China's Environmental Laws
Before the Deng era (1978 - 1990), China was a nation governed by the decrees of people, not the order of any law; China had no law to speak of and the laws it did have were not available to the public. The primary purpose of China’s legal reform was to support its expansion and economic restructuring in order to attract foreign investment and develop a market economy with a more stable, legal infrastructure. This legal reform has included the creation of a large body of environmental laws.
The first major environmental enactment, the Environmental Protection Law for Trial Implementation was implemented in 1979. Then in 1982, The People’s Republic of China Constitution embodied a number of important environmental provisions including the State's duty to conserve natural resources and wildlife. From these two enactments a number of other laws soon followed suit including: the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Law (1987) and the Energy Conservation Law (1997).
How effective have China’s environmental laws been throughout the Deng era and beyond? To date, China's environmental law regime has suffered from the same weaknesses as Chinese laws, in general: weak institutions and infrastructure, vague statutory language, and most notably, poor enforcement. The lack of environmental enforcement can be attributed to a number of factors, but falls largely in the hands of local officials. These local officials are often poorly trained, ill-equipped, unmotivated to enforce regulations, and often have an economic stake in the companies they are supposed to be regulating. Furthermore, there is no instrument for organizations or private citizens to seek enforcement of these environmental laws.
The environment in China is in need of help and the longer the government waits the more costly it will be to repair the damage. In addition, as China becomes more and more integrated into the global society, it damages its global status if it cannot address environmental matters in a progressive way.
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