Dictionary of Environmental and Climate Change Law
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Dictionary of Environmental and Climate Change Law

Edited by Nicholas A. Robinson, Wang Xi, Lin Harmon and Sarah Wegmueller

This state-of-the-art Dictionary defines terms employed in international agreements, national legislation and scholarly legal studies related to comparative and international environmental law and the emerging law of climate change. In acknowledgement of China’s growing role in this arena, each term also includes its pinyin translation in order to facilitate access to the Mandarin variants.
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Introduction and User’s Guide

The Need for this Dictionary

Environmental law remains a young and still maturing field of law, at international, national, and local levels. Its emergence with distinct legal concepts and terms dates from the 1970s, and two of the editors, Professor Nicholas A. Robinson and Professor Wang Xi, began their research and teaching of environmental law as the field emerged for the first time. Since those early days, a plethora of treaties, declarations, statutes, regulations, and policies for best management practices have been adopted to advance environmental protection and sustainable development. Most of these enactments are grounded in the environmental sciences, and attempt to align socio-economic practices with maintaining the quality of the ambient environment, which supports those practices. Nonetheless, there are often instances of inconsistent usage of terminology among legal enactments and across levels of government.

Both the United States of America and the Peoples Republic of China are developing environmental law rapidly, in response to perceived environmental problems. New legal provisions are a part of governmental agency responsibilities at the national level, state or provincial level, and the local level. Both nations have entered into a number of the same multilateral environmental agreements, other international treaties, and bilateral agreements. These treaties require implementation at state, provincial, or local levels. Both nations encourage investment in manufacturing and commercial trade by companies, which establish environmental management systems and norms for best practices to comply with environmental laws. Both nations recognize the terminology and programs of international organizations such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

As lawyers from China and the United States engage in trade negotiations, as their diplomats explore cooperation within rapidly evolving environmental treaty systems, or as administrators seek to implement environmental legal responsibilities, the need emerges for a common understanding of the meanings used for the same terms. Environmental law is complex, and often parties need efficient access to a source providing an understanding of its concepts and terms. The meaning of key Chinese concepts, such as the “circular economy,” is not immediately perceived by Americans, and American legal terms, such as a “large p. ixconcentrated animal feeding operation” (CAFO), need to be explained to Chinese speakers. In light of the complexities of environmental law, there are times when both Chinese and US legal personnel may not understand fundamental technological terms employed in specialized environmental regimes, such as “catalytic converters.” Such technical terms arise in trade for products such as automobiles or in controls of atmospheric pollution. Basic terms taken from ecology or other fields of the environmental sciences and incorporated into a legal regime may be unfamiliar to legal experts who have not studied the environmental sciences. Most aspects of legal practices today have environmental law dimensions.

As China encourages international companies to build manufacturing facilities in the PRC, these enterprises need to understand Chinese legal terms, and the Chinese companies that are contracted to provide goods and services for the foreign enterprises need to understand what environmental requirements exist for the “supply chain” of these goods and services. For example, in February 2012, Apple announced that it had engaged an independent contractor to conduct third-party audits of its factories in China, such as those in Chengdu or in Shenzhen at Foxconn City, where iPhones, iPads and other Apple products are built. Apple’s audits are to be released to the public. The generic terms used in these types of corporate social responsibility audits are widely understood in international practice but need translation. What this dictionary identifies is the Mandarin Chinese analogue for these terms as used in English. This dictionary is analogous to a linguistic road map for exploring the meaning in Mandarin of these terms.

Law schools in China are rapidly expanding their instruction in environmental law, and law schools in the United States and elsewhere are rapidly expanding their instruction in Chinese law. Both nations’ law schools teach international environmental law as a growing subject within the field of public international law. The reference libraries for these studies have lacked a common reference providing terminology for environmental law in Mandarin Chinese and English.

In August 2011, more than 300 Chinese law professors, lawyers, and research scholars and some scholars from other countries met at the Guilin Science and Technology University to establish the China Association of Environment and Resource Law (CAERL) as an autonomous scholarly and professional society and to study issues in environmental law. The importance of a having a shared understanding of environmental law terminology in Mandarin and in English (and other languages, of course) is illustrated by noting some of the themes addressed by speakers at the symposium, these included ecological safety, climate change, energy and law, pollution from coal mines, the construction of new factories, food p. xwaste, and environmental risk. One of the editors of this dictionary, Sarah Wegmueller, addressed the Symposium on behalf of the Pace University School of Law Center for Environmental Legal Studies, and presented the remarks of Pace Dean Emeritus Richard L. Ottinger and co-editor Professor Nicholas A. Robinson in Mandarin.

Both the Center for Environmental Legal Studies of Pace University School of Law and the Environmental Resources Law Institute of Shanghai Jiao Tong University are members of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law (www.iucnael.org) and meet annually in the Academy’s Colloquium. The Inauguration Ceremony and the first Colloquium were held at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in November 2003, with the two editors of this dictionary, Professor Nicolas Robinson and Professor Wang Xi, as co-chairs. Now, the Academy has become a well-established and well-known non-governmental organization with membership from more than 150 universities all over the world. Many of its member law schools come from China and the United States. While the CAERL Symposium in China was conducted only in Mandarin, and comparable meetings such as those of the Environmental Law Section of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) are conducted only in English, participants from China or the United States who do attend each others’ meetings will benefit from having reference to a dictionary when the scholarly discussions become technical.

Similarly, the growing exchange of papers and research between American and Chinese scholars depends upon sharing a common vocabulary for environmental law. This dictionary serves an equally important service by providing a linguistic reference for interpreters at diplomatic, academic, or commercial meetings. The technical language of environmental law is foreign to many simultaneous interpreters, and there is a need for a reference to assist them in their important role. The same is true for those translating from written English to Mandarin, and the reverse. This dictionary is a first attempt to serve this communication need.

Comparable legal developments exist in the judiciary, where environmental law enforcement is of importance in both nations. US courts have produced an extensive body of decisions about environmental law, and the volume of these decisions continues to grow. A comparable trend is emerging in China. This dictionary will be helpful for the judiciary, enterprises, scholars, and others to understand each other’s judicial decisions.

How the Dictionary was Constructed

No comparative environmental law dictionary as yet exists for Chinese–American environmental law. This book represents a beginning, but it will doubtless not be the last effort. To assemble this first compilation p. xiof terms, the editors turned to several sources of law. First, colleagues at Shanghai Jiao Tong University compiled a set of terms in Mandarin for which no ready definitions existed. From this initial set, many terms were researched and definitions provided. Second, terms of environmental law that are defined in the international agreements ratified by both China and the United States were accessed and restated here. Third, where China has enacted environmental regulations that reflect standard practices with respect to technological or environmental issues, the official definitions employed in a comparable setting by the US Environmental Protection Agency and by other US agencies were drawn upon. Fourth, the terms normally used by UNEP or by expert bodies, such as the ISO, were accessed and drawn upon.

In all instances, this dictionary provides the appropriate Chinese Mandarin word and the Pinyin anglicized variant of the term. This facility in Mandarin will permit users to access wider meanings of terms from among Chinese legal authorities and references. Use can be made of the definitions in bilateral commercial and other dealings, whether by Chinese or by American parties and their lawyers. The terms can be accessed by diplomats elaborating existing treaty obligations or seeking to come to agreement on new legal obligations in international environmental negotiations. These terms, of course, may be used by any English-speaking parties with respect to China’s usage, although standard British English usage will require different spellings than those employed here in American English usage1, as well as some variations in grammar.

Appended to this dictionary is a summary of short citations used in the definitions to indicate sources that may be accessed for further study. Following this summary is a roster of full citations to legal texts and authorities. These references will make it easier for users of this dictionary to undertake further research when reading a closer analysis of the terms and their uses. There is also a roster of selected Internet references in American usage, and Chinese users will find use of these references helpful in facilitating their further study of the terms.


In coming decades, it is likely that there will be a congruence of environmental laws across all nations, to reflect the reality that all States exist in p. xiithe same biosphere. Ultimately, Earth is a “closed” natural system, once the sun’s energy has been received. The rapid changes that emission of greenhouse gases are producing in the Earth’s climate, its weather patterns, the melting of glacial ice, and the rise of coastal sea levels, will invariably accelerate the adoption of common environmental laws to produce resilience at the local government level in order to adapt to, and recover from, environmental disruptions. Such forthcoming law reform will be more efficiently arrived at if all States use the same terminology. Many as yet undefined environmental concepts also will need to be invented, and will be new to all languages. Future dictionaries will build on the definitions included here. Such new steps may be facilitated by standardization of environmental terms. We encourage others to participate in the task of creating a shared global terminology in environmental law.

The United Nations Commission on Environment and Development, in its report entitled “Our common future,”2 observed that “the Earth is one but the world is not.”3 Today, the rapid global elaboration of environmental laws allows States to speak with one voice. The definitions of terms used for establishing and sustaining ecological civilization contribute increasingly to that one voice. The editors dedicate this dictionary to the cause of more effective global cooperation for environmental stewardship, and to the orderly and peaceful settlement of environmental disputes.

The editors have retained the original British spellings of such official organizations as the International Labour Organisation and the United Nations Environment Programme, and of definitions drawn from original sources in British English, while using American English for all other purposes.

Our common future, Oxford University Press, 1987 (also known as the “Bruntland” report, named after the Chair of the Commission, Norway’s then Prime Minister Gro Harlem Bruntland).

Ibid., p. 27.