Protect the Environmental Rights and Justice of the Public

The Challenge

Since the first Environmental Protection Law in 1979, the government has vowed to tackle the environmental issues caused by China’s rapid development, and the environmental regulatory framework has grown to include more than 20 major statutes, several administrative regulations enacted by the State Council, and many other legal-norm-creating documents. However, many business sectors fail to control environmental degradation because both environmental governance and law enforcement remain weak. As environmental consciousness increases, Chinese people are beginning to turn to the law to claim their rights.

The Response

In China, there is neither a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) system nor a law on liability and compensation for environmental damages. Given that environmental rights are crucial component of human rights and also an important indicator of a democratic society, this project, funded by the United Nation Democracy Fund (UNDEF), provides an excellent opportunity to leverage support for right-based democratic approaches, such as legislation, PIL and mediation, to protect the rights of the public to a clean environment.

Meanwhile, the All China Environment Federation (ACEF) is strategically positioned to conduct this project because of its credibility, network of influence, technical expertise, and advocacy experience. The ACEF is expected to mobilise support for policy and legislative changes by advocating and working through its network with the National People’s Congress, Ministry of Environmental Protection and other relevant departments of the State Council, CSOs, media, international agencies and experts.


During the project period, remarkable achievements were made in all its components. All project activities have carried out and the outputs produced according to the plan and strategy laid down in the Project Document.

The key breakthrough made by the project has been to establish a public interest litigation system in China’s civil procedure. Article 55 of China’s new Civil Procedure Law (effective as of January 2013) endorsed the ACEF-UNDP legislative proposal to qualify Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) as plaintiffs in public interest litigation to the National People’s Congress. It allows them to initiate litigation regarding tort behaviour leading to pollution of the environment or collective consumer rights violations. With UNDP’s support, ACEF won the first environmental administrative public interest legal suit against a local environmental protection bureau, on environmental information disclosure.

The project has also raised public awareness on environmental rights through public campaigns and media advocacy. A Handbook on the Protection of the Environmental Rights of the Public was produced and has been widely distributed, and dozens of TV programmes have been made and broadcasted, contributing to the raising of environmental awareness of the public in China. The project also provided legal aid and consultancy for victims of pollution, and trained over 80 public interest lawyers on environmental tort law.

Who finances it?

Donor          Amount
UNDEF US$ 375,000

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