On December 1 & 2 China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) held its second International Forum on Environmental Legislation and Sustainable Development (IFELSD) in Beijing. I participated in their first forum which was held in 2005 at the Friendship Hotel. This year the event was held at the very elegant NPC Conference Center, which is hidden away in a residential district four blocks northwest of Tianamen Square. At the opening ceremonies it was announced that China’s energy use per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) had dropped by 3 percent in the first 9 months of 2007. However, as the China Daily noted in an editorial, this is still not good enough to put China on track to meets its goal of reducing energy consumption per unit of GDP by 20 percent between 2006 and 2010. Dan Dudek of Environmental Defense, one of the cosponsors of the conference, noted that two days earlier Premier Wen Jiabao had pledged during a meeting with the China Council on Environmental Cooperation and Development that China would play a “constructive” role in the Bali Conference of the Parties to the climate change convention that is being held from Dec. 3-14 (Environmental Defense is sending 16 of its staff to this conference).
The IFELSD featured many interesting presentations on a wide range of environmental topics. There was considerable discussion of China’s revisions of its water pollution control law and efforts to improve waste management in China, including control of electronic waste. Magnus Gislev from the European Commission’s Beijing delegation gave an excellent summary of EU water pollution control law. I presented a paper on “The Role of China in the Development of Global Environmental Law.” Charles DiLeva from the World Bank, another co-sponsor of the conference, made a presentation on public participation in environmental policy. Dan Guttman, who teaches at Peking University, presented a paper comparing environmental governance in the U.S. and China and emphasizing the under-appreciated importance of “The Plan” in the Chinese system. (I spoke to one of Dan’s classes at Peking University on the evening of Dec. 2).
One of the most interesting discussions at the IFELSD focused on the difficulties China is having enforcing its environmental laws. Wen Yingman and Yang Zijang from the State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) gave particularly strong presentations concluding that penalties for environmental violations in China are still so low that it is far more economic for sources simply to pay the small civil penalties rather than comply with the law. Fines for water pollution violations generally are capped at 100,000 RMB ($13,500). Environmental Defense reported that the city of Chongqing is trying to get around this ceiling by adopting legislation providing for daily fines. The legislation took effect on September 1, 2007 and it has had some immediate impact, though it is being challenged in court. ED (which will soon return to its old name of EDF) has been focusing its efforts in China on trying to persuade the Chinese government to adopt EPA’s policy of ensuring that fines at least recoup the economic benefit of non-compliance. The draft revisions to the water law apparently do not include this, but the NPC reports that “it is possible” that such a policy will be adopted.
On November 28, EPA launched a website on Chinese environmental law, which is available at: http://www.epa.gov/ogc/china/initiative_home.htm. Maryland’s Environmental Law Program is one of the co-sponsors of this website, which is designed to serve as a central source of information on developments in environmental law in China. Steve Wolfson of EPA’s International Division has played a major role in putting this website together.
Prior to the IFELSD, I visited Qingdao University in the coastal city of Qingdao, the home of Tsingtao beer and the host city for the upcoming Olympic sailing competition. On the afternoon of November 29th I gave a lecture to 100 students and faculty at the Qingdao University School of Law on “The Globalization of Environmental Law.” In the evening I gave a lecture at Qingdao’s Graduate School on “How Safe Is ‘Safe’”?