image shows people walking on the Great Wall of China

China launches unprecedented judge training for environment cases

China is this week strengthening enforcement of its environmental laws with the largest ever training of environmental judges in Beijing.

The week-long set of seminars for over 300 judges was organised by the Supreme People’s Court and ClientEarth. Senior judges and environmental experts from across the world are sharing environmental cases from their jurisdictions.

Speakers include Erik Solheim, the Executive Director of UN Environment; Laurent Fabius, former Prime Minister of France and chair of the Paris Agreement on climate change; and James Thornton, CEO of ClientEarth. The week-long training also features speakers from China’s top court.

From left to right: ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, Chair of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change Laurent Fabius and Head of ClientEarth’s China office, Dimitri de Boer.

In recent years, China has established over 600 environmental courts at all levels of the judiciary. These courts handle all kinds of environmental disputes, including criminal cases such as wildlife poaching or illegal logging, civil cases such as personal or environmental damages from pollution, and administrative cases where government is violating laws causing damage to the environment.

Experts from around the world took part in the seminars.

ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said: “The importance of training Chinese environmental judges cannot be overestimated. It is the decisions of these judges which must protect the environment in the world’s largest developing country. The effectiveness of China’s emerging system of environmental laws ultimately depends on them.”

Dimitri de Boer, head of ClientEarth’s China office said: “China wants to increasingly use law-based approaches to deal with its environmental challenges. We are seeing a number of reforms in this direction. For example, NGOs and state prosecutors are now able to bring cases on behalf of the public interest.”

Chinese prosecutors with some of the speakers.

Just last week, China’s Supreme People’s Court announced that it will establish two international courts to settle disputes in the Belt and Road Initiative. It will invite authoritative legal experts from outside China to participate.

Last month, ClientEarth helped to organise a top level roundtable meeting with representatives from the EU and China in Brussels.

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