The Political Logic of China's New Environmental Courts
"The Political Logic of China’s New Environmental Courts," The China Journal (July 2014), pp. 53-74
22 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2014
Date Written: July 15, 2014
China boasts over 130 environmental courts opened between 2007 and 2013, a trend that promises to re-shape environmental law. What accounts for the political appeal of specialized justice? Overall, China’s specialized environmental courts are a method for local officials to signal commitment to environmental protection and a forum to defuse potentially explosive disputes. They symbolize the increasing importance placed by China’s leaders on environmental issues, while also offering welcome flexibility. Courts can accept cases when disputes are rising, and turn them away when local power holders are involved and caution appears prudent. Many courts struggle to find enough cases to survive, and even the most active courts do not necessarily tackle China’s most pressing environmental problems. A new analysis shows that the Guiyang court’s docket is dominated by minor criminal cases — crackdowns against powerless rural residents, rather than more ambitious attempts to hold polluters accountable.
Keywords: China, environmental law, environmental courts, green justice
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