Governance of Conservation and Biodiversity in the Tibetan Region

Ethan Golding, Tibet specialist and director of Winrock International in China

Ethan Golding, Tibet specialist and director of Winrock International in the PRC

Seminar on Governance of Conservation and Biodiversity in the Tibetan Region

February 12, 2014

Ethan Golding is a Tibet specialist and Director of Winrock International in the PRC.  Now based in Chengdu, he was trained in East Asian studies at Harvard and Stanford and first traveled to Tibet in 1983.

Blogpost by Tenzin Tekan

In his recent seminar at the Elliott School of International Affairs, Ethan Golding, director of Winrock International in the PRC, raised the question:  how can dynamism in conservation and biodiversity in the Tibetan region be strengthened?

Drawing on his several decades of experience working in eastern Tibet, Mr. Golding provided an engaging and thought-provoking set of comments on his central question for an audience of students, researchers and policy studies community.

Through a diverse range of programs ranging from sustainable livelihoods and environmental conservation to cultural preservation, Mr. Golding has led Winrock in its effort to stimulate the NGO sector in Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan, a region of nearly a million inhabitants, most of whom are Tibetan.

The focus of Winrock’s efforts in the second five-year phase shifted to investment in the capacity-building of dynamic local individuals.  Through the TSERING Project, these individuals received training and support to better enable them to deliver technical support to local communities directly.

The results of this approach have become apparent through Winrock’s extraordinary track record in producing outstanding local Tibetan community service providers in areas ranging from HIV/AIDS awareness to reversing desertification in Tibetan grassland areas.

Looking ahead, Mr. Golding raised the possibility of yet another approach to strengthening Tibetan communities, and particularly the management of conservation and biodiversity in particular:  namely, the possibility of addressing institutional frameworks.

To illustrate, Mr. Golding points out that the dynamism of Silicon Valley is not driven purely by talented individuals and great companies. The institutional frameworks – for instance of commercial and legal practices – attracts entrepreneurs and investors.

Connecting this idea to environmental conservation in Tibet, Mr. Golding referred to an ongoing Winrock initiative to measure the amount of carbon offset potential in the structures of the roots of grass. A scientific, internationally accepted methodology would give great momentum to the anti-desertification efforts of individuals and organizations working with local communities to replant grass on degraded rangeland.

Winrock’s technical expertise and innovation in areas such as building effective carbon offset markets has enabled the organization to bring new value to relationships with official partners in Beijing and elsewhere.

Another approach Winrock is exploring in China is `paying for performance’ instead of seeking enforcement of fines or other punitive measures. Such an approach could be more effective by harnessing the creativity of a community through a contract to pay for reductions in pollution instead of seeking to enforce laws against offenders who can often easily avoid responsibility.

Mr. Golding pointed out that the commonly assumed dichotomy between biodiversity and economic growth is a false one.  In fact, in Tibet healthy functioning ecosystems are the resource base on which future sustainable livelihoods depend.

A strong case should be made, he argued, to convince opinion makers and elites in China that cultural biodiversity is an asset. Frustration mounts when people do not have confidence that their culture will endure. NGOs could positively influence this situation by helping direct better tourism and ecotourism practices, so that tourists increasingly travel to Tibet to be immersed in the place and its people.

Mr. Golding also remarked on the need to identify an alignment of interests between communities and local authorities. An example of such alignment would be for communities to put together a well-articulated development plan and then approach their local governments who are under pressure to find and implement effective infrastructure projects.

Another example are the forestry bureaus that are tasked with administering large protected areas with meager staff.  Visiting the vast areas under their jurisdiction itself would be a challenge, let alone managing them. Formulating a solution that involves deputizing local residents from these areas who have an incentive to keep out organized groups such as loggers could be implemented and should be welcomed by all sides.

Mr. Golding also emphasized that resources alone do not lead to good solutions. Winrock’s experience has been that their staff members are able to achieve excellent, long-term results that elude much better resourced state-led projects because often the latter do not sufficiently involved the local community and provide them ownership of the activity.

Strong management and organization traditions of Tibetan monasteries was pointed out as an example of local models for the current challenges of individual-, organizational-, and institutional capacity building.

While it was self-evident through the discussion that there are major obstacles and constraints in this work, the seminar also made clear that there is room for addressing local management issues in Tibetan areas in constructive ways.

Tenzin Tekan is a graduate of Georgetown University and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.  He was formerly a management consultant for Goldman Sachs and Bain and Company.  He is currently Development Officer at Machik in Washington DC.

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