests that economic growth in China has trumped environmental concerns. The courts demonstrate responsiveness to environmental concerns while sometimes aiding or at least not obstructing economic development and social stability by local officials. One expert concluded that “China’s environmental courts are not a step toward judicial empowerment, as they might appear at first glance, but an effort to shore up state capacity through an institution designed to coordinate and act as a backstop for government agencies.” The courts are part of a broader effort to encourage environmental protection as a policy priority. Judges do not necessarily see neutrality as part of their job. The courts also fit into a tradition of socialist courts as consciousness-raising institutions and serve to support social control.

In 2015, China began to implement its updated 1989 Environmental Protection Law (EPL), which suggests that China has become more serious about improving environmental quality. The most significant additions and provisions to the EPL include (1) more serious consequences for violating China’s environmental laws, (2) expanding the scope of projects subjected to environmental impact assessments, and (3) allowing nongovernmental organizations to take legal action against polluters in the public interest. Article 58 allows nongovernmental organizations to file claims in the People’s Court if they (1) are registered with the civil affairs department at or above the municipal level and (2) have been focused on environment-related public interest activities for five consecutive years or more. Only about 300 nongovernmental organizations meet both of these requirements.

China’s environmental legislation is strong on paper, but its implementation tends to be weak. Much depends on the efforts of local governments, which have considerable autonomy, and other state agencies. Policies implemented at the provincial and municipal level are often determined by apathy and lack of oversight. Some large state-owned companies have adopted a series of rigorous environmental protection standards. At the same time, Chinese enterprises still appear to be 15-20 years behind their Western counterparts when it comes to the adoption of modern social and environmental approaches to their outward FDI. China has made steady progress on environmental legislation but still has an unsatisfactory enforcement system. In particular, there are inadequate sanctions for those who damage the environment and too few incentives for those who protect it.

African Environmental Practice and Law

With 54 countries in Africa, it is impossible except at the most basic level to generalize about African environmental practice and law. The 1963 Charter of the Organization of African Unity contained no reference to environmental protection. The African Convention of Nature and Natural Resources adopted in 1968 in Algiers was the first Africa-wide effort to deal with environmental issues. In 1985, African governments established the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment to promote regional cooperation in addressing environmental concerns. This Conference is now the main policy-making forum for discussing Africa’s environmental problems. In 2003, the African Union replaced the Organization of African Unity and adopted the comprehensive Revised African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. It makes a strong commitment to poverty reduction and socio-economic development. Once it comes into force, it will replace the 1968 Algiers Convention for those African states that ratified it.

The 2003 Revised Convention will be an improvement only if its provisions are adequately financed, effective institutional mechanisms are put in place, and there is a strong non-compliance mechanism. The African Court of Justice and Human Rights, which will have jurisdiction over matters concerning the Convention, has not yet been ratified. So far, only eight countries have ratified the Revised Convention; it will not enter into force until it has been ratified by 15 African countries. This fact and the subsequent lack of discussion about the Revised Convention in African Union meetings suggest a continuing lack of priority that African governments give to environmental protection. African leaders understand the link between natural resources and economic development. They must now demonstrate that protection of the environment is not a competing interest for scarce financial resources, but a complementary one.

The approach of individual African countries towards protection of the environment varies enormously. Some countries have impressive legislation in place while others are lagging behind. Even in the case of countries with a relatively strong commitment to the environment and reasonably good legislation, however, there are serious shortfalls in funding and human capacity to implement programs to protect the environment.

In 1997, Ethiopia approved its first comprehensive environmental policy and subsequently put in place strategies and laws designed to support sustainable development. Ethiopia has implemented a wide range of legal, policy, and institutional frameworks on the environment, water, forests, climate change, and biodiversity. Ethiopia has also signed a number of international environmental agreements. While Ethiopia takes environmental issues more seriously than most African countries, there continue to be problems because of inadequate implementation and enforcement. Pollution monitoring, reporting, and verification of abatement measures have been weak. The key constraint is lack of human capacity.

Mali has relatively well developed environmental legislation and was in the process of establishing a political and institutional framework for improving the environment and dealing with climate change. In 2010, it established the National Agency for Environmental and Sustainable Development, which had responsibility for implementation of environmental policy and integrating responses across the bureaucracy. Mali has a strategy for a green economy and climate change. A coup and government crisis in 2012 resulted in a 90 percent reduction in the budget of the environmental department of the Ministry of Environment and Sanitation. There is also a low regard for environmental legislation and weak human capacity in the government for improving the environment. Progress is dependent on international financing, better legal frameworks, and strengthened human capacity.

Zambia’s body of environmental law is contained in more than 33 pieces of legislation; it is fragmented with responsibilities assigned to at least ten line ministries. The 1997 Environmental Impact Assessment regulations require assessments for all investments that have a major impact on the environment and require adequate environmental mitigation measures. The Ministry of Tourism, Environment, and Natural Resources and the Environmental Council of Zambia have a comprehensive environmental mandate. In practice, however, environmental management is largely dependent on the interest and competence of line ministries, which do not give it a priority. The environmental institutions are not strongly linked to development planning, finance, and sector institutions, and are politically weak and lack human capacity. They also face severe funding constraints; environmental issues are heavily dependent on international funding. As a result, Zambia largely fails to manage sustainably its environment and natural resources.

Most African states have weak bureaucracies. While their environmental laws are sometimes impressive, implementation is usually lacking. In most African countries, the environmental laws and standards are much lower than accepted international norms. African governments have signed large numbers of treaties and agreements but have largely failed to articulate coherent solutions to their environmental problems. Because of the weakness of African institutions to monitor and enforce environmental protection measures, it will be primarily up to individual Chinese companies to assume responsibility for sound environmental practices.

Chinese FDI and Economic Sector Impacts

As is the case for most FDI in Africa, Chinese investment is concentrated in sectors of the economy that are especially vulnerable to environmental concerns. While major Western companies developed most of Africa’s oil and gas resources and continue to be the most important players, Chinese companies have joined the sector. Oil companies from China, the West, and elsewhere have been criticized for their environmental practices.

Chinese companies have also invested heavily in mining projects throughout much of Africa. Because these projects usually require large initial investments in technology, equipment, and infrastructure, China’s state-owned companies tend to dominate in this sector. The mines are sometimes located in ecologically fragile areas where there is a higher risk of environmental degradation. They also generate greenhouse gases, solid and liquid waste, including hazardous products such as cyanide and mercury. Chinese companies often negotiate mining concessions without competitive bidding and in the absence of environmental assessments. African governments contribute to the problem by not insisting on environmental impact statements and not enforcing existing environmental regulations. In recent years, Chinese companies have given more attention to mitigating harmful environmental impacts.

China is the largest importer of Africa’s tropical wood, receiving more than three-quarters of its timber exports, most of it in the form of raw logs until African governments began to prohibit this practice. While most of this activity constitutes trade, some of it involves FDI by Chinese logging and timber trading companies. Poor forest governance in Africa has resulted in serious unsustainable or illegal harvesting. This has led to the loss of biodiversity and the abuse of forest communities’ rights.

Chinese companies have a tendency to violate local forest practice laws together with African counterparts and even some European companies. The illegal practices include abuse of permits and concession licenses, bribery, operating without management plans, under-reporting export volume, smuggling raw logs, and harvesting and transporting undesignated species. The greatest threat to the environment is the unsustainability of Africa’s hardwood timber if these practices by both Chinese and non-Chinese companies continue. African government officials were often complicit in the illegal activities.

The government of China is sensitive to the criticism its companies have encountered in the forestry sector and has made progress in countering illegal logging. In 2009, the State Forestry Administration and Ministry of Commerce issued voluntary guidelines which encourage Chinese companies to manage, utilize, and protect overseas forests in order to play a positive role in sustainable development of global forest resources.

The environmental issue for which China has attracted the most criticism is the importation of products taken from African endangered species, especially elephant ivory and rhino horn. China is the world’s largest importer of illegal ivory. The poaching of African elephants has reached the point that it threatens the long-term viability of the species. While most of this activity falls in the category of illegal trade involving African suppliers and Chinese merchants living in both Africa and China, some of it has indirect links to Chinese FDI.


Chinese environmental law, policy, lending institutions, and companies investing in Africa are playing catchup. China’s Export Import Bank adopted voluntary environmental guidelines in 2004 and made them public in 2007. They state that projects that are harmful to the environment or do not obtain environmental approval will not be funded. If there are unacceptable environmental impacts during project implementation, the Export Import Bank requires immediate remedial action or will discontinue financial support.

The government of China has become more sensitive to criticism of overseas investment by Chinese companies and has made a concerted effort to improve environmental guidelines and encourage their implementation. It also encourages Chinese companies to apply Chinese laws and standards in their overseas operations. Large state-owned companies have generally been more responsive than medium and small companies, especially those in the private sector. So far, all of the guidelines that apply to Chinese companies operating overseas are voluntary. Unless China makes them mandatory and attaches penalties to infractions, they will not likely change the behavior of many companies.

It is important to acknowledge the difficulty of enforcing environmental guidelines on Chinese companies operating in Africa, especially when the press in China and many African countries is carefully controlled by the government and environmental advocacy organizations are weak. One area where Chinese companies have consistently performed poorly, although some are improving, is a relative lack of transparency in the handling of sensitive environmental issues. The United States has had considerable success, for example, in stemming bribery overseas by enforcing the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977. China could develop similar legislation for environmental standards.

Many African countries attach a low priority to environmental protection, have understaffed environmental bureaucracies, and have even worse records for countering corruption than does China. Numerous African officials are also reluctant to call out Chinese companies that engage in unacceptable environmental practices because they do not want to jeopardize Chinese investment or good relations with the government of China. This situation does not provide an incentive for companies that are focused on making a quick profit to engage in responsible but more expensive environmental practices, especially where there are many African nationals who are prepared to accept the lower standards. It will often be up to the Chinese company to take the initiative.

In the final analysis, it is in the interest of both China and the African countries to pursue sound environmental practices and sustainable development. In addition, Africa’s development partners, including the United States, could improve the environmental situation by building the human capacity in African countries to monitor and regulate the environment.

Article Disclaimer: This article was published at International Policy Digest and was retrieved on 10/28/2015 and posted here at INDESEEM for educational and information purposes only. The views, opinions and thoughts expressed in this article remains those of the author. Please cite the original and this source accordingly.