Engaging Thousands: Reflections on a Recent China Program Webinar on Climate Change

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

On July 14, the ELI China Program hosted a webinar on climate change litigation in the United States for the environmental law community in China. The event garnered a record-breaking audience of over 5,500 participants sustained over the course of three hours of detailed instruction on climate law.

EarthThe outstanding number of participants owes in part to a growing interest in China’s own future in climate change litigation and a desire to learn from the U.S. experience thus far. China has recently committed to peaking its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060. As a result, the Chinese government has begun issuing new climate policies, including the development of a national carbon emissions trading scheme.

Participants from China ranged from NGO professionals, to judges, prosecutors, environmental law academics and students, and environmental lawyers. Representatives from China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, the nation’s leading environmental authority, also attended. Over 70 participants joined via Zoom and an additional 5,500 viewed the webinar through Weibo and Baidu streaming platforms in China hosted by the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, one of ELI’s Chinese NGO partners.

The webinar featured presentations by Professor Michael Gerrard and Judge Merideth Wright, two of the nation’s foremost experts on climate change and environmental law. Over the course of three hours, Judge Wright and Professor Gerrard provided a comprehensive overview of U.S. climate litigation, touching upon topics such as the causes and impacts of rising greenhouse gas emissions, types of climate change cases filed in the United States, procedural aspects of these cases, and examples of U.S. climate litigation.

The speakers also described standing and other access to justice techniques in environmental cases, methods for using scientific evidence and expert testimony, as well as remedies, including preliminary or preventative relief, restorative orders and money payments, criminal and civil enforcement penalties, and restorative justice. Finally, they explained effective implementation of these remedies, including securing funding for restoration work.

Participants raised discussion questions over a number of different issues, including how parties can jointly file lawsuits on climate change, and standing for NGOs pursuing challenges to federal rulemaking and enforcement actions. Sharing concerns about climate litigation in China, participants asked webinar speakers how the United States has handled issues such as instances where companies cannot afford damages compensation, and whether allowing entities to file climate lawsuits has resulted in frivolous litigation.

The active participation demonstrated the strong interest of Chinese civil society and government in learning from the United States’ experience in using legal tools to combat climate change. While China is improving its own environmental regulatory systems, there is broad consensus in the country that there are valuable lessons to learn from the United States and other industrialized countries with a longer history of using modern legal, policy, and technological tools to address environmental and climate challenges.

By bringing together national experts on environmental and climate change litigation to speak with the Chinese environmental law community, ELI serves as a bridge between two countries engaged in a rapidly evolving space of climate law and litigation. Many stakeholders from both the United States and China are interested in collaborating on climate policy, often hoping to learn from the other’s experiences. As climate regulation develops in China, ELI will continue to support partnerships between U.S. and Chinese environmental leaders, fostering productive dialogue and knowledge-sharing to strengthen climate policy and litigation in both countries.

Since the mid-1990s, ELI has worked to improve environmental rule of law, enforcement, and compliance in China in partnership with Chinese NGOs, universities, law firms, businesses, judges and environmental regulators. Learn more at https://www.eli.org/china-program.