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Sustainable development needs China

Jonathon Porritt was appointed chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission by Tony Blair in 2000 to drive forward the government’s sustainable development agenda. Here he talks to Matt Perrement about his work and ideas.
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Today, it’s as though the whole world knows about sustainability. Civil society, governments, and large sections of the business community, all talk in terms of “sustainability” – a word now co-opted to so many other agendas that it risks being stripped of all real meaning.

“I blame Brundtland,” begins Porritt, taking me all the way back to the 1987 Brundtland report – written for the United Nations – which defined sustainable development as ’development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ If only she’d titled it sustainable economic development, rather than just sustainable development, which far too many people think of as another way of talking about the environment.”

But there’s still no alternative to ensuring that all future economic development, whether in the UK, China or anywhere else, is as sustainable as possible – from both an environmental and a social justice perspective, he adds.

 “It’s about changing the manner in which we create wealth. It’s to do with making fundamental changes to the economic system.”

Economic systems (and the need to reform them) underpin a lot of what Porritt has to say. To demonstrate that point, his latest book - “Capitalism As If The World Matters” – introduces “sustainable capitalism” into the cauldron of ideas.

“Capitalism really is the only show in town,” explains Porritt, “and it’s here to stay. Therefore we have to work with the system we have,” adding that more radical green demands, such as tougher targets for renewable energy, are undeliverable. But he insists that the principles of profit are reconcilable with environmental virtue through what he calls “solutions-based partnerships” and “working with the grain of human nature rather than against it” – principles he has espoused since the early 1990s after his departure from front-line campaign work for the environmental NGO Friends of the Earth.

The flesh and blood of Porritt’s new optimism is Forum for the Future, a non-profit organisation that he co-founded in 1996 to work with the corporate world (and others) towards precisely that goal – balancing profit with sustainability.

One decade on, Forum for the Future describes itself as “the UK’s leading sustainable development charity”, with 70 staff and more than 100 partner organizations, including such companies as BP, Unilever, BAA, ICI and BT. Many of their partners have recently been criticised by environmentalists for a variety of misdemeanors. So what is the value of engagement?

According to Porritt, “All of these companies are on a journey. For instance Unilever has spent years developing its approach to sustainable agriculture, and this is now working through their brands. Greater consideration is now given to where ingredients are sourced and how they are moved around the world.   

Despite his optimism, Porritt acknowledges that the process is slow.  “There is still a long way to go for most of our partners,” he confesses and is reluctant to single out any company for praise.  “On a scale of 1-10 [one being poor and ten being excellent] most of our partners are at about three; but without the benefit of engagement it would be even lower.”

Porritt also retains his enthusiasm for grass-roots activism, which he believes still has an important part to play in the wider environmental movement. “I left Friends of the Earth because I wanted a life-style change, not because I became disillusioned with it,” he says. The role, he said, consumed his life and left him little time for personal life.

Engagement, rather than opposition, will stand Porritt in good stead in China, where the government is circumspect about the role of civil society.  Corporate social responsibility, on the other hand, has official approval. The Forum’s work in the UK can, at least in broad terms, claim to influence the latter agenda.

“Without China on board – 20% of the world’s population – the whole vision of sustainable development will fall flat on its face,” says Porritt, who visits Hong Kong and Beijing in a whistle-stop tour that begins on Monday.

“I will be wearing three hats while I’m there – one to carry out engagements on behalf of the British government’s UK-China Sustainable Development Dialogue, another to promote the work of the The Prince of Wales's Business and Environment Programme, which runs senior executives' seminars in Cambridge, Salzburg, South Africa and the USA, and lastly to do some work in Hong Kong with the Swire Group (whose companies include Cathay Pacific) on climate change and corporate sustainability. It’s going to be busy!“

Homepage photo by © Rob Welham

Jonathon Porritt is Founder Director of the Forum for the Future, Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission, Co-Director of The Prince of Wales's Business and the Environment Programme and a Non-executive Director of Wessex Water. Jonathon is also author of “Capitalism As If The World Matters”, which was published in November 2005 (Earthscan), and received a CBE in January 2000 for services to environmental protection.

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匿名 | Anonymous




I am really pleased to see people more and more concern about the enviroment around this world. as a person who come to china I am really happy to see those kind of articles and of course understand why we have this web build up here-china need a good model and money for building better and cleaner enviroment. not just for now and also for it's future and the whole world.

Througth some of my friends I visited this web sereral times and I am sure I will continus to visit this web again.

well done!

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匿名 | Anonymous

对Marcus Mullins评论的恢复

我们注意到你的评论. 如果你想了解'中外对话'的评论管理规则和要求, 请参阅我们的'常见问题'网页. -Sam (中外对话)

Note to Marcus Mullins

We have noted your concerns. If you would like to know more about chinadialogue's pre-moderation policy please read our FAQ. Sam from chinadialogue

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匿名 | Anonymous


那么,我来说明一下。在中国, 治理国家和管理环境是同样的难题。肯定地说,一旦中国完成它的转型成为一个模范社会,它一定会在世界舞台上产生重大影响。我所关心的是,如果想让未来世界成为一个更加安全的地方,也就是说,应该让中国对北朝鲜树立榜样。你能不同意北朝鲜是中国的责任吗?不然的话,我们就只有美国起带头作用,而这会给给我们的子孙后代留下什么样后果。Marcus Mullins

Global Pre-moderation

So, to clarify. The issue of governance in China is just as important as the environment. Surely once China has completed its transformation into a model society only then can it have significant influence on the World stage. My concern is that for the world to be a safer place places such as Korea can only change when China leads by example.., would you not agree that North Korea is the responsability of China? Otherwise we will have a planet where only the US will take the intiative and we all know what a legacy they are leaving for our children to sort out and possibly China too.

Marcus Mullins

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匿名 | Anonymous




May I congratulate the Editor and all the staff at China Dialogue for filling a void on all the topics discussed.

Keep up the good work!


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匿名 | Anonymous


生态旅游是一种正在迅速发展的新兴的旅游形式,也是当前旅游界的一个热门话题。世界人士预测,以走向保护区、亲近大自然为主题的"生态旅游热"将在全球兴起。就在人们为我国旅游业面临难得的机遇而欣喜若狂时,我们必须高度重视的问题是旅游业对环境造成的近期和远期的危害。特别是目前有的人打着生态旅游的旗号,而实际上却做着破坏环境的旅游。因此,必须对生态旅游的真正内涵加以研究,结合我国的实际制订出生态旅游的法制法规和管理措施,并使生态旅游成为对旅游者进行生态教育的一所大学校。以此来保护我们的自然景观与文化遗产,使旅游业成为一种可持续发展的绿色产业。生态旅游作为常规旅游的一种特殊形式,游客在观赏和游览古今文化遗产的同时,置身于相对古朴、原始的自然区域,尽情考察和享乐旖旎风光和野生动、植物。这时期生态旅游的概念是指一种旅游业中的"复归自然"、"返朴归真"的观念。越来越多的旅游者更愿意到大自然中游览而不是去现代的城市和海滨度假,强调发展旅游业中对自然景观的开发。真正的生态旅游是一种学习自然、保护自然的高层次的旅游活动和教育活动,单纯的盈利活动是与生态旅游背道而驰的。同时,生态旅游也是一项科技含量很高的绿色产业,需要生态学家、经济学家和社会学家的多学科的论证,方能投产。需要认真研究生态环境和旅游资源的承受能力。否则,将对脆弱的生态系统造成不可逆转的干扰和破坏。同时,生态旅游应该把环境教育、科学普及和精神文明建设作为核心内容,真正使生态旅游成为人们学习大自然、热爱大自然、保护大自然的大学校。生态旅游要持续发展,应是一种不以牺牲环境为代价,与自然环境相和谐的旅游,必须把握适度的开发速度,控制接待人数,增强环境意识,否则,太多的游客会对目的地的环境造成过大的压力,破坏了生态旅游赖以生存的环境,生态旅游也就不可能持续发展。自然环境是由大大小小的生态系统组成的,必须保持相对平衡。森林是陆地最大的生态系统,是自然界物质和能量交换的重要枢纽,对于地上、地面、地下环境有多方面的影响,如果把森林看做单纯的木材生产基地去砍伐,而且是掠夺式的经营,不顾植被具有极为重要的防止环境恶化功能(涵养水源、保护水土、防风固沙、调节气候、维护生态平衡等等),那么最终破坏森林的恶果将是人类自身的灾难。从古巴比伦王国的消失到全球性的温室效应,无不证明了一这点。做好旅游开发规划,贯彻资源和环境保护的思想,这不仅是使开发取得成功的保障,也是预防资源和环境遭到破坏的重要措施。因此,在编制旅游区总体规划时,必须对旅游区的地质资源、生物资源和涉及到环境质量的各类资源进行认真的调查,以便针对开展旅游活动所带来的环境损害进行足够的准备,并采取积极措施,消除或减少污染源,加强对环境质量的监测。为保证生态旅游的环境质量的高品位,旅游区的有关建设必须遵循适度地有序地分层次开发的原则,不允许任何形式的有损自然的开发行动。每个项目都必须进行环境影响评估,要从生态角度严格控制服务设施的规模、数量、色彩、用料、造型和风格,提倡以自然景观为主,就地取材,依景就势,体现自然之美,对那些高投入、高污染、高消费等刺激经济增长的项目坚决制止。古今中外名山、风景区和国家公园都是精神活动的场所而非经济场所。我国古代,五岳山下都设有“镇”,“镇”就是专门提供服务设施的。宋代规定泰山的外围7 里内"禁樵采"。元代规定40里外的徂徕山禁止砍柴,都是为了保护泰山。美国规定商业开发要在国家公园以外的地方,其黄石国家公园自被发现建立后,不仅禁猎、禁伐,而且陆续迁走了居住其中的印第安土著人。德国阿尔卑斯山国家公园的面积达300多平方公里,公园内并无一条索道,若干条索道都是设在公园之外的。这些发挥功能区分、区内观景、区外经商的优良传统,我们可以借鉴。从可持续发展的战略眼光,把发展旅游业的目标与立足点建立在保证当代和几代、几十代人的旅游需要上,并以这种思想观念为指导,做好环境保护的各项具体工作。把生态教育和生态道德教育纳入国家教育计划,在小学、中学和大学国情教育中增设这方面的教育内容。使我们的子孙后代从小就开始重视自然资源的持续利用,爱护自然景观和人文景观,保护野生动物和植物,理解大自然、热爱大自然,使生态善恶观、生态良心、生态正义、生态义务成为青年的自觉行为和道德规范。充分利用旅游这一生动活泼的大学校,使生态旅游的全过程,成为生态教育和生态道德教育的全过程。

Eco-tourism and eco-culture

Eco-tourism is a new, up-and-coming form of tourism that is currently developing rapidly. It is a hot topic of discussion in the tourism industry these days. International experts predict that the "eco-tourism fad", which is based on the theme of travelling to nature reserves and becoming close to nature, will soon emerge worldwide. Just as people are becoming very excited about the rare opportunities offered by China's travel industry, the problems we must take very seriously are the short- and long-term dangers to the environment that it generates. This applies especially to people who are now waving the banner of eco-tourism but are in fact carrying on tourism that is environmentally harmful. Therefore, we must research the real implications of eco-tourism more precisely, to consider China's real circumstances when establishing laws and measures for its management, so that eco-tourism may become a large school for the education of travellers engaged in it. If we use this method to conserve our natural scenery and cultural relics, we can turn the travel industry into a type of sustainably developing green industry. Eco-tourism is a unique form of regulated tourism. When travellers tour the sites of cultural relics, they are placing themselves in comparatively ancient, primordial nature areas. They are enthusiastically investigating and enjoying the charming scenery and wild flora and fauna. The goal of this seasonal eco-tourism is to view travel as a "return to nature" and "return to truth and simplicity”. More and more tourists want to pass their vacation travelling in nature rather than modern cities and coastal areas. There is an emphasis on developing the expansion of nature-oriented themes in the travel industry. True eco-tourism is an elevated travelling activity and educational experience, a way of studying and conserving nature. Tourism done merely for profit runs counter to it. At the same time, eco-tourism is also a green industry with high technology content, and can only operate with expert consulting from ecologists, economists and sociologists.We need to diligently research the capacities of the environment and tourist resources. If we do not, we will irreparably damage and upset the fragile eco-system. Concurrently, eco-tourism should make environmental education, the proliferation of science and spiritual civilization its mainstay. This will make eco-tourism really become a large school in which people study, love, and conserve nature. If eco-tourism is to develop sustainably, it should not do so at the cost of the expense of the environment. Travel that is in harmony with the natural environment must undergo controlled expansion at an appropriate pace, to regulate the number of people it absorbs, and to strengthen environmental awareness. Otherwise, too many tourists will pose too great a burden on the environment they vacation in. They will damage the environment that eco-tourism relies upon for its existence. This will also make eco-tourism unable to develop sustainably.
The natural environment is organized into various large and small eco-systems. Their mutual balance must be conserved. Forests are the largest terrestrial eco-systems. They are pivotal for the exchange of material and capacity in nature. They have multifaceted impacts on the environment above, below, and on the ground. If you view the forest as a mere basis for timber production and log it to carry out exploitative business, without considering the extremely important function that plants fulfill in preventing environmental degradation (nourishing water resources, protecting moist earth, guarding against wind and sand, regulating the climate, protecting ecological balance etc.), then the bitter consequences of destroying the forest will ultimately be mankind's own disaster. From the disappearance of the ancient Babylonian kingdom to the global greenhouse effect, this point has consistently been illustrated. To design proper guidelines for the expansion of tourism, and and to implement thinking on resource and environmental conservation, is not only a guarantee that expansion will be a success, but is also a vital measure in preventing environmental resources from suffering degradation.
Therefore, when formulating the overall guidelines for tourist areas, we must carry out a conscientious survey of geological, biological and all other types of resources that affect the quality of the environment. This way, we can target the environmental damage concomitant with the expansion of tourist activities by carrying out comprehensive preparations and effective measures that eliminate or diminish sources of pollution and strengthen our monitoring of environmental quality. To guarantee high standards of environmental quality in eco-tourism, facilities related to tourist areas must expand in an appropriate, orderly, and multi-tiered form. No form of environmentally harmful expansionist activity should be permitted. Every project must be assessed for its impact on the environment, and must, in accordance with ecological consideratons, excercise strict control over the scale, quantity, format, style, and material basis of its service facilities. This method advocates the prioritization of natural scenery, of spontaneity in nature and on-the-spot retrieval of materials, embodying the beauty of nature. It resolutely seeks to restrain projects that require high rates of investment, pollution and waste to stimulate economic growth.
Throughout history, whether in China or abroad, famous mountains, scenic places and national parks have been places for spiritual, and not for economic, activity. In premodern China, the Famous Five Mountains all had "zhen (type of village)" established at their bases expressly to provide tourist services. In the Song era, a law was decreed stating that "logging is prohibited" in the 7 li circumference of Taishan mountain. In the Yuan era, a law prohibited logging on Chilai mountain 40 li from Taishan, with the aim of protecting the latter. In the US, laws state that commercial activity can only take place outside of national parks. After Yellowstone Park was discovered and established, it not only forbade hunting and logging, but also expelled the native Indians living inside the park. In Germany, the Alpine mountain national park has an area of more than 300 square kilometers. Within the park, there are no walking paths whatsoever, though several are set up outside it.
We should take an example from this venerable tradition of dividing natural areas by the functions they fulfill, with scenery on the inside and business on the outside of the park. With an eye on sustainable development strategies, we should aim to develop the tourist industry and base it upon the needs of tourism for present and future generations. Using this mindset as our guiding principle, we should consummately perform specific tasks for environmental conservation. We should incorporate education on ecology and ecological ethics into national education policy, by introducing more related educational content into elementary, secondary, and higher education at the national level. This will compel later generations to appreciate the sustainable use of natural resources, to take good care of natural scenic places and monuments, to protect wild flora and fauna, and to comprehend and cherish nature. This, in turn, will allow moral judgment, benevolence, justice, and duty in regard to ecological issues to become a part of the self-conscious behavior and ethical norms of young people. This will make full use of the vital, great school that is tourism. It will make the process of eco-tourism become a process of education on ecology and ecological ethics.