In China, no case has been brought by citizens (or citizen groups) against the state for ineffective climate action.
However, a case was filed against the State Grid Corporation for failure to purchase clean energy. In the case of Friends of Nature v State Grid Gansu Electric Power Co, Friends of Nature alleged that the defendants (a local unit of the state grid corporation) violated the Renewable Energy Law. The law requires grid firms to “fully acquire” all power and buy all power generated by renewable sources that meet grid connection standards (Art. 14 RE law). The plaintiffs therefore claim that the defendant’s refusal to purchase all grid power generated from wind and solar led to abandonment of 18.6 billion kwh grid power between January 2015 and June 2016, which was equivalent to burning 5.88 million tons of standard coal in vain and consequently discharged, among others, about 15.54 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thus seriously damaging social public interests. As a result, the plaintiffs are seeking orders that the defendant buys all on-grid power and financial damages to remedy the environmental loss. The case was dismissed in 2018 by the court of first instance on procedural grounds (that the defendant neither caused environmental damages nor directly exacerbated climate change. On appeal, the High Court of Gansu set aside the decision and ordered the District Court of Mining to hear the case. The case has entered substantive trial and a decision is yet to be made.
Additionally, citizens (or citizen groups) can challenge the government’s climate policy on the following grounds:
- Non-compliance with constitutional obligations: Article 26 states that ‘the state protects and improves the living environment and the ecological environment and prevents and remedies pollution and other public hazards.’ Article 9 also states that ‘the state ensures the rational use of natural resources and protects rare animals and plants; the appropriation or damage of natural resources by any organization or individual by whatever means is prohibited’. Climate is a very crucial element for the ‘living environment and the ecological environment’ and consequently, the Constitution establishes the basic framework for addressing climate change, providing guidelines for the future climate legislation and a legal basis for current climate mitigation/adaptation.
However, standing requirements are narrow with eligibility limited to NGOs. The revision of the Civil Procedure Law in 2013 and the Environmental Protection Law in 2014 granted environmental NGOs that have been registered with civil administration department and operating for over 5 years the ability to sue polluters in the public interest.
The absence of cases could be attributed to
- Lack of strong legislative and constitutional basis such as no specific climate legislation;
- Non-recognition of environmental rights in the Constitution and non-recognition of GHGs as air pollutants in the Pollution prevention and control legislation; and
- Restrictive standing requirements and a small number of NGOs qualified to file public interest environmental cases.
- Friends of Nature v. State Grid Ningxia Electric Power Co (自然之友诉国网宁夏电力公司) (2018) and Friends of Nature v State Grid Gansu Electric Power Co (自然之友诉国网甘肃电力公司) (2017).
For more country specific context and relevant national climate change law see: https://climate-laws.org/geographies/china
This country report has been produced by Manon Rouby, C2LI Research Assistant, Humzah Khan, C2LI Senior Research Assistant and Lydia Omuko-Jung, C2LI Legal Analyst with the collaboration of Tianbao QIN and Meng ZHANG, C2LI National Rapporteurs. This summary is based on Tianbao QIN and Meng ZHANG, “Climate Change and the Individual: A Perspective of China” in F. Sindico and M. Moise Mbengue, Comparative Climate Change Litigation: Beyond the Usual Suspects, Springer, 2021.