In the last three years, China’s judiciary has made significant progress in strengthening its capacity to adjudicate environmental cases. The Supreme People’ Court in China (SPC) established a specialized environmental and resources division in June, 2014 proliferating more than 600 specialized environmental tribunals and divisions. The U.S.-Asia Partnerships for Environmental Law at Vermont Law School (PEL) has been providing technical support to Chinese courts in these important efforts by conducting trainings and by sharing the results of our in-depth research on key judicial policy issues on environmental public interest litigation, including lessons learned from the U.S. and other countries’ experiences.
On June 6, 2017, Professor David Mears, Vice Dean of the Faculty at Vermont Law School, Professor Jack Tuholske, Director of the Water and Justice Program and Professor Yanmei Lin, Associate Director of PEL, together with Mr. Dimetri Deboer, Director of Client Earth China Program had a roundtable with judges from SPC and from four other provincial high courts, to discuss recent developments in China’s environmental judiciary and lessons and experiences from the U.S. environmental legal system.
The roundtable generated a vibrant discourse on the differences between the U.S and China in citizen suits, natural resources damages claims, and environmental public interest litigation and the ecological damages liability. We also discussed the on-going collaborative research that the judges are performing with VLS professor-mentors. Their research topics include scientific evidence in air pollution cases, substantial endangerment standard in the soil contamination prevention law, and injunctive reliefs in environmental cases. It was inspiring to hear about their work as this research will not only help the judges in handling cases but also inform SPC’s efforts to revise the standards for judicial interpretations in environmental public interest litigation thereby contributing to the development of strong legal precedence for China’s new soil contamination law.
In all it was a successful and engaging meeting in which we collectively explored how we can better learn from each other’s practical experiences to more effectively protect the environment through rule of law.