I am in Beijing right now where I participated in the annual conference of the Asian Environmental Compliance & Enforcement Network (AECEN), a regional association founded in 2005 as part of the global International Network for Environmental Compliance & Enforcement (INECE). The three-day conference was attended by approximately 150 participants from 12 Asian nations and the U.S. It opened on December 13 with remarks from Vice Minister Zhang Lijun of China’s State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA). He claimed that during the first three quarters of 2007 China turned the corner on controlling pollution by experience, for the first time, small actual declines in total emissions of SO2 and water pollutants. This claim was greeted with skepticism by most people with whom I spoke. The Vice Minister also stated that approximately 20,000 environmental investigations and enforcement actions are now undertaken each year in China.
Granta Nakayama, EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, also spoke at the opening, giving an excellent message about the importance of a strong enforcement program. Dr. Supat Wangwongwatana, Thailand’s chief air pollution official and the chair of AECEN’s executive committee, declared that “Grow now, clean up later” has become a discredited way of thinking in Asia. He has considerable credibility because his agency has done an excellent job of reducing air pollution in Bangkok. Wang Canfa, director of the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV) in Beijing, then gave the keynote address, describing in great detail the work his NGO has been doing to redress pollution problems in China. CLAPV’s environmental complaint hotline has received 10,525 calls and CLAPV has filed 106 lawsuits. In the last six years CLAPV has conducted training sessions in environmental law for 292 lawyers, 220 judges, and 53 environmental officials. Professor Wang expressed appreciation for the support for NGOs that SEPA has demonstrated. He stated that no other Chinese agency than SEPA has done more to promote the work of NGOs, but he stressed the need for legislation to ensure rights of public participation in the regulatory process.
On December 14 the conference featured presentations on strengthening judicial capacity in the Phillippines, developing a wastewater discharge free program in Sri Lanka, and training environmental inspectors in Vietnam. Li Xingyuan of SEPA review progress in environmental enforcement in China. He stated that nearly $2 billion (14.3 billion yuan) in discharge fees were collected in 2006 from 1 million enterprises. In the four years that SEPA has operated a hotline, it has received 1.58 million complaints from the public. SEPA is establishing six regional offices, though it is not clear to me what authority they will have over the local environmental protection boards (EPBs), who are largely beholden to the mayors of the cities in which they operate.
I gave a presentation on “The Role of the Media in Environmental Compliance and Enforcement.” I used as an example an “air pollution blacklist” of 4,000 firms that had just been issued by the Institute of Environmental and Public Affairs, a Chinese NGO, which excited a representative of the group who was in the audience. I discussed UNEP’s enforcement guideline 41(m) on use of the media to aid enforcement and the relevance of the Aarhus convention, while also highlighting the increasing use of citizen videos. I explained how Maryland’s environmental law students learn to make videos and how I hope to transplant that project to my Chinese students this spring when I teach with Wang Canfa at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing.
On December 15 the conference held a series of workshops on the development of public disclosure programs, promoting compliance assistance, and public involvement in environmental dispute resolution in China. Tseming Yang of Vermont Law School chaired an afternoon session on the role of civil society in environmental compliance and enforcement. This session featured presentations on public interest litigation in India, NGO participation in Chinese enforcement, and citizen suits in the Philippines.
The U.S. EPA had a sizable delegation, including the Administrator, in Beijing this week as EPA and SEPA signed a joint cooperation agreement. Given that the Bali conference also was occurring this week, the Administrator’s presence here may reflect how important the U.S. views China’s domestic environmental policies to be. U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson also was here this week for the U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue’s (SED) latest meeting, which focused largely on food and product safety issues rather than environmental concerns. It resulted in the signing of a cooperation agreement focusing on improving the safety of imports and exports between the two countries.