Washington International Law Journal


As China continues to face severe environmental degradation as a side effect of torrid economic growth and rise in population, the Chinese government has promulgated numerous environmental laws over the past few decades to address this critical issue. The efficacy of these laws, however, has been highly questionable. Although the laws themselves—modeled substantially on United States and European environmental laws—are relatively complete and comprehensive, difficulties in implementation and particularly enforcement have led to the continued deterioration of China’s environment. These failures in implementation and enforcement of environmental laws emerge from numerous factors, most notably from the decentralized structure of China’s environmental protection agency, from China’s underdeveloped legal system, and from the country’s insistent prioritization of continued economic growth over environmental protection. These factors constitute significant obstacles to effective environmental protection, but approaches based in public interest litigation and public participation currently provide the most viable methods for increasing the efficacy of Chinese environmental laws. Accordingly, an approach that incorporates both public participation and public interest litigation, similar to the qui tam system used in the United States, may prove especially effective in bolstering Chinese environmental protection. In essence, qui tam actions combine both citizen assistance and government-led litigation to prosecute wrongdoings. Under such a system that combines elements of public participation with government-led public interest litigation, China’s central government will have the authority to prosecute civil environmental lawsuits filed by private citizens on behalf of the government, thereby creating a potentially powerful tool for Chinese environmental protection.

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