China Pollution, Dam Activists Win Goldman Prize

Chinese environmental activist Ma Jun and Ikal Angelei, a Kenyan campaigner against a China-backed dam in Ethiopia, are among the recipients of this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize. From the Goldman Prize’s profile of Ma Jun:

To date, Ma Jun and his team at IPE have exposed over 90,000 air and water violations by local and multinational companies operating in China. Chinese citizens, for the first time in history, have at their fingertips information that reveals which companies are violating environmental regulations across China’s 31 provinces—and with it, the power to demand justice.

Through its Green Choice supply chain program, which has 41 local NGO participants, IPE has encouraged consumers to use their buying power to influence corporate sourcing and manufacturing behavior. Although IPE has no regulatory authority within the government, under Ma Jun’s leadership the organization has succeeded in getting more than 500 companies to disclose to the public their plan and efforts to clean up their facilities. Ma Jun is now working collaboratively with major brands such as Wal-Mart, Nike, GE, Coca Cola, Siemens, Vodafone, H&M, Adidas, Sony, Unilever, Levi’s and Lenovo, all who now regularly reference the maps and self-regulate.

Also working with the IPE—belatedly—is Apple, which has scheduled a joint environmental audit of one Chinese supplier following sustained pressure from Ma’s organisation.

The inspection is scheduled to take place in the coming weeks and the results will later be made public, according to Wang Ding, vice director for the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, which has been critical of Apple’s environmental practices. Ms. Wang said the component supplier makes printed-circuit boards, but she declined to provide further details ….

“We think they [Apple] have changed a lot, especially that they are opening up and allowing an audit like this,” she said, adding, “it’s a good start and a good change, but we will watch closely to see what happens and if they maintain this more open attitude.”

Ethiopia’s Chinese-backed Gibe III dam threatens the delicate ecology of Lake Turkana and the livelihoods of those whose farming depends on the lake. Water resources in the area are already fiercely contested, with some desperate herders mounting raids across the Kenya-Uganda border to water their cattle. The Goldman Prize’s website explain’s Ikal Angelei’s leadership of opposition to the dam:

Angelei brought together Lake Turkana’s divided and marginalized indigenous communities to fight against the mounting environmental and social implications of the Gibe 3 Dam. She informed elders, chiefs and opinion leaders—all of whom had not heard about the dam—about the project and its implications. In February 2009, local tribes issued a “Lake Turkana People’s Declaration” stating that they had given FoLT the mandate to communicate their grievances regarding the dam.

Angelei took their voices to local members of parliament and the Ministries of Environment, Energy, Water and Irrigation and Fisheries, urging them to reconsider Kenya’s power-purchasing deal with Ethiopia. In response to Angelei’s advocacy, in August 2011, the Kenyan Parliament passed a unanimous resolution for the Kenyan government to demand an independent environmental assessment from Ethiopia. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee also responded to her appeals by passing a resolution to halt dam construction until further investigation.

Angelei’s work has deterred a number of potential backers for the Gibe III project, with the result that, according to International Rivers’ Peter Bosshard:

So far only ICBC, a large commercial bank from China, has approved a $500 million loan for the dam’s equipment in July 2010. Ikal has held the bank to account for its destructive project in the international media, and will continue to do so. Even in China, ICBC’s decision is now being considered a case of lacking corporate social responsibility. A few weeks ago, the Chinese government directed its banks to align overseas projects with “international best practices” on social and environmental risks.