Feature Article of Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

China 'means Business' when it talks of 'Ecological Civilisation'

One of the things that has puzzled me many times is over the continued participation of Chinese nationals in galamsey in Ghana – given the overwhelming visual evidence that attests to the horrendous devastation that galamsey is wreaking on the environment in Ghana – is why the Government of China is not forcing its nationals to end their participation in the wanton wrecking of the Ghanaian environment.

For I have never believed that the destruction of Ghana can be countenanced by the Chinese state.

The reason is that I heard one of the most respected Chinese leaders, the late Premier Zhou Enlai (formerly spelt Chou En-Lai) who ruled China with Chairman Mao Zedong from 1949 until his death in January 1976, say that the Chinese people do not think in terms of “decades or even hundreds of years but in thousands of years.” He was talking to a group of African writers, including myself, who met with him in Beijing in 1958.

He actually advanced the notion that because of its traditional concern for the environment, China would be the only country that would survive a nuclear holocaust.

“Our culture is used to the planting of trees,” Premier Zhou said. “So, as we plant trees for thousands of years, the Chinese countryside will come to life again and recover from the ravages of nuclear radiation.”

I thought at the time that this was an impossible pipe-dream. But other “impossible” things have happened in China since 1958, so I am now not so sure that Premier Zhou's prediction was all that unrealistic.

For instance: in 1958, China's GDP per capita was estimated at only USD 77 per annum. By 2016, this had grown to USD 8,126. Total GDP in China was USD 50,40 billion in 1958. In 2016, GDP totalled USD 11,202.92 billion!

Surely, a certain vision survived China's many internal political upheavals to bring such an enormous economic growth about? That vision did not apply only to GDP growth. Indeed, there is evidence that “ecological civilisation” has been growing in prominence in China's socio-economic calculations of late.

According to the London Guardian, an Environmental lawyer called James Thornton has been helping to draw up the legal framework for evolving China’s ‘ecological civilisation’.

An article in the Guardian of 11 September 2017 says James Thornton is chief executive of ClientEarth, and, “in his four decades of legal practice across three continents …. never lost a case.” His “specialty is suing governments and corporations on behalf of his only client – the Earth – and he’s very good at it.” He started ClientEarth, as a public interest environmental law firm in London in 2007.

The Guardian reports that “first” invited to Beijing in 2014 to help implement China’s new law allowing NGOs to sue polluting companies for the first time, Thornton has seen how serious the world’s biggest polluter [China] is, about addressing its environmental problems.

He believes their concept of “ecological civilisation” is the best formulation he’s heard for the new environmental story we must tell. Facing the ruin of their environment, the Chinese looked hard and amended their constitution. This core document now calls for the building of an ecological civilisation. [he says]. “We built an agricultural, then an industrial, and now must build an ecological civilisation.” [the Chinese constitution now proclaims.]

Thornton declared to the Guardian: “I have no cynicism about whether they mean to do it. My job is to try and clean up the environment for future generations. The Chinese really want to do that.” This task “is made possible by China’s 2,500-year tradition of centralised government.”

“They said, we have a long-term vision, we want to be here in another 2,000 years and that will only happen if we clean up the environment. So we have determined that we’re going to deal with our environmental problems and we’re going to do so in a very thoroughgoing way.”

The Guardian article added: “Thornton said it helps that most of the politburo are engineers, rather than political scientists, lawyers or economists, as in the west. So when they actually decide that there is a problem – and it takes actual evidence to get them there – they define the problem and then their next question is: what’s the solution? How can we afford it, how quickly can we do it, and how can we marshal all forces in society to get there?”

“At first, Thornton thought this was rhetoric. [But then he] "realised it wasn’t rhetorical. So by the time we got deep into conversation and I first heard the notion of ecological civilisation, I asked several very senior officials, ‘Is this serious?’

And they said ‘Yes, absolutely serious’. It's been central Chinese policy for some years.

With a group of Chinese experts and five other westerners, Thornton spent 18 months
analysing how to create the legal structures for an ecological civilisation. They then gave recommendations for how to create the rule of law to deliver it.

“That’s typical of what they’re doing. They’ve thrown hundreds of their best intellectuals at designing the theoretical framework for each of the pieces of the architecture of ecological civilisation.” These include economic, industrial and agricultural policies for an ecological civilisation”, says Thornton.

“In the west, efforts to address environmental problems are fragmentary and not well-funded. Whereas in China... suddenly you have this direction from the top on down asking all of these top people over the course of the next few decades: How does everything have to change to deliver this?”

Having read all that about China’s new environmental policy, I ask a question which I have often asked myself: if China has adopted such an enlightened policy towards tackling its own environmental problems, why is it so selfish that it can't see the damage that the alliance of Ghanaian nation-wreckers and Chinese nationals called galamseyers, are doing to the environment in Ghana?

I am certain that China possesses the manpower and analytical capability to assess the environmental devastation facing Ghana and that Chinese analysts would agree with me that (1) China must ban the exportation to Ghana of all machines capable of being used for galamsey operations and (2) any Chinese nationals who return to China after being expelled from Ghana for engaging in galamsey operations, will suffer severe punishment in China when they return to China.

I think that an opportunity was actually missed when the chair of the inter-ministerial task force overseeing Operation Vanguard, Prof Kwabena Frimpong Boateng, was not included in the delegation led by the Vice-President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, to China for discussions with the Chinese Government on economic co-operation. That mistake must be rectified as soon as possible.

In preparation for such a visit, the Ghanaian authorities must commission a thorough-going study on how the rivers, streams water-bodies and farmlands destroyed by galamsey in Ghana, can be reclaimed or rehabilitated, and how much it will cost. Our Government should take the findings of the study to China, and engage in a proper and realistic dialogue with the Chinese authorities on how they can assist Ghana to carry out the recommendations of the study.

Maybe Ghana should engage the services of Client-Earth for such a study.