Court finds in favour of defendants in Beijing’s first environmental public interest lawsuit

Since the amended Environmental Protection Law was enacted in China in 2015, NGOs that have been operating for more than five years have been empowered to bring environmental “public interest lawsuits” against polluting companies. Now the verdict has been delivered in the first such case in Beijing, and the results are not good for the plaintiff.

The first instance verdict in the case of Friends of Nature suing the Beijing Dushi Fangyuan real estate company and the Beijing Jiuxin property management company for solid waste pollution liability disputes was announced by Beijing’s Fourth Intermediate People’s Court on October 24, 2018. The verdict acknowledged the work of “greening” and renovation that the two companies carried out around the artificial lake in Dushi Fangyuan, in Beijing’s Changping District. It indicated that the two defendants are responsible for maintaining their work in the future, and not engaging in any actions which harm and pollute the environment. However the court rejected Friends of Nature’s main requests.

The environmental organisation had requested that the court force the defendants to immediately cease their construction operations in the lake’s area, and to stop dumping solid waste and destroying the original ecosystem. They also requested that the companies be made to pay damages for the ecological degradation, and the money used to support wetland protection and other charity work in Changping District. After the case was placed on file, Beijing’s Fourth Intermediate People’s Court announced its acceptance of the case within the legal time limit.

Beijing’s Fourth Intermediate People’s Court conducted a public hearing of the case on October 16, 2018. According to the court, the value of the artificial lake’s area ought to be judged based on its ecological service value after the renovation work. The assessment report stated clearly that the service value of the area after renovation was beyond the value of the losses, and further measures were not needed. The renovation of the lake’s area was thus found to have met the ecosystem service value requirements. Moreover, based on the evidence from the relevant administrative organs, the actions of the two defendants were not found to violate any laws, and the results of the renovation were found to be beneficial for “removing hidden dangers” and improving the environment. It was thus decided that they do not need to bear any civil liability.

Friends of Nature have not stated clearly whether they will appeal the sentence. The Beijing-based organisation is the PRC’s oldest and most well-known environmental NGO. Previous attempts by Friends of Nature to initiate environmental lawsuits also failed to go their way.

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