In China, ‘laws’ (法律) are only issued by the National People’s Congress (NPC) and its Standing Committee (NPCSC). However, ‘legislation’ as governed under the Law on Legislation (中华人民共和国立法法) also includes regulations and rules, which may be issued by other executive bodies.
In relation to climate, the Constitution (as amended in 2018) sets a national development vision, which amongst other aims, plans to create an “ecological civilisation” (生态文明建设). Article 89(6) of the Constitution allocates responsibility to the State Council of the Central People’s Government to implement this goal (Zhu, 2021). Therefore, the majority of Chinese climate policy tends to be formulated through ‘legislation’ (executive policies), as opposed to formal ‘laws’.
Under Article 72 of the Law on Legislation, the State Council has the authority to issue ‘administrative regulations’ (行政法规) for the following purposes: (1) to implement laws (实施条例); (2) to exercise its own powers and functions provided by Article 89 of the Constitution (Zhang, 2020); or (3) when it has been authorized by the NPC or NPCSC to make administrative regulations on issues that should be governed by ‘laws’ but where no law has yet been enacted.
Administrative regulations can be called ‘regulations’ (条例), interim regulations’ (暂行规定), ‘provisions’ (规定), ‘interim provisions’ (暂行规定), or ‘measures’ (办法) (see Article 5 of the Regulations on Procedures for the Formulation of Administrative Regulations). Administrative regulations must be promulgated by an Order of the State Council (decree, 国务院令) and signed by the Premier (Zhang, 2020).
Ministries, Commissions, and Agencies under the State Council may issue ‘departmental rules’ (部门规章). These must be promulgated by orders (部令) signed by heads of the departments (Zhang, 2020). Departmental rules can also be named ‘provisions’ (规定) or ‘measures’ (办法).
Both the State Council and the departments under it may also issue ‘regulatory documents’ (规范性文件). These are not regulated by the Law on Legislation, and thus do not have the force of law (Zhang, 2020). They tend to be named as ‘circulars’ (通告), ‘notices’ （通知）, ‘decisions’ （决定） or ‘opinions’ (意见), ‘
At sub-national level, the Provincial People’s Congresses and their respective Standing Committees (provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities) may issue ‘local regulations’ (地方性法规). Governments of provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities may formulate ‘local rules’ (地方政府规章).
The most important policy documents in China are the Five-Year Plans that set the overall direction of China’s economy and often include high-level targets.
There are also certain environmental clauses in the Chinese Civil Code, which entered into force on 1 January 2021. Article 9 sets out the ‘ecological principle’ (Zhu, 2021), Article 509(3) further stipulates that ‘resource conservation and environmental protection’ is a principle of contract law (Zhu, 2021). According to Zhu (2021), these are of particular relevance for climate change litigation, as many cases in China are contractual disputes.