China to get first wetland protection law

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Wetlands form one of the major ecosystems of our planet. Swamps, peatlands, lakes, rivers, beaches, and salt marshes all belong to the wetland family. They play an important role in reducing the impact of extreme weather, such as flooding, and help to absorb and store carbon.

Until recently, China lacked a law dedicated to protecting wetland areas. However, the Wetland Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China (the Wetland Protection Law) was adopted on Dec 24 and will become law on June 1, 2022. Interestingly, the new legislation encourages the participation of public and social organizations in wetland protection efforts.

“As long as wetlands are damaged, social organizations stipulated by law have the right to request the offenders to bear the responsibility for restoration, compensation for losses and related expenses in accordance with the law; that is, to carry out environmental public interest litigation, pursue the legal responsibility of the offenders, and increase the cost of violating the law,” said Ma Yong, deputy secretary general of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF).

“In addition to the participation methods specified in the law, as a social organization, CBCGDF can carry out research, development and promotion of wetland protection science and technology, and can also participate in wetland protection activities by accepting donations and grants, and by providing voluntary services.”

According to Sheng Xiaoying, a public interest lawyer working for Friends of Nature (FON), the new law defines the scope of information disclosure and public participation.

“This provides a legal basis and institutional guarantee for public and social organizations to participate in wetland protection. However, we still look forward to more extensive and in-depth information disclosure and public participation,” said Sheng.

On July 23, 2015, a public interest lawsuit was filed by FON in Beijing against two real estate companies regarding damage to lakes and wetland areas. It was the first environmental public interest litigation to be filed following the Environmental Protection Law, which came into force on Jan 1, 2015. Since then, advocating wetland protection and pursuing the legal responsibility of violators through public interest litigation has become one of the most direct and effective ways for social organizations to participate in wetland protection.

Wang Xinyi, director of legal and policy advocacy at FON said that, before the introduction of the Wetland Protection Law, there were only minor provisions in law related to wetland protection.

“The Wetland Protection Law is a special law for the protection and restoration of wetland ecosystems, involving wetland management, protection, restoration, supervision, inspection, and legal liability, which is of great significance for strengthening the protection of ecosystems,” Wang said.