Vermont Law School now has students and faculty from both the US and China to work collaboratively on environmental governance in China. Image: Vermont Law School

US and Chinese Schools Partner to Enhance Environmental Law in China


Vermont Law School (VLS) recently signed an agreement with Yunnan University School of Law in China to collaborate on programs that will promote exchange between faculty members and students, expand educational opportunities for students from both schools, and enhance joint research and publications on environmental and energy law and policy development. The agreement establishes Yunnan University School of Law as the sixth Chinese school to join Vermont Law School’s US-Asia Partnership for Environmental Law (PEL).

Facing huge environmental challenges, China declared “war on pollution” in 2014. The demand for a better and more comprehensive environmental institutions and legal structures is high. The PEL was launched in 2006 with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to advance environmental governance and rule of law in China. Over the past nine years, the PEL provided intensive technical training to more than a thousand Chinese students, lawyers, scholars, government officials, and judges in China. Vermont Law School has also hosted more than a hundred environmental and energy law leaders from China at its campus in South Royalton, Vermont. More than forty VLS students were awarded fellowships to engage in year-long research projects with Chinese law students. The collaborative research projects explore practical approaches and policies to address China’s environmental and energy problems.

While the partnership strengthens environmental governance in China, it also benefits the US. Siu Tip Lam, Director of the PEL told Asia Matters for America, “Through our various exchange programs the Vermont Law School community, and the state and country on a whole, benefit from the knowledge, passion and curiosity of the visiting students, scholars, lawyers, and judges. The flow of information is a two-way street. Our system isn’t perfect and interacting with visitors who have primary knowledge of environmental governance throughout China is invaluable in strengthening our system here in the United States.”

The US and China have also established cooperation at the national and state levels to address environmental issues in China. In 2007, the EPA-China Environmental Law Initiative was launched to encourage a continuing dialogue between the US and China on the development of environmental institutions, environmental laws, regulations, compliance, enforcement, and adjudication capacity. US states, such as California and Nevada, are also collaborating with government bodies and universities in China to tackle air and water pollution.

Zhonghe Zhu is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a recent graduate of the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University.