On Sunday night I returned from China after speaking at conferences in Shanghai, Wuhan and Beijing. On Sunday November 1 I flew from Shanghai to Wuhan to attend the seventh annual Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law. My original flight to Wuhan on Sunday morning had been canceled, but I was able to get on a flight leaving just an hour later which enabled me to escape the sudden snowstorm that hit Beijing later in the day. As a result of the snowstorm my friend Zhang Jingjing, from the Public Interest Law Institute (PILI) was unable to make it to Wuhan in time for what was to be our joint presentation at a plenary session of the IUCN Colloquium on Monday morning. I gave our presentation on “Towards Global Liability Standards for Environmental Harm” by myself. The presentation explored why, despite the rapid advance of global environmental law, little progress has been made in establishing global standards holding polluters liable to victims of environmental harm.
The IUCN Colloquium was attended by nearly 200 environmental law professors from all corners of the world. The opening sessions on Monday were held at Wuhan University, the host of this year’s colloquium. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the remaining colloquium sessions were held at the East Lake Hotel, an impressive and historic set of buildings located on the shore of China’s largest urban lake. The hotel contained lots of photos of Chairman Mao from when he lived in the hotel in the late 1950s. With presentations from more than 150 participants, the colloquium provided a wonderful snapshot of developments in environmental law in many different countries. Among the presentations that I found to be particularly interesting were those on the development of environmental courts in China and other countries, NRDC’s work creating a Pollution Information Transparency Index for China, and a discussion of Singapore’s successful effort to limit motor vehicle congestion through electronic congestion charges and vehicle permit auctions. Abstracts and papers presented at the Colloquium will be available online in the near future at the Academy’s website located at: http://www.iucnael.org. The Colloquium gave me an opportunity to catch up with many of the Chinese professors I have come to know from my work there and the chance to meet many new professors from different countries who have now joined the Academy.
The Colloquium also featured a tree-planting ceremony and tribute to the late Professor Han Depei, who had pioneered the teaching of Environmental Law in China. Professor Han, who taught at Wuhan University, died last spring at the age of 99. On Wednesday afternoon participants in the Colloquium went on a field trip to the Wuhan Steel Beihu Outfall Wastewater Recycling Project.
On Thursday afternoon November 5 I flew from Wuhan to Beijing to participate in the tenth anniversary celebration of the founding of the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV). CLAPV is a public interest environmental group in Beijing that operates a hotline fielding complaints about environmental problems from all over China. It also serves as an environmental law clinic for the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL) where I taught as a Fulbright scholar while on sabbatical last year. On Friday morning I visited CUPL for a reunion with some of my former students. I met the team that is preparing to come to the U.S. for the International Environmental Moot Court Competition in March 2010. We had lunch together and then I made a quick sightseeing trip around Beijing, visiting the new Qianmen Street development south of Tiananmen Square, as well as the Apple Computer Store in the Sanlitun district.
On Saturday morning I participated in the opening ceremonies for the conference celebrating the tenth anniversary of CLAPV. Nearly 200 lawyers, government officials, and professors took part in the conference. A Beijing TV personality moderated the opening ceremonies which featured a 20-minute documentary film about CLAPV’s work and tributes to CLAPV’s founder Wang Canfa from government officials, university colleagues and former clients. One of the former clients, a farmer whose orchard had been damaged by pollution, presented Zhang Jingjing with fresh organic produce from his farm. On Saturday afternoon I attended conference sessions focusing on obstacles facing public interest litigation and the development of environmental courts in China. On Sunday morning I made a presentation to the conference on “Public Interest Litigation to Redress Global Environmental Harm,” which focused on efforts to make it easier to prove causal injury in environmental tort litigation. The topic is of particular interest in China because China’s Code of Civil Procedure has a burden-shifting provision that requires polluters to disprove that they caused harm when pollution-related injury is demonstrated.
One of the highlights of my trip was meeting Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs. We had lunch on Sunday and he surprised me by bringing a copy of the fourth edition of my environmental law casebook, which he asked me to sign. He explained that the book’s discussion of using information disclosure as a strategy for promoting improved environmental performance had helped inspire him to develop his website which reports information on pollution by companies throughout China. Ma Jun had just returned from a speaking to a group of businesses in Japan about how to green their supply chain. He agreed to speak to the group of environmental law students from Maryland that I will be bringing back to China during their spring break in March 2010.
An album of photos from my trip to China can be viewed online at http://gallery.me.com/rperci#100575. While I was in China, the China Daily reported on the Forbes’ China list of China’s 400 wealthiest individuals. Topping this year’s list is electric car magnate Wang Chuanfu whose wealth quintupled last year to $5.8 billion due to the skyrocketing value of his company BYD, which is about to launch a line of electric cars in China and the U.S. So Al Gore is not the only astute entrepreneur who is doing well by doing what is good for the environment.