China’s legal institutions have increasingly had to deal with cases related to environmental issues over the past decade. In 2020 alone, Chinese prosecutors had to handle some 80,000 environmental public interest cases. Early environmental law first governed air and water pollution, industrial discharge, or agricultural soil contamination. Issues related to climate change have started to emerge in recent years and have posed challenges for local or provincial courts due to a lack of clarity on how to interpret the law in the face of new climate change challenges such as emissions release, reporting, or trading. Lack of guidance made it difficult for courts and judges to rule on climate-related cases.
To amend this situation, the Supreme People’s Court of China (SPC) issued the “Opinions of China’s Supreme People’s Court on the Complete and Accurate Implementation of the New Development Concept and the Provision of Judicial Services to Actively and Steadily Promote Carbon Peaking and Carbon Neutrality” on 17 February 2023. The document constitutes a milestone in applying the law for climate governance in China and is a further development of the court’s initial classification of climate cases in 2020.
The SPC is the highest judicial organ in China. It is also the highest supervising organ over the judicial practices of local and special people’s courts at various levels. Among regular court work like hearing and deciding cases, the SPC also exerts a guidance function to lower courts, interpretation of laws, and issuing of policy documents to inform court rules further.
The recently issued “Opinions” provide specific guidance on hearing for 17 types of cases and disputes, including:
- Consumer disputes over production services in new industries and models
- Greenhouse gas emission
- Air pollution prevention and control (including a.o. GHGs)
- Administrative compensation cases for climate change adaptation, such as for companies incurring financial losses from withdrawing from areas of ecological or climate relevance
- Compliance with corporate environmental information disclosure
- Old capacity replacement in the steel, cement, and other industries
- Ecological and environmental infringement by high energy-consuming and high carbon-emission enterprises
- Green finance disputes
- Compliance in coal resource utilization and power supply restructuring
- Compliance in oil and gas resources development, e.g., illegal or destructive mining
- EIA hearings for renewable energy development
- Contractual energy management and energy-saving services
- Carbon emission allowances and trading of certified voluntary emission reductions
- Carbon emission quotas and voluntarily certified emission reduction guarantee disputes
- Administrative penalties for carbon emission allowance clearance
- Enforcement of monetary claims for carbon emission allowances and certified emission reduction (CER)
- Greenhouse gas emission reporting
Content from the new guidance document is expected to inform future laws and regulations such as the “Interim Regulation on Carbon Emission Trading Management” and to serve as a reference for the judicial interpretations on the falsification of carbon emissions.
Facilitating and enabling best practice sharing, the environmental law group ClientEarth indirectly supported the development of the opinion. ClientEarth has facilitated exchanges with Chinese judges and prosecutors, which helped the policy drafting process. For more information on how ClientEarth works in China, visit their website www.clientearth.org/our-global-reach/china/
ClientEarth China is the only NGO in China to focus primarily on environmental law. In June 2017, ClientEarth became the first European NGO in China to be registered with China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment. They work to integrate climate considerations into China’s legal framework, thus paving a legal path for China’s transition to carbon neutrality. ClientEarth focuses on emissions within China and supports developing systems and standards to ‘green’ and decarbonize China’s overseas investments and trade.
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This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard China Country Manager: Annette Wiedenbach.