More than 700 CSOs now able to bring environmental lawsuits

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The recent Interpretation of the Supreme People’s Court on Certain Issues Concerning the Application of laws in Environmental Civil Public Interest Cases (最高人民法院关于审理环境民事公益诉讼案件适用法律若干问题的解释), made public on Jan. 6, 2015, stipulates that social organizations, private non-enterprise units, foundations, and other organizations registered with local departments of civil affairs at or above city(with districts) levels may bring lawsuits against activities causing environmental pollution, disrupting the ecological system or harming public interests.

According to Sun Jun, the spokesman for the Supreme People’s Court, the three traditional types of civil society organization are not the only ones qualified to bring such lawsuits, the Interpretation leaves room for “other organizations” in order to give similar organizations with environmental protection capacities opportunities to support the cause. The deputy-chief of NPO Management Bureau of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, Liao Hong, pointed out that about 7000 civil society organizations in the category of environment protection have officially registered with departments of civil affairs at all levels until the third quarter of last year. Among them nearly 700 are qualified to bring environmental lawsuits according to the new environmental law and the Interpretation.

Despite the positive message from the government, there are concerns from the public welfare sector. Ge Feng, public interest litigation program manager of Friends of Nature, states that public interest legal action requires an effective allocation of resources, experienced legal staff, and financial support, all of which most Chinese NGOs lack. According to Ma Yong, department director of monitoring and litigation of All-China Environment Federation, the question now is “whether NGOs in China are prepared for the good news?”