News / Asia

    China's Environmentalists Face Steep Challenges

    People line up to buy cartons of bottled water at a supermarket after reports on heavy levels of benzene in local tap water, in Lanzhou, Gansu province, April 11, 2014.
    People line up to buy cartons of bottled water at a supermarket after reports on heavy levels of benzene in local tap water, in Lanzhou, Gansu province, April 11, 2014.
    In China, there is increasing public interest in environmental protections, but few legal avenues to go after and punish polluters. In the western city Lanzhou, a group of citizens has tried to file a lawsuit after a chemical leak contaminated their water source.

    The government of Lanzhou, the capital of China's Western province of Gansu, told residents last week that a major tap water source had been contaminated with Benzene, a cancer causing chemical.

    The contamination was caused by an oil leak from a buried pipeline. According to the government, the problem affected 2.4 million people.

    Local officials said the problem was resolved by Sunday, but admitted their failure to supervise the city's water supplier, Sino-French firm Lanzhou Veolia Water Co.

    But when citizens this week tried to sue the company for compensation, a local court swiftly rejected the case on the grounds that as individuals, the residents do not have the right to sue for infringements on public interest.

    Cao Mingde, a legal scholar at China University of Political Science and Law, who specializes on environmental legislation, says that the court's rebuttal is in fact correct.

    “Citizens suing for environmental damage do not qualify as litigants because the Civil Procedure Law states that only agencies and organizations that are stipulated by the law are allowed to file pollution-related lawsuits on behalf of public interest,” he said.

    Pleading for accountability

    In recent years, environmental organizations in China have been pushing for ways to hold the government and companies more accountable when their actions cause harm to the public.

    They say that increasing the scope of public interest lawsuits is one important step.

    It would widen public participation, they say, instead of relying only on the government and government-sanctioned groups who in court might represent their own interests over the public good.

    Details about such lawsuits are included in a revision of the environmental protection law expected to be adopted later this year.

    Specifics of the draft, the fourth so far, are still being debated.

    While scholars in China say the draft will succeed in prioritizing the environment above development, it remains unclear how it will tackle public interest lawsuits.

    “Even if this amendment to the law is adopted, individuals will still not be qualified to represent public interest to file lawsuits,” said Cao Mingde, who has been involved in drafting the latest amendment.
     
    Easing requirements for claims

    A less controversial step could be to lower the requirements for independent groups to bring such cases to justice.

    In the last public version of the amendment, only national organizations approved by the Civil Ministry and with at least five years of active work in public interest litigation are allowed to file environmental cases on behalf of a group.

    Ma Jun, head of a Beijing-based environmental think tank, said that might be expanded with the new draft.

    “We understand that the current version [of the amendment] which is going to be submitted will further extend the standing, which is encouraging. That will hopefully allow more environmental groups to get the standing to file public interest lawsuits," he said.

    "It's a positive move, but if you compare it with the Hong Kong situation or other Commonwealth countries, you can say the threshold is still much higher," said Lin Feng, a professor of law at City University of Hong Kong.

    The United States has been in the forefront of class-action legislation, and allows individuals to bring collective lawsuits against polluters.

    Legislation in Europe varies in scope, and some countries retain a more narrow approach on who can sue.
     
    Last year, the European Union recommended member states introduce “collective redress mechanism” in their systems by 2015.

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora