While China's GDP growth rate has averaged nearly 10 percent over the past 25 years, environmental degradation is costing the country 8 percent of its GDP annually, which in effect nullifies the country's economic advances. In the 1980s, the Chinese government began introducing environmental laws and welcoming assistance from international NGOs as well as from bilateral and multilateral aid agencies. Since the 1990s, China's environmental legislation has quickly moved from a focus on command and control regulation to more progressive public participation and market incentive laws. The tenth and eleventh Five-Year Plans included many ambitious environmental and energy efficiency targets.
Paralleling these progressive environmental laws has been a marked opening for civil society development, for by the early 1990s it became clear to China's top leaders that, given the downsizing of the central government and growing power of the local governments, they needed help to address a broad range of emerging social and environmental ills and keep local governments in check. Therefore, in 1994 the government passed regulations, which for the first time granted legal status to independent NGOs. Environmental groups were the first to register and now form the largest sector of civil society groups in China. By the late 1990s a handful of these NGOs--often in partnership with international NGOs--had become watchdogs of local government and industry, helped pollution victims get access to courts, undertaken subtle lobbying of the government, and worked to give rural communities the power to protect and manage their local resources. For example, in 2004, Chinese green NGOs initiated a national campaign to promote transparent decision-making in dam building on the Nu River in Yunnan Province. Click here for more information on the campaign.
CEF Current Initiatives:
Environmental Governance. With Vermont Law School, CEF is helping to support the U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law which is designed to provide the knowledge, skills, and academic infrastructure required to address Chinese environmental challenges through the rule of law. Work of the Partnership is focused particularly on helping Chinese professional become better environmental problem solvers. With generous supporters and enthusiastic collaborators in the United States and China, the Partnership pursues its mission to build capacity, improve policy, and establish networks.