China welcomes AfDB’s leadership in ensuring the sustainability of projects in Africa

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A delegation from the African Development Bank (AfDB), led by Anthony Nyong, Division Manager, Compliance and Safeguard was in Beijing, China  from  17th to 19th December 2013 for a dialogue between China and Africa on Environmental and Social Sustainability.

The dialogue provided a platform to discuss the opportunities and challenges in implementing environmental and social sustainability by Chinese firms operating in Africa to ensure that Chinese investments achieve desired developmental outcomes. 

Several firms and government agencies presented their policies on environmental and social sustainability as well as the challenges they faced. They welcomed the AfDB’s leadership in ensuring the sustainability of projects in Africa. 

The ensuing discussions revealed that several Chinese firms have adopted good practices to promote corporate social responsibility in their organizations following the push from the Chinese government. However, more still needs to be done. 

Need for better communication

The dialogue noted that little publicity is given to the good practices among Chinese firms while the negative practices received wider media attention. The need for better communication between the management of Chinese-owned enterprises, the local communities and African civil society organizations was raised. 

The key challenges to implementing environmental and social sustainability among Chinese firms include the lack of enforcement of existing regulations by both the Chinese and African governments, limited capacities and expertise within the firms and the limited knowledge on the benefits of sustainability to the firms.

Representatives from the Chinese government and firms called on the AfDB to support their efforts to increase capacity among Chinese firms operating in Africa. For instance, the AfDB has been invited to participate in a proposed training on environmental and social sustainability for Chinese firms in Zambia and Ghana.

The AfDB presented the Integrated Safeguards System and its role in delivering on the objectives of its 10-Year Strategy that is aimed at supporting Africa’s transformation. The presentation emphasized the need to ensure that Africa, having missed the agricultural and industrial civilizations, the continent will not miss out on the ongoing ecological civilization. The presentation further called on every partner and stakeholder to join hands to ensure Africa’s sustainable development. 

The following recommendations were proposed on the way forward:

  • a high level meeting will be held in Africa in 2014 that will bring together representatives from the African states, relevant Chinese ministries and agencies, Chinese firms operating in Africa, the AfDB, WWF and UNEP to discuss practical ways of promoting sustainability.
  • a reporting mechanism needs to be established where yearly progress on the initiative will be reported. It was proposed that the “African Ministerial Conference on Environment” (AMCEN) meetings and the Forum for China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) could also be an option. The establishment of Africa-China cooperation on Environment was proposed to be launched at the first meeting of the UNEP General Assembly in June 2014. 
  • the China International Contractors Association also recommended that the AfDB organizes training sessions on the newly approved Integrated Safeguards Systems for Chinese contractors in Beijing and in AfDB’s regional offices. It was also recommended that the AfDB should improve its bidding documents to include specific items on environmental and social safeguards.

Avoiding adverse developmental impacts

China has become Africa’s largest partner for development, with trade volume amounting to almost $200 billion and cumulative investments estimated to reach $19.2 billion. The country has gained a distinctive role as one of Africa’s largest development partners, with a trade volume that jumped from US$ 100 billion in 1998 to about US$200 billion and cumulative investments exceeding US$19 billion. 

China is playing a significant role in shaping Africa’s path towards sustainable growth. Designing and implementing environmental and social sustainability to avoid or minimize adverse developmental impacts is fundamental in achieving this goal. 

With China’s increasingly large presence in Africa, especially in the extractive industries, natural resources exploitation and infrastructure development, Chinese contractors and financing institutions have a growing responsibility to promote environmental and social sustainability in their investments on the continent. 

The Chinese government is recommending that its firms operating in China, as well as in Africa place a significant emphasis on environmental and social sustainability. Guidelines on mainstreaming corporate social responsibility have been developed to that end.

Jointly co-organized with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), this dialogue involved a wide range of stakeholders: the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED), the China Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), the Center for Environmental Finance Services (MEP-FECO), the Department of International Trade and Economic Affairs at the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MEFCOM), the Chinese State Forestry Administration, the China International Contractors Association (CHINCA), International Ecosystems Management Partnership (UNEP – IEMP), various state owned enterprises and private sector operators.

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