Liu calls for environmental law collaboration

The rapid industrial development that has detrimentally impacted China’s environment is not a problem that the nation can address alone, environmental law professor Jingjing Liu asserted Thursday.

At the inaugural Yale-China Association fireside chat of the season, Liu, a professor at Vermont Law School, spoke to an audience of roughly 40 members of the Yale and New Haven communities about the environmental challenges that face China and the United States. As both countries work to resolve pollution and other problems through legislation, Liu said the two nations could benefit from studying each other’s policies and from better educating the next generation of leaders about environmental protection.

“Environmental problems in China are exacerbated by lack of funding and of understanding of the laws,” Liu said. “Officials don’t really know how environmental laws work and how to apply them.”

China is facing severe environmental issues due to the extraordinary industrial growth it has experienced over the past few decades, Liu said, with industrial pollution damaging the quality of China’s air and water. Air pollution in particular is so severe in China that the U.S. Embassy described Beijing’s air quality to be “crazy bad” in November 2010, Liu said. The country’s seven major rivers also suffer from pollution and 10 of 26 major lakes and reservoirs have “really poor” water quality, she added.

That severe pollution has directly impacted the health of China’s citizens and is responsible for 2.4 million deaths every year.

While the Chinese government has attempted to regulate the environment since 1979, Liu said the nation has struggled to enforce its legislation.

“Year after year, new laws and regulations have been enacted, resulting in one of the most complex environmental law legislations in Asia,” Liu said. “However, these laws have done very little to resolve environmental issues.”

In order to bridge the gap between law creation and enforcement, Liu said China’s future political leaders, businessmen and professors should be better educated in environmental law. With improved education, Liu said these people will be better equipped to address the nation’s environmental challenges.

The educational process could be one area in which the U.S. and China collaborate, Liu said.

The United States currently faces environmental issues similar to those in China, Liu said, but the U.S. government has done little to resolve these problems domestically. Both nations could learn from studying the other’s environmental law policies, Liu said, adding that new ideas are necessary for encouraging Chinese citizens to work toward environmental protection.

Since 2006, the Vermont Law School’s U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law, of which professor Liu is associate director, has helped its students work with Chinese lawyers and officials on matters of environmental legislation.

“Every year we pick five or six Vermont Law School students to partner with Chinese students,” Liu said. “This is a way to promote dialogue and research between America and China’s environmental problems.”

Members of the Yale-China Association, which organized the event, said they were “extremely satisfied” with the outcome of the talk.

Jamie Fleishman, program assistant of the Yale-China Association, called Liu one of the “most knowledgeable people” in the field of environmental law, and said Liu’s personal experience with the U.S.-China Partnership gave her a unique perspective on shared environmental issues.

Nancy Yao Maasbach, executive director of the Yale-China Association, said Liu did an “outstanding job” illustrating the complexity of the challenges China faces.

“The environmental issues have to concern everyone, not just China,” Maasbach said. “And we need to know the problem that we have to address before we can address it.”

Maya Major ’15, who attended the talk, said she thought Liu made a particularly compelling point about how the U.S. and China could both benefit from collaboration on environmental law policies.

Fireside chats are a series of conversations on China open to Yale student and to the broader New Haven community.

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