Two Tales of Legal Mobilization: NGO-led and Procuratorate-led Environmental Public Interest Litigation in China

Project: Research

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In China, environmental protection had lost to the prioritized goal of economic development for decades. The State and the public only recently began expressing growing concerns over the country's deteriorating environment. Facing with severe environmental degradations, low compliance and weak public enforcement, the Central Government was forced to consider pluralizing actors in the environmental regulatory landscape originally occupied by administrative agents and endorsed a legal innovation of environmental public interest litigation (EPIL), which originated from local practices in 2008. China’s EPIL system allows both environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) and procuratorates (the Chinese prosecutorial organs) to file civil EPIL against polluters and procuratorates were later granted standing to bring administrative EPIL against the impugned environmental protection bureaus as well. On behalf of the public environmental interest, ENGOs as grassroots-actor have been mobilizing civil EPIL bottom up, while procuratorates as public-actor have been mobilizing government-driven civil and administrative EPIL. As a consequence, the dual-track legal mobilization came into being and has spread in China’s EPIL landscape for a decade. Given their distinct nature, the different legal, political and social settings and the different legal opportunity structures that they are situated in, do ENGOs and procuratorates demonstrate different mobilization behaviors in pursuit of the public environmental interest, and if so, what are the two distinct tales of legal mobilization? As little literature has discussed legal mobilization through EPIL in China from an empirical perspective, let alone researching EGNO-led and procuratorate-led legal mobilization side by side, this project aims to fill the gap. Drawing on datasets to be constructed from judicial decisions of EPIL cases brought by both ENGOs and procuratorates from 2008 to 2020, this project will employ diverse research methods (including statistical analysis, in-depth interview and case study) to investigate four research questions step by step: (1) how do ENGOs and procuratorates mobilize the law through EPIL since 2008 and what are their respective roles in enforcing environmental laws? (2) how do the factors of capacity, autonomy, accountability, goals and legal opportunity shape different ENGOs behaviors in mobilizing EPIL? (3) How do the changes in the legal, political and organizational settings impact behaviors of procuratorates in legal mobilization through EPIL? (4) In a responsive authoritarian regime like China, what are contrastive behaviors and interactions between grassroots-actor ENGOs and public-actor procuratorates in legal mobilization through EPIL? This project will generate rich empirical findings on ENGO-led EPIL and procuratorate-led EPIL in China and provide socio-legal analysis of the empirical findings in terms of the determinants that shape their mobilization behaviors. It will provide a comprehensive and deep understanding of the roles and limitations that ENGOs and procuratorates play in enforcing and reshaping the environmental law in EPIL, thus shedding light on how to improve China's EPIL system and enhance environmental regulation. It will also bring the unique Chinese insights into the global discourse on legal mobilization and regulatory pluralism. 


Project number9043094
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/21 → …