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Expert hails bold environment moves

By Angus Mcneice | China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-01 07:11

President Xi Jinping's plan to establish an "ecological civilization" is among the best blueprints for green governance, according to James Thornton, a UK-based environmental lawyer and activist.

New data suggests global climate change is increasing at unprecedented rates.

According to a World Meteorological Organization report published on Monday, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surged last year at the highest rate in 800,000 years, driven by human activity and drought.

The environment was among the topics addressed at the recently concluded 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.

In his keynote speech at the event, Xi mentioned the environment 89 times, while the economy was mentioned 70 times, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

In addition to creating more material and cultural wealth for the population, Xi told delegates that China needs to provide more quality ecological goods to help protect the environment.

Erik Solheim, head of the United Nations environment department, said "global political will and a new sense of urgency" is needed to combat climate change.

The five years since the 18th CPC National Congress have seen great improvements to environmental policy in China, including the first amendments to the country's Environmental Protection Law in a quarter of a century.

Thornton, the founder and chief executive of London-based environmental advocacy agency ClientEarth, was among five foreign experts to advise the Chinese government on the new legislation.

"Which Western country is getting together a global panel of experts to analyze its legal system to see what could change to deliver an ecological civilization? Nobody," Thornton told China Daily.

ClientEarth has taken successful legal action in the United Kingdom on air pollution, and in Poland to prevent the building of new coal-fired power plants.

Thornton said China has taken "profound corrective action" on its environmental policy. The updated law makes it easier for civilians and nongovernmental agencies to bring cases against polluting companies, including State-owned enterprises.

"The government is very eager to do the right thing by its own people, and there is no sense of fighting or pushback, and that is unique in my experience," said Thornton, who is now advising China on the creation of a fund to cover the cost of environmental impact assessments in legal cases.

"If a company has been polluting a forest or a wetland, then a judge needs to write an order for the company to clean up their mess," Thornton said.

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