The Miracle of Blue Skies - In search of the human dimension in China
The Miracle of Blue Skies - In search of the human dimension in China
Chee Yoke Ling, points out that people who, like her, live in a city like Beijing, with its twenty million inhabitants, have a lot to complain about: the blanket of smog that is always hanging over the city, fuelled by traffic emissions. The bicyclists who once filled the streets of Chinese cities have had to make way for the massive streams of cars purchased by the growing middle class. Meanwhile, old neighbourhoods fall prey to relentless demolition and bulldozers, making place for even more of the same apartment and office buildings.
Yoke Ling was born in Malaysia and is not the complaining type. She prefers to look at what remains and what may come. "The city still has authentic neighbourhoods and communities. In three minutes' time, you can walk from a six-lane highway to the old city, with its small streets and houses arranged around a courtyard. There, it is quiet and you can still hear the birds."
Not all is lost, is what she means. And because ancient China still exists, it could become part of a new, more sustainable China. "I hope that bicycles will once again dominate the streets of Beijing, combined with an efficient and sustainable public transport system, with buses and metros that operate on green electricity. And, of course, I long for the great miracle of finally seeing clear, blue skies again, day after day."
Yoke Ling's dream does not stop at Beijing's gates. The human dimension, she observes, demands much more attention in China. The restless migration of millions of Chinese in search of employment and higher wages has caused an explosion of urban sprawl, while the countryside is becoming less sparsely populated. The elderly have stayed behind and often take care of the grandchildren while the parents work in the cities. This has to change, Yoke Ling insists. With well-targeted policies it must be possible to breathe new life into rural communities so that future generations can once again grow up being raised by both parents and that the youth no longer has to flee the countryside to find a job in the city.
Nowhere in the world is the contrast between city and countryside greater than in China. The country has made an enormous effort to produce sufficient amounts of food to feed the rapidly growing population. The famines of the past have been practically forgotten. But while agrarian production has expanded immensely, rural incomes have remained far below those of the urban Chinese. Large parts of the country remain impoverished. Social cohesion has come under increased pressure, not only in the peasant villages but also in the metropolises. Meanwhile, the sprawling cities and factories take up increasingly more valuable farmland.
"Restoring the balance between what is urban and non-urban", says Yoke Ling, "is essential for the future well-being of the Chinese." This means that the sharp distinctions between the city and the countryside need to be minimised. The two should be complementary and not in an adversarial relationship. There is a need for smaller cities and a revitalised countryside. "Today, every small peasant dreams of sending his or her children to the city to study. But if there were sufficient facilities and local services, this would no longer be necessary. I hope I'll have a chance to see a migration reversal out of the cities with people returning to the countryside and once again getting in touch with nature and the land."
Rural impoverishment is partly due to the deficient agrarian knowledge of the average Chinese farmer and the tiny plots of land millions of farmers rely on to feed their families. There is a lack of modern agricultural educational opportunities. Meanwhile, the larger producers have become addicted to intensive agricultural practices, which increase water and soil contamination. As usual, the planners have turned to a technological approach, which means giving an important role to genetically modified crops.
Yoke Ling has, both at home and abroad, always actively resisted unbridled technological interventions such as genetic manipulation, which she believes seriously threatens China's biological safety. She believes that Chinese planners should be seeking a new, more ecological strategy. The first signs of change are already visible. "I work with Chinese partners who regularly visit the countryside and the indigenous communities, where there are the early signs of a revitalisation of local life. There is more hope that the young will eventually return, armed with the knowledge they acquired in the city, which they can combine with traditional knowledge. They can thus benefit from the combination of the best of both worlds and continue to stay in touch with the land."
Ling believes that some of the key elements of the new approach are respect for nature, a revaluation of traditional knowledge, the use of local materials, appropriate modern technology and people-centred management. "Many solutions are already available. We know what ecologically intelligent agriculture on the community level looks like, what a sensible diet looks like, how we can increase the farmers' productivity without polluting the ground and the water supply. The important thing now is to convert this into policies. The knowledge is there. What we need to do is apply it."
Yoke Ling sees parallels with movements in other parts of the world, from the Occupy movement in the West that started in New York to the revaluation of indigenous knowledge and ways of life in Latin America. "People eventually get tired of a lifestyle that merely focuses on more consumption. Things are brewing. People are thinking actively about 'urban reorienting'. And the core element that traverses all these initiatives is that people have to regain control of their own surroundings. Because this makes them happier: spending more time in their community, participating in a joint venture such as a city garden, and feeling part of social and cultural life. Millions of people have lost the feeling of belonging somewhere. This has to change." She denies that behind many alternatives there's a desire to return to the good old times, when life was still clear and simple. "It is precisely about the combination, the clever use of what is old and what is new."
Constraining the Metropolises
The official development model is increasingly a subject of discussion in China, says Yoke Ling. For a long time, the starting point has been that people should better move to the city where, simply put, one finds the best services but this idea has come under increased criticism. Increasingly, there are arguments for decentralisation, for rural development and for limiting the sprawl of the metropolises. Yoke Ling: "Urban traffic and pollution make life increasingly miserable in many cities. People live in apartments that are just too small. On weekends and holidays everyone flees the city, which in turn leads to huge traffic flows. This is not the kind of life we want to lead. That is why we need people who have the political courage, with support from the public, to say: 'We're going to do this differently'."
In the countryside, social protests against pollution and impoverishment are not unusual, and these signs can no longer be ignored. The Chinese government has announced various measures to improve the living standard in rural areas. Modernising agriculture is a core element of these plans and the provision of social services in rural areas are priorities on the agenda. A positive development, says Yoke Ling: "The current 5-year development plan signals a conscious attempt to seek a better balance among the environment, social and economic dimensions."
Changes often occur rapidly in China; take, for example, the explosive rise of organic agriculture. Until some years ago, there was no demand for organic food products at all. But after a number of large-scale food scandals, things began to change. The urban nouveau riche began demanding more reliable foods, followed by the increasingly aware young people. Yoke Ling: "People are increasingly willing to pay slightly more for sustainably produced food. And this goes hand in hand with the revaluation of farming." Meanwhile, China has climbed among the world's top countries in area of farmland devoted to organic farming. At the same time, however, China uses more fertilisers and pesticides than any other country. A similar contradiction can be observed in the energy sector: China is not only the world's largest coal consumer, but for some years now it has also been the main investor in wind and solar energy. China is full of these kinds of contradictions, observes Yoke Ling. But she, being the eternal optimist, believes the glass is half full with rapid changes exemplifying the tremendous dynamic quality of contemporary Chinese society.
Yoke Ling has been concerned with living in harmony with nature ever since her student days. "As students in a developing country - in my case Malaysia - at the time we were very interested in the debate surrounding the Club of Rome's limits to growth. We wanted to learn from the West and avoid the mistakes made there." It was a time of optimism, she recalls. "We believed that - with the aid of the United Nations, NGOs and campaigns, and by relying on our own strengths - we could change the world, make it more sustainable." But the next twenty years saw that ideal pretty much disappear. Instead of cooperating, profit-driven competition increased. But with a view to the Rio+20 conference, Yoke Ling once again sees some hopeful developments. "I still dream of social equality, justice, and living in harmony with nature, and of a lifestyle that fits this vision. To see that more and more young people are struggling for sustainability and for a different way of life is an enormous source of inspiration to me."
Read more about this subject
News / 19 May 2022
Both ENDS and 95 other organisations* today sent a letter to State Secretary for Finance Marnix van Rij and Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Liesje Schreinemacher calling on them to implement the Glasgow Declaration in full. In this agreement, which the Netherlands and 33 other countries signed at the Glasgow climate conference, the signatory countries pledge to stop all public funding for fossil projects by the end of 2022.
Event / 18 May 2022, 10:45 - 12:15
UNCCD-COP15: Monitoring Tree Cover and Enhancing Decision Making Tools Across Africa’s Great Green Wall
Join us for an open space for a reflection and exchange on a new dataset, developed by WRI, to monitor regreening efforts, and its applications in the Sahel.
In the drylands of Africa, land degradation threatens the livelihoods of millions of people. Fortunately, there are promising initiatives emerging all over the continent that are turning the tide. Throughout the Sahel, for example, vast tracts of land along the Great Green Wall have been restored by local communities. They have nurtured the plants that spontaneously spring from the soil, protecting young sprouts from cattle and other hazards.
Event / 16 May 2022, 13:00 - 15:00
UNCCD-COP15: How funders can best support agroecological initiatives by local communities in drylands
Join our dialogue on how to set up more and better financial mechanisms that can support agroecological initiatives of local communities living in drylands.
The land degradation neutrality (LDN) response hierarchy of Avoid > Reduce > Reverse land degradation is an overarching principle for LDN implementation, which guides people in planning interventions to achieve LDN. The hierarchy articulates which interventions should be prioritised based on their potential to maximise the conservation of land-based natural capital, recognising that avoiding or reducing land degradation is generally more cost-effective than efforts to reverse past degradation. As value for money is highest in the Avoiding and in Reducing Land Degradation response, a smart way to spend money is to support sustainable land management approaches like agroecology that work with nature, not against it.
Event / 16 May 2022, 13:00 - 15:00
Join our event, providing space for an interactive discussion among COP15 participants on multi-actor collaboration and the financing of community-based restoration
Letter / 15 May 2022
Both ENDS Comments and recommendations on the Bank Group’s Environmental and Social Policy of the AfDB Integrated Safeguards System
This letter by Both ENDS to the African Development Bank is a comment written in reaction to a draft version published by the Bank of its Environmental and Social Policy as part of a formal public consultation held by the Bank. This comment was sent to the bank along a joint submission letter with other CSOs, and specifically responds to the overarching Policy.
The bank's flexible requirements for clients and national standards for risky projects dilute safeguards. Project approval should be predicated on specific and binding targets for compliance and reflect input from communities involved.
Letter / 15 May 2022
Joint Submission of comments and recommendations to the Public Consultation on AfDB Integrated Safeguards System
Together with 29 other CSO's, we've submitted our comments and recommendations in the Public Consultation on the AfDB Integrated Safeguards System. These include that the Bank should prioritize community-led development and human rights-based approaches; protect natural resources and tackles environmental and climate crises; raise the bar on access to information, transparency and accountability; facilitate participatory processes in policies, programmes and projects; and end inequality, poverty, and the cutback and privatization of vital services.
News / 10 May 2022
From May 9 to 20, the 15th Conference of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought (UNCCD COP15) will take place in Abidjan, the capital of Côte d'Ivoire. Governments, policymakers, civil society organisations and scientists from countries all over the world will discuss the problems around drought, land degradation and desertification that are increasing. Colleagues Nathalie van Haren and Stefan Schüller will be there, as will a large number of representatives of organisations with which Both ENDS has been working together for decades. But what is the purpose of the meeting, what is discussed and why is it important to be present? We asked Nathalie and Stefan.
News / 29 April 2022
Both ENDS mourns the death of Khadija Catherine Razavi, founder of CENESTA – Centre for Sustainable Development and Environment in Iran.
Event / 26 April 2022, 10:00 - 11:30
Both ENDS and the Land Portal Foundation invite you to the first webinar in the Whose Land? - Inclusive Pathways to Land Governance series, which aims to provide a platform for stakeholders engaged in land governance to exchange on the importance of inclusivity and meaningful participation of all relevant actors in both formal and informal land governance processes.
It sounds so logical: patents and other intellectual property rights protect investments in innovations, allowing more innovations to be made from which the whole world can benefit. Such as new medicines or drought-resistant crops. But in practice, these property rights often have the opposite effect, hindering access to innovations for those who need them the most.
News / 25 April 2022
The European Union (EU) continues to demand that countries of the South introduce plant variety protection rights according to UPOV 91 in free trade agreements. This is happening in the ongoing negotiations of the EU with Indonesia, trying to take away Indonesia's flexibility to implement a law that suits its own needs and priorities. We therefore call to sign our letters on this subject to the European Commission and the Indonesian government.
Letter / 22 April 2022
Both ENDS, also on behalf of FERN, NCIV and Milieudefensie, sent a letter to Vivianne Heijnen, the State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management, about the MTCS certificate. In practice, this Malaysian timber certificate appears to tolerate the violation of indigenous land rights and intimidation of indigenous organisations. The Netherlands should therefore suspend the approval of MTCS in its purchasing policy, among other things.
News / 15 April 2022
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has taken a unique decision to withdraw from the construction of two controversial dams in Ixquisis, Guatemala. Both ENDS has supported our partner AIDA for many years in its fight against the dams. Tamara Mohr and Pieter Jansen explain why this decision is so exceptional.
Publication / 12 April 2022
News / 31 March 2022
We are exited about the news that Ms MacKenzie Scott decided to entrust substantial funding to a wide range of small grants funds from Both ENDS' partner networks*. These small grants funds are unique as they are set up and led by people, often activists themselves, from the country or region in which the fund is based. Most mainstream conventional funders admit they have difficulties reaching community based organisations and grassroots groups themselves. Small grants funds know better than anyone how to reach local communities, who to support and what kind of financial as well as non-financial support is most needed. Thus, they bridge a wide funding gap. Both ENDS applauds this recognition of the important role of these funds in the funding landscape. We hope this encourages more funders to join!
Event / 25 March 2022, 16:00 - 17:30
What does feminist climate action look like and what does it lead to? Join us to hear from grassroots activists who will share their lived experiences and recommendations for equitable, just, and sustainable strategies to tackle the most pressing issue of our time. Global Greengrants Fund and the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA) will formally launch our joint campaign commitment to support these frontline climate solutions alongside the UN Women Generation Equality Forum’s Feminist Action for Climate Justice Action Coalition. Register today to learn how to mobilize more and better support for feminist climate action.
News / 22 March 2022
These past weeks we have been joined the #WeWomenAreWater campaign to put the spotlights on just climate solutions of and for women, girls, trans, intersex and non-binary people around the world. The campaign started on International Women's Day (March 8th) and ends today, on World Water Day. Just climate solutions already exist but these initiatives are grossly underfunded, and the people implementing them are also those most impacted by climate change and climate-related water scarcity. Therefore, we would like to highlight, especially today on World Water Day, some of these solutions below. And we also have a special message from the colleagues at Both ENDS working on inclusive water governance.
News / 18 March 2022
Today is International Day of Forests. An ever more important day, as the amount of forest and forested area's on this globe is shrinking at a fast pace. One the main causes is our ever increasing demand for products such as soy and palm oil from area's that have been deforested for their cultivation. The current proposed EU-deforestation law to prevent this, is not strict enough and does not include the protection of other crucial natural areas such as grasslands, savannas and swamps, as well as the human rights of the millions of people living in these area's. During these past few weeks we therefore participated in the campaign #Together4Forests, calling on citizens to send a letter to their own responsible ministers. The campaign paid off: almost 54,000 letters were sent to European ministers across the European Union, demanding a strict forest law that guarantees the import of only deforestation-free products in Europe.
To celebrate this International Day of Forests, we would like to emphasise the great value of forests and other natural areas, directly or indirectly, for the livelihoods of at least 2 billion people. Below, we selected some examples that show how, throughout the world, local communities use many different ways to collect and produce food and other natural products in a sustainable way, while protecting and restoring the forests and forested area's they are so dependent upon.
Event / 15 March 2022, 11:00 - 12:30
Join us at the 66st UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW66) for a critical conversation about the intersections of climate, gender and sustainable development. Land defenders and gender rights advocates will join ministry representatives from Sweden, Chile and the Netherlands in a discussion about feminist leadership in protecting land, promoting climate solutions and supporting truly sustainable development strategies. In this session, we aim to explore how governments and feminist climate movements can best work together to tackle the root causes of the climate crisis.
Press release / 7 March 2022
A recent study by Profundo for Both ENDS and Oxfam Novib shows that investment in agroecology is necessary for a sustainable and inclusive global food system. Today, some 768 million – one in ten – people suffer from hunger or a severe shortage of food on a daily basis. Conflict, economic stagnation caused by the Corona epidemic, and the climate crisis present an immediate threat to the production of and access to sufficient nutritious food. Agroecology, a form of agriculture that places small-scale farmers, the natural environment and short supply chains at the centre of food production, makes communities in developing countries more resilient and helps them combat hunger. The study concludes however that major donors, including the Netherlands, are so far providing insufficient support for agroecology.