By Law Professor Shi Hua, Pace Law Visiting Scholar

China is a big country (vast size, large population, rapidly developing economy and diversified climates and geographic conditions). It has 5,000 years of history, so it has much traditional culture. People were strongly influenced by the thoughts of Confucius, and always liked to live in a harmonious environment and sometimes didn’t know how to solve disputes. The philosophy of Confucius emphasized the relationship between people. That is why many of people think China is a “Guanxi society.” That means people tend to know “whom” and don’t know “how.” The law played little role in China’s past.

Today, it is totally different. After the economic reform and policy of openness, under the leadership of Deng XiaoPing, China has enacted many kinds of laws. We have different levels of legislative, judicial and administrative authority. The constitutional law is the fundamental law of the country. All other laws, such as civil law, criminal law, environmental law, and so on, are below the constitution and cannot conflict with it. The Environmental Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China is the first major environmental framework law. Below this law are the laws of anti-pollution, air, water, waste, noise, marine environment, mineral resource, grassland law, natural reserve law, species, water pollution law, clean production law, environmental impact assessment law and so on. So I think we have a good environmental law system. The problem now is how to implement these laws, how to balance the value of economic prosperity and the value of environmental protection, how to adjust the relationship between the government and enterprise, and how to carry out the law transparently, and how to eliminate local economic protectionism.

A characteristic of Chinese environment law is its circular economic law enacted in 2008. The circular economy promoted the harmony between the economic system and the ecosystem. Because China is a developing country, even though it has many resources, its rapid economic growth demands major supplies of all basic industrial commodities. The circular economic law requires people to reduce the consumption of resources, reduce the production and discharge of waste, and improve the reutilization and recycling level of wastes. I think the circular law is a creative action for China. After enacting this law, we have saved much natural resources and supplied many job opportunities for people.

In addition, with the change in climate and weather, China is pursuing a number of environmental policies that seek to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The chief efforts have focused on energy efficiency and conservation, renewable energy resources, industrial restructuring, and implementation of the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, even though I think there are many serious concerns about how they would be implemented and whether this goal could be effectively achieved.

What I’d like mention here is the development of environmental law in the law schools of China, especially in Tongji University in Shanghai, where I teach. Almost every university in China has a law school. The Ministry of Education requires every law school to have an environmental law course for law bachelors degree students. Ten years ago, Chinese law schools had 14 required courses, and environmental law was not required. Now, there are 16 required courses plus a required course in environmental law and a required course in labor and social insurance law.

The definition of circular economy is pointed out by Professor Zhu Da-Jian (an expert in circular economics at Tongji). China’s Circular Economic Law has used ideas from many of Dr. Zhu’s circular economic articles. Tongji University’s Institute of Environment for Sustainable Development (IESD, also called “sustainability oriented university”) was set up by UNEP in 2002. 2012 marked the 10th anniversary of the UNEP-Tongji partnership in the joint IESD in Shanghai. Over the past 10 years, IESD has played a key role in capacity building and facilitating China-Africa environmental cooperation. IESD has hosted an annual international student conference on environment and sustainability since 2010, bringing over 300 students, from Africa and other countries, each year to Shanghai. Capacity building and technology transfer through China-Africa research projects has been ongoing, including mobilization of financial resources for joint activities. IESD assisted with the translation of UNEP’s Green Economy report amongst other reports, and also supported the launch of the Global Universities Partnership on Environment and Sustainability (GUPES) on 5 June 2012, in the run up to Rio+20. IESD has a very close cooperative relationship in many fields (teaching, research and so on) with the Tongji law school. Tongji University puts an emphasis on academic cooperation in developing environmental law between IESD and our law school. In all, the prospects for environmental law in China and Tongji University are very bright.

Professor Hua Shi
Law School of Tongji University
Shanghai, P.R. China