Wang Canfa, one of China’s top environmental lawyers, gave a talk at NYU Law’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute (USALI) on March 6. Wang founded the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV), a public interest legal organization in Beijing.

China is facing “unprecedented environmental problems” after more than 30 years of rapid economic growth, said Wang, who Professor and USALI Co-Director Jerome Cohen called “a happy warrior.” USALI Executive Director Ira Belkin ’82 noted that Wang’s work on the environment has been praised not only by environmental advocates but also by government officials and judges in China.

Wang first began teaching environmental law in 1983 at Xiamen University and is now a senior professor at China University of Political Science and Law. Through CLAPV, Wang files lawsuits on behalf of pollution victims, works to raise awareness of environmental issues, and trains lawyers and judges on handling cases.

Even though China has passed a multitude of environmental laws in the last 40 years, resources for enforcement and compliance are lacking, said Wang. As a result, China suffers from serious air, soil and water pollution. For instance, some scholars believe 15 to 20 percent of the country’s arable land is contaminated with heavy metals, according to Wang.

Wang proposed a number of ways to address China’s problems. The government, he said, must give priority to environmental concerns when they conflict with economic development; performance evaluations of local officials should be tied to environmental protection; and punishments for violators must be more severe.

Posted on March 15, 2013