- In 1998, he founded the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV), the first center of its kind in China to focus on providing free legal help to pollution victims.
- CLAPV has handled through its hotline more than thirteen thousand environmental complaints; filed more than 550 cases, including some class action suits involving as many as 1,721 plaintiffs; and scored victories against chemical, steel, mining, waste incineration and other plants.
- CLAPV has conducted training in environmental law for around a thousand lawyers, judges, and other stakeholders and built a network of practitioners of environmental law. Wang and his colleagues have participated in the drafting and review of more than thirty environmental laws and regulations.
- In 2010, he established a public interest law firm specializing in environmental law that provides pro bono services. Beijing Huanzhu Law Firm, with more than thirty lawyer-volunteers, has continued and bolstered CLAPV’s litigation efforts.
- The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his discerning and forceful leadership—through scholarly work, disciplined advocacy, and pro bono public interest litigation—in ensuring that the enlightened and competent practice of environmental law in China effectively protects the rights and lives of victims of environmental abuse, especially the poor and the powerless.”
In recent decades, China’s relentless drive for economic growth has put the environment under great stress – poisoning China’s water and air, polluting cities and farmlands, and putting the lives of millions at risk. That China’s environmental problem has reached crisis levels is acknowledged by China’s central government, which has passed and strengthened a large number of environmental protection laws. But the success of this effort hinges on the strength of public participation in addressing what stands as one of China’s most serious challenges.
This is where Wang Canfa, a fifty-five-year-old environmental lawyer, has played an essential role. The son of peasants in Shandong province, Wang knew early on how the poor can be crippled by a sense of powerlessness. He worked long and hard to earn law degrees from Jilin University and Beijing University, and rose to become a leading environmental legal scholar and lawyer in China.
In 1998, as a professor at China University of Political Science and Law, he founded the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV), the first center of its kind in China to focus on providing free legal help to pollution victims. Manned by Wang as director, a deputy and a pool of pro bono volunteer lawyers, CLAPV has handled through its hotline more than thirteen thousand environmental complaints; filed more than 550 cases, including some class action suits involving as many as 1,721 plaintiffs; and scored victories against chemical, steel, mining, waste incineration and other plants. CLAPV’s legal victories have led to the suspension of some environmentally-destructive projects and secured compensation for victims.
But Wang’s work extends beyond litigation. Knowing that enlightened action is the key, and working constructively in what is a relatively new field, CLAPV has conducted training in environmental law for around a thousand lawyers, judges, and other stakeholders and built a network of practitioners of environmental law. Going even further, Wang and his colleagues have participated in the drafting and review of more than thirty environmental laws and regulations. His participation in legislation has promoted directly the establishment of some legal systems which is benefit of victims’ rights protection and punishing polluters. CLAPV has raised wide public awareness in environmental protection and guarding environmental right through publications, mobile consultancy services, and linkages with other organizations. Energetic and highly respected from both nongovernment and government, Wang is at the center of all these efforts.
In 2010, Wang took another bold step when he established a public interest law firm specializing in environmental law that provides pro bono services. Beijing Huanzhu Law Firm, with more than thirty lawyer-volunteers, has continued and bolstered CLAPV’s litigation efforts. To date, the firm has tenaciously pursued some two hundred litigation and non-litigation cases
For Wang and his colleagues, the difficulties are seemingly insurmountable – working with and through China’s web of laws and regulations, shifts in policy, and a weak justice system; negotiating the divide between central and local governments; confronting powerful corporate interests; and raising the funds to sustain their pro bono programs. But Wang is undeterred.
Working out of a tiny law office in a rundown Beijing apartment block, this diminutive, amiable, and unprepossessing man is “larger-than-life” for those who know of his work as leader of a broad network of environmental lawyers, academics, and community groups. Wang knows the way ahead is not easy, but he remains resolutely optimistic. “As long as we persist, the goal of establishing Chinese environmental rule of law will be achieved someday,” he asserts.
In electing Wang Canfa to receive the 2014 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes his discerning and forceful leadership – through scholarly work, disciplined advocacy, and pro bono public interest litigation – in ensuring that the enlightened and competent practice of environmental law in China effectively protects the rights and lives of victims of environmental abuse, especially the poor and the powerless.
His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III, Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, distinguished guests, members of the Magsaysay family, fellow awardees, ladies and gentlemen.
One month ago when I was visiting the UK, I was told that I have been selected as one of the winners of the 2014 Magsaysay Award. Professor Bob from the University of Exeter looked happier than me, and soon put my award-wining news as important news to his University’s front page. Peking University, which I once attended, also released the news on its webpage. Thousands of my colleagues and friends from NGOs and other agencies sent congratulations to me by various channels. I am very happy to share this great honor with so many friends. Here I would like to thank the Magsaysay Family and Board members of the Magsaysay Foundation for an objective evaluation of CLAPV’s and my work. I also like to thank all CLAPV’s volunteers and other organizations and agencies for their contribution and support.
Frankly, I never expected to receive this prestigious award. As an ordinary professor at the law school, I just conducted my teaching and research on environmental law, and at the same time organized volunteers who care deeply about environmental rule of law to provide legal aid to pollution victims. We just tried to turn legal provisions in the books into actions. These efforts put greater pressure on illegal polluters to force them to comply with existing environmental laws; and push government agencies to take stricter action against violators.
The Magsaysay Award is not only in recognition of CLAPV and my work, but also a confirmation of the effectiveness of the support from others in promoting environmental rule of law in China. It recognizes both the challenges we face and the progress we are making in addressing the plight of pollution victims and constructing an ecologically civilized society.
It is certainly encouraging that CLAPV’s efforts have achieved some success. This year, China adopted the new amendments to the Environmental Protection Law, considered the best environmental legislation so far, and includes some strict measures and new legal systems. We in CLAPV will continue striving to play a greater role in advancing environmental rights protection and rule of law in China.
We only have one earth and environmental harm knows no borders. To protect China’s environment is to protect the world’s environment. To help pollution victims in China is to protect our individual environmental rights as well. I hope organizations dedicated to environment protection and social justice continue providing support to China to solve its environmental problems. This will help China not only to play a constructive role in global environmental protection; it will also transform its economic growth to be green growth.
Over the past recent years, the Magsaysay Award has been given to several Chinese environmental activists; because of this, I personally believe that the Magsaysay Award has, to some extent, promoted environmental protection in China.
I wish to close with a reminder that I had mentioned earlier: We have only one earth, and environmental harm knows no boundaries. So I ask you: Please, let us all work together to protect our home planet, and realize our green dream!