Environmental protection in China: international NGOs play crucial role

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In an era marked by global challenges, International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) remain invaluable partners in the pursuit of social development goals worldwide. In China, a nation still experiencing rapid economic growth and urbanization, the need for INGOs is as pressing as ever, especially in the context of environmental protection and climate action.

Environmental challenges in China

While China’s rapid economic development has transformed the country, it has also brought problems such as environmental degradation, including issues such as air and water pollution, deforestation, habitat destruction, and greenhouse gas emissions. And these problems have global ramifications. As the world looks to mitigate climate change, China’s role has become very important.

Recent events, including record-breaking summer temperatures, highlight the immediate and far-reaching consequences of these issues. Beyond the local impact, these environmental challenges also contribute to global climate change. Recognizing the urgency of these issues underscores the vital role that INGOs can play in collaboration with the Chinese government and local NGOs.

Changing landscape for INGOs in China

Over the past decade, there has been a noticeable decrease in the number of foreign NGOs working in the country due to various factors. Some organizations (incl. Handicap International) have left because they perceive China as having transitioned from a developing country, rendering their assistance less relevant. Additionally, the passage of the Foreign NGO Law in 2016, which required foreign NGOs to find official Chinese sponsors, posed challenges that prompted some to exit. This phenomenon, encompassing both voluntary and involuntary exits, as well as a reduction of activities by those that remain, highlights the shifting dynamics in China’s non-profit sector.

The global impact of China’s climate action

Climate change is a global issue with no regard for borders. As a major global player, China’s role in mitigating climate change is pivotal. INGOs, with their global presence and extensive networks, are well-positioned to facilitate international cooperation and knowledge exchange on climate action. Their ability to bridge gaps between countries and regions allows for the sharing of ideas and best practices in climate action. INGOs are also adept at bringing together diverse stakeholders, including governments, businesses, civil society organizations, and communities, to work toward common climate goals. By fostering partnerships and facilitating dialogue between China and the international community, INGOs can assist the nation in meeting its climate commitments and contributing to global climate change efforts.

Addressing gaps in climate action engagement

While China plays an increasingly prominent role in global climate discussions, it is essential to note that engagement with Chinese NGOs on climate action remains relatively limited. Statistics from the 2022 China Civil Affairs Statistical Yearbook reveal that only a small percentage of registered NGOs in China focus on environmental and climate issues. Furthermore, a survey from the 2023 China Social Organization Climate Action Research Report underscores the lack of focus on climate change issues among the country’s NGOs. This knowledge gap emphasizes the need for capacity-building efforts to enhance the understanding of Chinese NGOs regarding their potential contributions to decarbonization efforts.

Strengthening grassroots climate action

China’s climate action initiatives require bottom-up participation, capacity building, coordination among NGOs, public support, and sustainable funding. INGOs can play a vital role in supporting grassroots engagement by assisting local communities in preserving their natural heritage. This assistance can encompass habitat restoration, wildlife protection, and sustainable resource management. China’s civil society includes numerous local NGOs dedicated to environmental causes, and INGOs can provide them with crucial support, including sharing best practices, technical expertise, and funding opportunities. By enhancing the capacity of local organizations, INGOs empower them to effectively address environmental challenges at the grassroots level. Capacity-building efforts, such as training programs, workshops, and technical assistance, are bridging the gap between INGOs and local NGOs in China.

Aligning with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a global roadmap for a more sustainable future. INGOs often adopt a long-term perspective on climate change, focusing on sustainable solutions that transcend short-term interests. INGOs can align their efforts with these SDGs, working alongside the Chinese government to achieve targets related to clean water, affordable and clean energy, responsible consumption, and climate action. Through this alignment, INGOs can help China make substantial progress toward a greener, more sustainable society.

The role of INGOs in research and innovation 

INGOs bring a wealth of research and innovation expertise to the table. Collaborating with local research institutions and universities, INGOs can facilitate cutting-edge research in areas such as renewable energy, carbon capture technologies, and sustainable agriculture. By investing in research and development initiatives, INGOs can help China stay at the forefront of environmentally-friendly technologies and practices.

Building resilience in vulnerable communities

China’s rapid urbanization has sometimes caused difficulties for rural communities. INGOs can play a vital role in building resilience in these vulnerable populations. This can involve providing training in sustainable farming practices, supporting the creation of green jobs, and assisting communities in adapting to the impact of climate change, such as more frequent and severe natural disasters. By investing in the well-being of vulnerable communities, INGOs contribute to both local development and global climate resilience.

Advocacy and policy influence

INGOs possess a unique capacity to advocate for policy changes at both the national and international level. By leveraging their global networks and expertise, INGOs can influence policy decisions that prioritize environmental protection and climate action. This includes advocating for stricter environmental regulations, incentivizing clean energy adoption, and promoting sustainable land use practices. INGOs can serve as a bridge between civil society and governments, ensuring that the voices of marginalized communities and environmental advocates are heard in the policymaking process.


Based on the above analysis, it is clear that INGOs can play a crucial role in advancing environmental protection and climate action in China, and that the role of INGOs in China’s journey toward social development is indispensable, particularly in the realms of environmental protection and climate action. By collaborating with the Chinese government and local NGOs, INGOs can assist China in addressing its most pressing environmental challenges, contributing to global climate goals, and fostering a sustainable future. Safeguarding China’s environment is not solely a national imperative but also a global responsibility, and INGOs are integral to this collective endeavor. In a world where environmental perils transcend borders, and the future of the planet hangs in the balance, the role of INGOs in China’s environmental protection and climate action is more critical than ever. Through research, innovation, community support, advocacy, and policy influence, INGOs can continue to make a substantial impact on the journey toward a more sustainable China and a healthier planet for all.

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