China is well known as one of the longest-standing authoritarian countries ruled by a Communist party in the world. Nevertheless, both non-participatory and participatory approaches to decision making in environmental governance can be observed under this form of regime. How then can we identify their combinations in China’s environmental governance? In exploring this question, this study focuses on the recent development of environmental public interest litigation (EPIL) cases after the enactment of the revised Environmental Protection Law (EPL) in 2015, and tests the pro-authoritarianism assumption, “non-environmental spillover effects,” as a characteristic of Chinese “environmental authoritarianism” raised by earlier writers. Looking into the recent development of EPIL cases by NGOs and procuratorates carefully, it can be concluded that a kind of division of work between NGOs and procuratorates stipulated in the revised EPL could restrain authoritarian spillover effects, although there are disproportionately increasing numbers of cases by procuratorates than NGOs. Also, there are some cases where NGOs and procuratorates cooperate in EPILs. Furthermore, local NGOs can mobilize numerous volunteers in this process. The experience and knowledge accumulated among the broader group of locals in the country might bring an “environmental spillover effect,” which means a spillover toward pro-environmental democracy, to push EPIL reform toward a more participation-friendly style of involvement.
Keywords: Environmental governance, authoritarianism, environmental public interest litigation, spillover effect, China.