China gives environmental groups the power to sue polluters

Intro

After “declaring war on pollution” last year, China is taking a series of measures to further regulate polluters with laws and market mechanisms. Shortly after its “toughest ever“ environmental law took effect last week, China granted public interest groups more power to sue polluters. The move has been seen as an escalation of Beijing’s steps to curb air pollution which has stirred up wide public dissatisfaction. According to the interpretation by China’s highest court, around 700 NGOs and government-backed organisations are eligible to launch environmental litigation actions with reduced court charges. Along with the new options for NGOs fighting pollution, China is also planning to establish a national carbon trading market, with one analysis finding carbon trading could be almost doubled in 2015 as more companies come up against new pollution measures. Although the effectiveness of enforcement still remains unclear, these moves show that China is getting tougher in the “war on pollution” to address dire environmental, economic, climate and health concerns.

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RT@ClimateGroup: China to boost support for NGOs that sue environment polluters: http://bloom.bg/1Dw4iSg  (via @business) https://twitter.com/ClimateGroup/status/552815573592444928

Key Points

  • In an strong escalation of China’s “war on pollution”, NGOs now have the right to sue polluters in court. In a statement by China’s Supreme People’s Court, about 700 NGOs are eligible to take environmental litigation at reduced court charges, after the revised environmental law, which introduces higher fines and more stringent conditions for industry, took effect on January 1st. It comes in the wake of a landmark court ruling last month, where six companies were fined total US$26 million for discharging waste acid into waterways – the largest single polluting event to date.
  • As environmental polluters are coming under increasing pressure, carbon polluters are also facing tougher conditions as China’s carbon trading market scales up. Analysis by Thomson Reuters shows that China will almost double carbon trading in 2015, with polluters paying more and risking being left behind by cleaner competitors if they do not change with the times. More companies now have to report on carbon emissions than ever before as Beijing seeks to launch a national carbon market in 2016. If realised, it will become world’s largest.

Background

China will provide more support for NGOs to sue polluters, according to a new judicial interpretation by China’s Supreme People’s Court(CSP) on Wednesday, less than a week after China’s amended environmental law took effect.

According to the CSP’s interpretation, about 700 domestic environmental groups in China are granted eligible to sue polluters. Also, they will have court fees reduced, and will also be allowed to sue polluters nationwide, regardless where the organisation is based.

This comes after China’s “toughest ever” environment protection law took effect on January 1st, which had its biggest changes in the past 25 years. The amended law introduces higher fines and other more severe punishment. The changes not only make it easier for the public to monitor and sue polluters, but also further take local officials accountable for environmental oversight.

These moves show China is serious about the “war against pollution” to control water, air and soil contamination, yet there are also concerns about enforcement of the law and the design of permits with which companies can easily pay to pollute.

Apart from the strengthened efforts against environmental pollution, Beijing is also scaling up its preparation for a national carbon trading market, to curb its carbon emissions and tackle the choking smog. According to an analysis by Thomson Reuters, carbon trading in China could almost double in 2015, as more companies have to report on carbon emissions. China is preparing to launch its national market for carbon trading in 2016, which, if realised, would surpass EU to be the world’s biggest carbon trading market.

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KEY QUOTES

  • “Investors do not care about pollution problems unless the prospects of returns are threatened. The new penalty mechanism is a starting point for change.” – Ma Jun, head of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs
  • “[The] revisions showed the leadership was more serious than ever about tackling pollution. President Xi Jinping’s crackdowns on corruption would deter officials from shielding polluters.” – Federation of Hong Kong Industries deputy director, Daniel Cheng

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  • RT‏@UNIDO: China to Boost Support for NGOs That Sue Environment Polluters http://bloom.bg/1Dw4iSg https://twitter.com/UNIDO/status/553069130040217600