There is no international judicial structure for the US to sue China. There is no body of governence wiht a world jurisdiction except the UN, which has a court, but it is for crimes against humanity and pollution has not been determined as thus. Citizens in China can bring suit against their government, and the US can lobby the UN to use sanctions against China, but there is no threat that can force China to regulate their pollution other than economic threats.
The short answer is no, but there are other things countries can do to obtain international cooperation in regards to pollution reduction, as well as many other issues. Although there’s no international court system, two primary sources of international law – treaties and customs – have typically been successful conduits for international compliance in these types of matters. Customary international law takes hold when a certain amount of countries “engage in certain practices in the belief that those practices are required by international law”. For instance, torturing a person would be a violation of a customary international law.
Treaties are legally binding agreements which are domestically implemented. Each country enters the treaty (think of it as a contract) willingly, so compliance is usually pretty high. However, should a country break one of these treaties once they have agreed to be bound by it, the other participating countries could impose certain consequences on the violating country, the most common consequence is economic sanctions, meaning the non-violating countries stop the flow of cash to the country or countries violating the treaty.
Even if international law allowed for such an action, one thing to consider is the repercussions if the U.S. brought legal suit against China for pollution. The U.S. has long been a major polluter and over-user of natural resources, and this would open the door for many other countries to take legal action against the U.S. as well.
While it is true that there is no “international court” in which one country can sue another for pollution related losses, countries can and occasionally do sue each other within the court systems of a particular country–for example, there were many lawsuits filed in federal courts in the United States against Iran as a result of the 1979-80 hostage crisis, although most of these were suits by private individuals or businesses. I don’t think a lawsuit over pollution, however, would be a very good idea, not the least of which is the fact that the US is itself a major polluter as others have pointed out. Also you have the problem of proving exactly how China’s pollution has hurt the United States (a doctrine known in American courts as “standing”). I think a better way to deal with international pollution issues is through treaties and other international negotiations.
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