One of China’s highest courts has urged judges to hear cases involving climate change and consider carbon impacts in order to aid the nation in meeting its emission reduction goals.

One of China’s highest courts has urged judges to hear cases involving climate change and consider carbon impacts in order to aid the nation in meeting its emission reduction goals.

The Supreme People’s Court made a significant legal intervention when it issued new rules instructing judges to weigh corporate emission reduction and development when rendering judgements.

With regard to cases involving energy conservation and emission reduction, low-carbon technology, carbon trading, green finance, and promoting climate change mitigation and adaptation, the 24-article document grants courts across China the go-ahead.

It lists 11 examples of climate-related lawsuits that judges might face, such as deforestation, air pollution liability, contract disputes, and the implementation of carbon emission quotas.

According to the document, courts should pay special attention to the carbon trading market, which has recently been the subject of numerous legal disputes.

The new guidelines are an important step in putting environmental protection commitments in the report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China into practise, according to Liu Zhumei, chief environmental judge at the Supreme People’s Court adjudication tribunal for environment and resources.

This was expected to promote low-carbon industries, enhance the system for resource allocation based on the market, and lessen negative environmental effects. The “guideline” is also the first legal document produced by the highest court to regulate how cases involving the carbon peak and carbon are handled, she continued.

The “dual carbon” goals, which call for China to peak its carbon dioxide emissions reduction before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, were recently reaffirmed by President Xi Jinping. But experts claim that the nation’s decarbonization will be a significant challenge.

A recent report by Global Energy Monitor and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air found permit approval, construction, and new project announcements for coal in China accelerated “dramatically” last year, with new permits reaching the highest level since 2015.

The coal power capacity starting construction in China was six times bigger than all the rest of the world combined, and the energy regulator is aiming to have 165 GW of coal power construction start in 2022–2023. Chinese provinces are expected to focus their energies on a mix of both coal and renewable power in the coming year.

China’s National People’s Congress annual meeting highlighted the importance of coal to its energy security, but Minister of Ecology and Environment Huang Runqiu recently said the development of industries with high energy consumption and emissions, projects in areas with fragile ecosystems, and the transfer of projects with high emissions from eastern China to the west of the country would be restricted. Whether the judiciary can temper the country’s coal drive remains to be seen.

The involvement of courts in implementing the dual carbon goals would probably “increase the level of scrutiny on newly proposed high emissions projects and help to ensure a smooth low-carbon energy transition,” according to Dimitri de Boer, Asia regional director of programmes for environmental law NGO ClientEarth.

Due to China’s lack of specific climate change legislation, unlike many other nations, climate litigation has been challenging in China. However, the judiciary has indicated a willingness to discuss the matter.

The 2021 Kunming Declaration urged greater coordination between domestic and international rules of law and urged courts to take an active role in combating climate change. The first time a ruling of final effect specifically referenced China’s carbon peaking and carbon neutrality goals was in a judgement on cryptocurrency mining last year, and experts believe it is unlikely to be the last.

The new guidelines, according to Lu Xu, a senior lecturer in property law at Lancaster University’s law school, largely summarise what the Chinese judicial system already did but send a strong message to the lower courts.

Guidelines, he declared, “are not the law. “However, it makes sense that lower courts will consider each of them. Lower courts would not want to decide cases in blatant defiance of the guidelines, which will put pressure on litigants to accept or accommodate them.”