The Pace Environmental Law Program had the pleasure of listening to Wang Xi’s presentation on amending the environmental law in the People’s Republic of China on November 3, 2014. Wang Xi is the Vice Dean of Shanghai Jiao Tong University (the MIT of China) and Director of its Energy and Resources Institute. He has been an instrumental partner in Pace’s work with China over the past dozen years and a leading figure in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Wang Xi began his presentation by explaining the relationship he has had with Pace University. He also explained the friendship he had created with Professor Nolon. Wang then broke down his presentation into four sections; 1) the history of his research 2) the reason for the amendment 3) the results 4) and then the amendment’s future.
Wang’s first section of the history of his research, which is cleverly titled the “Seeds” section, explained his extensive studies. He studied US environmental laws from 1985-1987 and then in 1992 and 2005. After his research, he wrote a few books focusing on our laws and how they differed from China’s. The largest difference, he noticed, was how China’s law only focused on controlling corporations and never view regulating local governments as an option.
After noticing this significant difference, Wang’s next section of research (the “Growing” stage) focused on case studies and research reports between 2007 and 2010. His research concentrated on the difference between Chinese environmental laws compared to the US and other countries. He noticed the differences were large and there were many international policies that could be adopted to improve China’s environmental law; for example, he noted how China could benefit from the NEPA.
Wang’s last section of his research history was the “Harvest” stage which lasted from 2011-2014. Wang combined his research and case studies in order to draft a legislative proposal for the Congress of Ministry of Environmental Protection in both 2011 and 2014. His first proposal in 2011 was rejected because this was the counsel’s last term and they did not plan on making any drastic changes to the law. The newly appointed counsel in 2012 asked to view the report once more in order to examine it. Finally in April of this year, the counsel accepted almost everyone of Wang’s proposal points; adding 33 new articles into their law. Pace Environmental Law Review has the honor of publishing Wang’s achievements in our upcoming edition.
The report’s main focus consisted of the cooperation of three different actors; the government, enterprises, and the Chinese population. Wang stated that the reason for the amendment was to alter the way the government viewed the environmental. He stated that the Chinese government was focused on having a prosperous economy and never view the environmental as a problem. The problem with China’s history was that the local government was never regulated. There were some laws which regulated corporate pollution but the local government was completely overlooked. Consequently, Wang included the local governments in his research formulas and created a balancing solution that could help China.
The future seems bright for China’s environmental laws. Wang stated these laws strengthen the Chinese Supreme Court and how they view environmental problems. The laws also help stop the corruption of the local governments. In the past, local courts would dismiss environmental cases in order to look like there was no problem, which Wang described as “Local Protectionism.” Chinese courts follow a Continental Legal System which rarely publishes their rulings (Germany has a similar system). Although now, courts are beginning to publish their rulings and reasoning in order to have a consistent view on legal problems, which can have a positive impact on the environment. Lastly, Wang stated that in the past, farmers were only able to bring tort claims in court when company’s would pollute a river that they use. As this law begins to alter, there is a possibly that citizens will begin to bring suits against their local governments for not regulating corporate misconduct. This could revolutionize Chinese law as we see it today. We can thank Wang Xi for that.