One of our former colleagues Maryann Bird wrote this morning to ask if we were aware of the the website she’s now working for. It’s called Chinadialogue and it’s a bilingual site (in Chinese and English)offering commentary on China’s environment. We didn’t know about it and we’re glad we now do. Currently on its homepage you’ll find excellent essays by Chinese environmental stalwarts Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental affairs and Wang Yongchen of Green Earth Volunteers, as well as piece on on the state of environmental law in China by American Alex Wang. Wang, who heads the China office of the Natural Resources Defense Council, puts the current state of legal challenges to environmental pollution in China in historical and geographic perspective. This is important. It’s easy to forget how recently places like the United States and Japan were dealing with challenges similar to the ones China now faces. Despite the similarities, Wang concludes that if China will need to move much faster than its predecessors in buidling a legal system that can lessen the fallout of rapid industrialization.
“There is some comfort in knowing that developed countries like the US, Japan and England were able to reverse decades of environmental degradation. The difficulty is that China’s environmental problems are moving faster and on a larger scale than anything the world has ever seen before.
How can China remedy its environmental problems given the pace and scale of change? Are there lessons to be learned from the international community? Growing rule of law and public environmental awareness are showing promising initial signs of success. However, if China follows the example of the US in taking decades to mobilize its legal system against its environmental challenges, it will likely be too little, too late.