Last Monday the students in my Environmental Law class at the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL) insisted on having class, even though it was the new national Dragon Boat Festival holiday in China. The students had arranged in advance to get the key to the projection equipment, but they were surprised to discover that it was not the only thing that was locked. The doors to the classroom where the course meets also were locked due to the holiday. After efforts to scour up a key failed, the enterprising students located an unlocked classroom and a spare projector which we used to display my slides on a bare wall after the students reversed all the desks in the room. It looked like every student in the class was there, an impressive testament to the high level of interest in environmental law among this very talented group.
On Thursday evening I was the guest speaker at a meeting of the China Roundtable held at the headquarters of Advanced Microdevices (AMD) in Austin, Texas. The China Roundtable is a group of environmental, health and safety officials from a dozen multinational corporations such as AMD, Intel, Procter & Gamble, and Levi Strauss. I appeared by videoconference from AMD’s Beijing office in the science park just south of Tsinghua University. My topic was the growth of environmental NGOs in China. Given the time difference, we started the conference at 9:30PM Beijing time, which was 8:30AM in Austin. Alex Wang, director of the Beijing office of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), agreed to come with me to share his insights on how NGOs like NRDC operate in China. Susan Keane, an NRDC scientist who is working on a project to help NGOs ensure that their Chinese supply chains are green, also participated by phone from Washington, D.C.
I gave a brief history of the development of environmental NGOs in China and discussed the problems they face: they can be shut down by the Chinese government at any time (as happened to the China Development Brief last year), they have a hard time establishing reliable sources of financing given the lack of tax incentives in China for making contributions to NGOs, and they can have a difficult time publicizing problems given government censorship of the Chinese media. I also discussed whether the Sichuan earthquake has changed Chinese attitudes toward the foreign media and charitable contributions to NGOs. The videoconference was hosted by my former student Steve Groseclose (head of global environmental health and safety for AMD). Despite some initial technical glitches, it seemed to go very well. I am really grateful to Steve for inviting me and to Alex and Susan for agreeing to participate in the program.
On Friday morning I flew from Beijing to Guangzhou to participate in a Workshop on Environmental Law Teaching and Research Capacity Building. The workshop was the South China equivalent of the roundtable I participated in last Sunday in Beijing. It brought together 41 environmental law faculty from 24 schools. The workshop was sponsored by Sun Yat-sen University School of Law and Vermont Law School (VLS), funded by VLS’s AID grant. Sun Yat-sen Professor Li Zhiping and VLS Professor Tseming Yang organized the conference. I gave an opening presentation on the teaching of environmental law, focusing primarily on the experience of the U.S. supplemented by my experiences this semester at CUPL. Shanghai Jiao Tong law professor Wan Xi, who has authored the materials most environmental law professors in South China seem to use, spoke about the need for better supervision by the National People’s Congress and the judiciary to remedy government failures in the environmental area.
Li Ziphing, who has 20 years experience teaching environmental law, discussed her teaching methods, as did VLS Professor Mark Latham, who discussed his course on Environmental Issues in Business Transactions. Professor Du Wanping of Jinan University discussed her use of “social investigations” by teams of students to expose violations of laws to protect sources of drinking water. (Professor Du will be visiting at the University of Kansas School of Law during the next academic year). Ben Boer, director of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law with a joint appointment from the University of Sydney and the University of Ottawa, discussed the difficulties Chinese universities face in responding to the Ministry of Education’s edict that all schools must offer a course in environmental law. The Academy is developing a training course to help prepare more professors to teach environmental law. Professor Wang Zican from the South China University of Technology discussed typical Chinese environmental law syllabi and why some Chinese law professors do not fully appreciate the importance of the subject as a legal discipline. He mapped out a strategy for “the comeback of Environmental Law as part of ‘legal science’.” Marc Mihaly, director of VLS’s Environmental Law Center, discussed Vermont’s extensive environmental law curriculum.
The Q & A sessions featured a discussion of China’s response to the climate crisis. I mentioned the new statistics showing that China has eclipsed the U.S. as the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for three-quarters of the global increase last year. Professor Du Wanping argued that the U.S. bears responsibility for Chinese emissions because U.S. consumers purchase the products whose manufacture generates the emissions. While I agreed that the Bush administration’s response to the problem has been indefensible, I noted that U.S. policy definitely would change as soon as a new president is inaugurated next January. I questioned whether it was good strategy for China to blame the U.S. for its emissions when the U.S. has no way to directly control them other than refusing to buy Chinese products or imposing a stiff environmental tariff. We all appeared to agree that it is a global problem that requires a global solution.
On Sunday morning VLS Professor Carl Yirka gave a great presentation on researching global environmental law. Tseming Yang closed the workshop by expressing his hope that it will be the start of a continuing dialogue and greater collaborative initiatives among environmental law professors in South China and the rest of the world. Ben Boer reports that 15 Chinese law schools have now joined the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law, which gives them greater representation in the Academy than the North American law schools.
Tomorrow my Environmental Law students will be premiering the films they have made for the class. I am really excited about getting to see them.