The Role of Civil Society in Environmental Governance in the United States and China
43 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2014 Last revised: 14 Oct 2014
Date Written: 2014
China’s burgeoning environmental problems have helped mobilize the emergence of a robust civil society devoted to combating pollution, much as occurred in the U.S a half-century ago. This article compares the Chinese experience with that of the U.S. After comparing the historical evolution of environmental NGOs in the U.S. and China, the article examines their efforts to influence the adoption, implementation and enforcement of environmental legislation in each country. Because of heavy state control of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Chinese civil society groups operate in a much more confined legal and political environment than their counterparts in the United States. Until recently, Chinese law did not expressly authorize citizen suits of the kind that fueled the environmental movement in the U.S.
Chinese NGOs have adapted to these constraints by focusing on transparency initiatives that encourage companies voluntarily to improve their environmental practices. After discussing such initiatives, the article concludes by examining what each country can learn from the other. The authors caution that one should not assume that aspects of one’s legal system can be transplanted effectively to the other. While China has the luxury of being able to enact tough environmental laws with little effective opposition from the regulated community, the lack of hard-fought legislative battles that produce compromises with industry also may be a factor contributing to China’s greater problem of enforcing its environmental laws. In light of the highly decentralized nature of China’s legal system, difficulties with environmental enforcement should provide a cautionary lesson for those in the U.S. who advocate relaxing federal regulation and devolving greater environmental authority to lower levels of government.
Keywords: environment, development, implementation, enforcement
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