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U.S.-China Partnership Develops Next Generation of Environmental Advocates

October 2, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—October 2, 2009
Contact:
Jennie Clarke, Communications Coordinator
802-831-1310

SOUTH ROYALTON, VT—Vermont Law School (VLS) has been awarded $3 million by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to expand its work on the U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law over the next three years, VLS President and Dean Geoffrey Shields announced today. This award, which is an extension of a $1.8 million USAID funding agreement that U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy was instrumental in helping to secure for Vermont Law School in 2006, will enable VLS to continue to build on its successes in helping China develop its next generation of environmental advocates to strengthen the development and enforcement of China’s environmental and energy law.

“We thank USAID and the American people for their continued support for and recognition of the importance and effectiveness of this program,” said Dean Shields. “The U.S. and China share a deep interest in reversing environmental degradation. Vermont Law School has proven to be an effective bridge in those efforts. VLS is now the leader among academic institutions in furthering efforts to support China as it strengthens its legal environmental framework.”

Leahy, who chairs the Subcommittee on the State Department and Foreign Operations of the Senate Appropriations Committee, played a key role in promoting USAID’s sponsorship of the partnership. He said, “This partnership is a superb fit, tapping VLS’s strengths in environmental law to help build the legal expertise and advocacy skills Chinese lawyers and civil society groups need to help meet the daunting environmental, energy and development challenges China is facing. It’s a partnership as timely as today’s headlines.”

In 2006, with funding from USAID, VLS in collaboration with Sun Yat-sen University (SYSU), located in the capital of Guangdong province in southern China, launched the U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law in response to the critical lack of knowledge, skills, and academic infrastructure needed to begin to address environmental and energy challenges in China through the rule of law. It has provided a broad range of trained attorneys, legal educators, law students, lawmakers, judges, regulators, and other advocates in Guangdong Province and in Beijing.

In addition to significantly strengthening SYSU’s environmental law program and creating a Juris Master’s degree program specializing in environmental law at SYSU, the program has established a strong, active network of environmental law professionals in the province. It has also expanded the collaborative effort to other influential educational institutions on the national level, such as the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL), Center of Legal Assistance for Pollution Victims (CLAPV), and Tsinghua University as well as key Chinese government agencies, such as the State Electricity Regulatory Commission, which is the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission counterpart, and the training center for the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s primary macroeconomic planning and management agency under the State Council that is responsible for developing China’s climate change policies.

Professor Tseming Yang, who has been the director of the program since 2007, said, “Our work over the past three years has put us in a unique position to further advance environmental governance in China. The USAID support will enable us to develop greater capacity in China for citizens, organizations, and institutions to influence the development of environmental law through enhanced participation in government.”

China’s rapid growth in manufacturing has resulted in severe environmental problems, including the production of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming and pollution worldwide. According to a recent report, China has now overtaken the U.S. in total carbon emissions—years earlier than recently predicted. Two thirds of China’s energy derives from coal, and rising industrialization has the country mining and burning more than ever, as well as shopping for other countries’ oil and gas. Yet while China approaches parity in the economic sphere, it lags far behind in the legal structures and mechanisms that underpin American environmental law and policy. Developing well-trained legal professionals, law professors, and effective regulatory policies and laws is a critical part of China’s pursuit of sustainable development.

With the $3 million in additional funding, the program will continue to carry out its primary objectives of: (1) strengthening the capacity of the Chinese educational, governmental, nonprofit, and business sectors to become effective environmental and energy problem solvers; (2) improving China’s policies, systems, laws, and regulations to advance the development and enforcement of environmental and energy law and to help develop the rule of law; and (3) enhancing municipal, provincial, national, and international networks in China to advance best practices in environmental protection and energy regulation.

The program will provide training to Chinese legal educators, attorneys, lawmakers, utility analysts, and regulators on environmental law, with a particular emphasis on energy law. It will continue to support the development, strengthening, and expansion of institutions, associations, and networks that advance environmental law in China. Furthermore, in collaboration with VLS’s implementing partners, the program will foster a variety of research and policy development projects. Priority areas for research include environmental impact assessment, policy options for reducing China’s environmental footprint globally, energy law, environmental enforcement and governance, and climate change.

VLS’s key partners in this program include SYSU, CLAPV at China University of Political Science and Law, Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP), and the China Environment Forum (CEF) at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. SYSU, a leading Chinese educational institution located in Guangzhou, established one of the first environmental law clinics in China and now has developed a juris master program in environmental law. CLAPV is the leading environmental public interest litigation center in China. Its director, Professor Wang Canfa, one of China’s most respected environmental leaders, is an honorary distinguished lecturer in environmental law at VLS, and heads the CUPL environmental law program. RAP, a Vermont-based nonprofit, advises policymakers in the U.S. and around the world on economically and environmentally sustainable energy policies, particularly as they relate to the electricity sector. With extensive networks of energy and environmental practitioners in the government, business, NGOs, and research sectors in the U.S. and China, the CEF will contribute important outreach resources.

USAID’s history goes back to the Marshall Plan reconstruction of Europe after World War Two and the Truman Administration’s Point Four Program. In 1961, the Foreign Assistance Act was signed into law and USAID was created by executive order. Since that time, USAID has been the principal U.S. agency to extend assistance to countries recovering from disaster, trying to escape poverty, and engaging in democratic reforms.

In addition to its work under the USAID grant, VLS is leading a U.S.-China exchange program for young professionals. The program provides leadership training opportunities to nine Chinese and nine American women and men, particularly members of minority groups, who are active in environmental justice efforts. Participants in the program will jointly examine the environmental burdens, including climate change impacts, on minority communities and low-income populations in the U.S. and China and will propose ways to advance environmental justice for those communities. This exchange program is funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State.
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Vermont Law School—a private, independent institution—is ranked #1 in environmental law by U.S.News & World Report. VLS offers a Juris Doctor (JD) curriculum that emphasizes public service, a Master of Environmental Law and Policy (MELP) degree for lawyers and nonlawyers, and two post-JD degrees, the Master of Laws (LLM) in Environmental Law and the LLM in American Legal Studies (for international students). The school also features innovative experiential programs and is home to the Environmental Law Center and the South Royalton Legal Clinic. For more information, visit www.vermontlaw.edu.

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