Voluntary environmental agreements refer to the agreement concluded by the government, enterprises, industry associations and environmental protection social organizations based on consultation, communication and cooperation. The goal is to improve environmental governance or promote the efficient use of natural resources. The agreement contains the characteristics, structures, elements and contents of the democratic paradigm of environmental risk regulation. It pays attention to the openness of regulatory structure, the cooperation of regulatory bodies and the “negotiation rationality” of regulatory procedures, and emphasizes the multiple participation, negotiation and communication, and cooperative governance of environmental risk regulation. In the post epidemic era, it is urgent to change the traditional command-control environmental risk regulation mode, and construct a democratic negotiation environmental risk regulation mode with multiple governance of the government, enterprises, environmental protection social organizations, third-party institutions and the public, so as to enhance the flexibility, endogeneity, voluntariness and effectiveness of environmental risk regulation, and reduce the institutional cost of environmental risk regulation. Voluntary environmental agreements accord with the democratic paradigm of environmental risk regulation, and contain the legal nature of self-regulatory environmental regulation, network environmental regulation and consultative environmental regulation. They can break through the limitations of environmental formal legal regulation and substantive legal regulation, promote the interaction of public power, private right and social power, and promote the integration of procedure and process in environmental regulation. Voluntary environmental agreements are characterized by the diversity of regulatory subjects, the flexibility of regulatory methods, the innovation of regulatory content and the dynamic nature of regulatory process. Based on the pilot difficulties of voluntary environmental agreements in China, we should learn from the advanced experience of developed countries, and improve the organizational system, procedural system and incentive mechanism of voluntary environmental agreements.
Due to China’s national tradition and cultural environment dominated by administration, the government is prone to abuse “high administrative power” and “political authority” in the process of implementing the voluntary environmental system, which leads to the deficiency of “voluntary”, “equality” and “negotiability” of voluntary environmental agreements, and even goes against the original intention of voluntary environmental agreements, leading to “institutional alienation”. At the same time, as a “contract” reached by the government, enterprises, environmental protection social organizations, third-party organizations and public representatives, voluntary environmental agreements may also break through the basic principles of “legal reservation” and “law priority”, leading to the risk of “legitimacy” of voluntary environmental agreements. Therefore, it is necessary to explore the “legitimacy” review of voluntary environmental agreements by judicial organs, so as to construct the social supervision mechanism and judicial check and balance mechanism of voluntary environmental agreements.