In my last month of directing the U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law, I am happy to report on the following updates:

Public Interest Lawyers and NGOs in Western China Address Environmental Disputes

Gansu Province stretches over 1000 kilometers from high altitude plateaus and grasslands in the south to delicate Gobi Desert ecosystems in the northwest. As China continues to shift industry and manufacturing from its wealthier east coast to western China, the pressure on these ecosystems and the people that rely on them is increasing. Since 2000, the number of environmental disputes in Gansu has nearly doubled. To equip lawyers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to become better advocates for the environment and pollution victims, USAID’s US-China Partnership for Environmental Law (PEL) program supported two training events in May. USAID’s implementing partner, Vermont Law School, and the Huanzhu Law Firm, the first public interest environmental law firm in Beijing, collaborated with the Gansu Lawyers Association to train 34 lawyers on the latest developments in China’s civil procedure law. New revisions to the civil procedure law enable NGOs to sue on behalf of the public interest to protect the environment, increasing the role lawyers can play as legal advocates for change. Twenty NGO workers learned how to build a public interest environmental case and how to engage with local governments on environmental matters. Through the trainings, the lawyers and NGOs learned how to use the law to promote public participation and improve environmental decision-making.

Improving Prosecutorial Enforcement of Environmental Law in China

Weak enforcement of environmental laws is a major challenge to environmental protection in China. To address this challenge, China has amended its laws to lower the threshold for prosecuting environmental crimes and to enable certain governmental agencies and organizations to bring environmental public interest litigation. However, the language of the new laws is vague, making implementation difficult. On May 20, the US-China Partnership for Environmental Law (PEL) program, implemented by USAID-supported Vermont Law School, held a workshop entitled “Judicial Safeguards to Building An Ecological Civilization” in Shanghai to advance prosecutorial enforcement of environmental law in China. Co-sponsored by the All-China Environment Federation, the Legal Research Department of Shanghai Social Science Academy, and Shanghai Putuo District People’s Procuratorate, the workshop engaged scholars, lawyers, and prosecutors in a vibrant exchange on how to prosecute environmental crimes more effectively and steps to increase the role prosecutors could play in civil enforcement of environmental laws. Participants also discussed legislative reforms, including amendments to the Environmental Protection Law and the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Law, that could broaden specific enforcement provisions and further clarify prosecutors’ role in environmental public interest litigation.