Report released on environmental litigations in 2015

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2015 has been described as the first year for environmental public welfare litigation in China. Over the course of the year, there were a total of 44 cases of environmental litigations filed by environmental organizations and procuratorial organs acting as plaintiffs. Friends of Nature, the China Environmental Protection Federation and other organizations have now jointly compiled and published the first <Environmental Public Welfare Litigation Report>, which takes environmental public interest lawsuits in 2015 as its subject.

The report collects data from the year’s 44 environmental public welfare litigation cases, reviews the overall situation regarding environmental public welfare litigation from 1995 to 2015, and also carries out targeted research on a number of key issues. The conclusion is that at present there remain some problems in the realm of environmental public welfare litigation, including a lack of uniform standards and social support, and a lack of a clear division of labor between the procuratorate and social organizations.

At the annual meeting of environmental organizations convened on December 17-18, the chief inspector of legal and policy advocacy of Friends of Nature, Ge Feng, told the Legal Daily reporters that among all of the 44 cases accepted by courts at all levels in 2015, 37 were initiated by environmental protection organizations and the other seven cases were filed by the procuratorate.

What are the difficulties for social organizations that want to carry out this kind of litigation? In Ge Feng’s view, there are many aspects to take into account. Local courts have different understandings of the provisions of the Civil Procedure Law, the New Environmental Protection Law and the relevant judicial interpretations on the subject of litigation, meaning that when the same social organizations put forward litigations, some courts will accept them and others will not. Besides, some courts display restrictive understandings and others looser understandings of the litigations.

Ge Feng and Wang Huishihan, the project director of Friends of Nature, explain that “a lot of local courts have limited knowledge of social organizations and thus they are very cautious when reviewing the organizations’ qualifications”. Considering the present situation in which only a few environmental protection organizations have the will and ability to initiate litigations, they suggest that the legal provisions of subject qualification should not be interpreted in too much of a restrictive way.

In addition, the development of social organizations is not yet mature and the high cost of litigation are also dilemmas for the organizations that want to use this method to struggle for the environment. Ge Feng suggests not to set thresholds for environmental public welfare litigation, and to set up an effective financial support mechanism for organizations acting as the plaintiff in litigations.