Moving in the right direction: environmental rights services in China

10 Feb 2012

A joint press briefing was held today to announce the launch of a new 'Guide Handbook for the Maintenance of Environment Rights'. This new publication is part of a joint two-year initiative between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the All-China Environment Federation (ACEF), and is intended to encourage people to learn about and protect their legal right to a clean environment.

Over the past thirty years, environmental degradation has been one of the most unfortunate bi-products of China's tremendous economic growth. Increasing concerns over the damage that is being caused to the environment has become a key consideration within central and local government planning. However, despite efforts to improve this situation, many people simply do not know what their rights are or how to pursue legal redress.

“More and more, we are seeing that people are looking for ways to stand up for their right to a clean and safe environment. Still, many people are simply not clear about what their rights are,” said UNDP Deputy Country Director, Mr. Napoleon Navarro.

Having been working together to overcome this challenge, the event focused on a lawsuit filed against the Xiuwen Environmental Protection Agency in 2011 for failure to release environmental information about the Guizhou Haoyiduo Dietary Company. Crucially this case, in which the Guiyang Qingzhen Environmental Tribunal ruled in favour of the All-China Environment Federation’s request to have documents released, represents the first time that a civil society organisation has successfully represented environmental interests on behalf of the public. In the past such organisations have not been recognised as being legally qualified to do so.

Addressing an audience that included lawyers, judges, legislators and academics, guest speakers also highlighted the project’s role in supporting fishermen in Hebei in their case against ConocoPhillips for damages relating to the Bohai Bay oil spill. More than 490 million yuan will be compensated if the court rules in favour of the 107 fishermen currently pursuing their case against the oil company. Meanwhile, as China seeks to build a foundation for public interest litigation under its 12th Five-Year Plan, attention has been drawn to the significant value that civil society organisations can contribute to protecting environmental rights.

“Above all, protecting environmental rights will require the consensus of all of China’s 1.3 billion people,” Navarro said. “Therefore, let us celebrate our success, but let us also make sure that we also use them as motivators in pursuit of the future we all want to see.”