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Changing landscapes: enforcing environmental laws in China through public interest litigation

Kathryn McCallum

Keywords: China; revised environmental law; public interest litigation; locus standi

The recent surge in pollution-related protests, together with State recognition of China's worsening environmental problems, have created an opportunity for radical change to environmental governance in China. The long-anticipated revision to the Environmental Protection Law in 2014 introduced a powerful new enforcement tool: public interest litigation. From interviews with Chinese legal academics and public interest lawyers, this article presents some of the first academic research into the new public interest litigation system under the revised law, which came into force on 1 January 2015. Between them, two of the NGOs that the author interviewed – Friends of Nature and the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation – filed two thirds of the 45 environmental public interest cases accepted by the courts in 2015 that were brought by an NGO. The key finding from this research is that for public interest litigation to be successful in addressing China's worsening environmental problems, standing must be expanded under China's administrative law to allow non-governmental organisations to sue local government authorities who fail to properly enforce environmental laws.

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