This week I traveled to Shanghai and X’ian where I gave three guest lectures, spoke to a conference and conducted a seminar. On Tuesday I flew to X’ian where I gave two guest lectures at the Northwest University School of Law. I spoke to an audience of more than 250 law students on “The Emergence of Global Environmental Law” and the “Role of the Judiciary in the U.S. Legal System.” The students were remarkably engaged for a group that was required to spend nearly three hours listening to me. After the lectures I met up with Jonathan Schwartz, a Fulbright professor at the International Studies University, at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. We watched the fountain and music show in the square behind the pagoda. On Wednesday the university took me to see the Army of Terracotta Warriors east of X’ian. In 1981 I had visited the site where thousands of buried, life-sized terracotta figures had been discovered by a farmer digging a well. The site is now much larger and more developed as two more large pits of warriors have been discovered since my initial visit.
After returning to Beijing to teach my Thursday class, I flew to Shanghai on Thursday night. On Friday I spoke to a conference organized by the China Environmental Culture Promotion Association, NRDC’s China Program, and Green Earth Volunteers. The conference on “Open Information and Environmental Protection” was attended by environmental NGOs and journalists from all over China. A major focus of the conference was on China’s new Open Information Act which became effective on May 1, 2008. Huang Zhen, Chief of the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau, explained that Shanghai has been a leader in providing public access to environmental information by implementing such policies in 2004, befor ethe national legislation was enacted.
Bie Tao from the Law and Policy Department of China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) showed photographs of environmental protests throughout China as citizens have mobilized to oppose the siting of chemical plants. He described how the new open information law operates. The website for China’s new Ministry of Environmental Protection will enable citizens to file requests for information online, just as the U.S. EPA currently does. China’s new law is similar to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, though it includes an additional exemption not present in the U.S. law: the Chinese government may withhold information on the grounds that its release would not promote “social stability.” I followed Bie Tao by making a presentation reviewing how U.S. law provides for citizen access to environmental information. Representatives of some of the Chinese environmental NGOs complained that it has been difficult at times even to obtain copies of environmental impact assessment, something that hopefully will change as the new law is implemented.
On Friday afternoon I met with Hong Gengming, Deputy Dean of the School of Law of the Shanghai University of FInance and Economics (SUFE). Professor Hong is an environmental law expert. After our meeting I spoke to a group of SUFE students and faculty on “The Emergence of Global Environmental Law.” My lecture was followed by an hour-long seminar on environmental law that I conducted with a group of students.
On Saturday morning I rejoined the Open Information conference for a field trip to visit the Pao Tu Wan Wetland Forest north of Shanghai. While hiking through this beautiful natural area adjoining the Huangpu River, I had a chance to get to know some of the conference participants better. We later visited Brilliant City, an incredible series of high-rise apartments ringing the Suzhou River in western Shanghai. We were met at the site by a local resident who explained how the river used to be heavily polluted but was cleaned up as part of the development project.
A photo gallery of my trips to X’ian and Shanghai is available online at http://gallery.mac.com/rperci/100240.