10th IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium

10th IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium
More than 250 environmental experts from 35 countries gather at the University of Maryland for the 10th Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law in July 2012

March 2013 Environmental Field Trip to Israel

March 2013 Environmental Field Trip to Israel
Maryland students vist Israel's first solar power plant in the Negev desert as part of a spring break field trip to study environmental issues in the Middle East

Workshop with All China Environment Federation

Workshop with All China Environment Federation
Participants in March 12 Workshop with All China Environment Federation in Beijing

Winners of Jordanian National Moot Court Competition

Winners of Jordanian National Moot Court Competition
Jordanian Justice Minister Aymen Odah presents trophy to Noura Saleh & Niveen Abdel Rahman from Al Al Bait University along with US AID Mission Director Jay Knott & ABA's Maha Shomali

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Beijing Lectures

This week I stayed in Beijing where I gave guest lectures at Renmin University School of Law and the China University of Geosciences. After my Monday class at the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL) I had a belated birthday celebration dinner hosted by Professors Wang Canfa and Hu Jing. Wang Canfa has just returned from Japan where he accepted a prestigious award from the Japanese Economic Review. The award came with a substantial cash prize that he has donated to the Chinese earthquake relief effort. Due to the earthquake, his stint as an Olympic torchbearer has been postponed by three days to June 13. Also attending the dinner was Wang Xiaohui, a Ph.D. student in my Environmental Law class who has received a grant from Probe International to spend six weeks in the United States this summer. I was delighted to be able to put her in touch with Professors Dan Cole and Eric Dannenmaier of Indiana University School of Law who have graciously agreed to host her while she is in the United States.

On Wednesday May 28 I presented a guest lecture on “Energy and the Environment: The Pursuit of a More Sustainable U.S. Energy Policy” at Renmin University School of Law. Environmental law professor Li Yanfang, who was a visiting scholar at the University of Maryland School of Law during the 2006-2007 academic year, introduced me to the audience, which consisted of professors and students from four law schools in Beijing. Professor Wang Mingyuan from Center for Environment, Resources and Energy Law at Tsinghua University Law School was one of the commentators on my presentation. He was joined as a commentator by Zhou Ke, Director of Renmin University’s Environmental Law Research Institute. The lecture gave me an opportunity to explore a new topic for me that has become increasingly important in light of soaring global oil prices. I expressed a preference for policies that seek to tax environmentally damaging energy sources over subsidies that seek to encourage particular alternative fuels such as ethanol. I also made a strong pitch for why the U.S. and China inevitably will have to take strong action to control their emissions of greenhouse gases.

After teaching my Comparative Law class at CUPL on Thursday May 29, I presented a guest lecture on “The Emergence of Global Environmental Law” at the China University of Geosciences. This university has a large campus located between CUPL and Tsinghua. A lively audience of faculty and students engaged me in a lengthy dialogue after the lecture on China’s environmental policies and how developing countries should respond to the global climate crisis. On Thursday night I participated in a conference call with some officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva to discuss a request by some developing countries for assistance in developing more effective mechanisms for holding multinational corporations accountable for the health effects of their pollution.

One of my nieces, Mary Ryan, is now in Beijing visiting me. She is an executive in New York with Otis Elevator Company, a division of United Technologies. While in Shanghai earlier in the week she inspected the Otis equipment in the new World Financial Center tower, which will briefly be the world’s tallest building when it is completed next month in Pudong. I asked her to visit my class to speak about the environmental, health and safety policies followed by a multinational corporation in developing countries and she did a fantastic job. On Saturday we visited the 798 Art District in Beijing where we had a great reunion with friends from Namibia and Equatorial Guinea who attended college at Peking University in the late 1990s with Mary’s sister Melissa. They initially had been sent to China to learn Chinese in anticipation of future careers in the diplomatic corps for their respective countries. They have now mastered Chinese, but their countries embassies have decided that they don’t need anyone on staff who is fluent in the local language. As a result they are teaching Korean children in an exclusive international school.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Three Gorges/Chongqing

Last Monday during my Environmental Law class we paused at 2:28PM to join people throughout China in observing three minutes of silence in memory of the victims of the Wenchuan earthquake. Everyone stood and bowed their heads as sirens and horns blared outside throughout the three minutes. After class the students surprised me by presenting me with birthday cards they had made for me. The cards included wonderful, personal notes each student had written to me. The students explained that they would like to have a party to celebrate my birthday, but that it was not possible to hold a party during the three-day national mourning period.

On Tuesday I flew from Beijing to Yichang in Hubei province near the site of the Three Gorges Dam. On Wednesday I traveled by bus to the dam site and then boarded a hydrofoil from a dock behind the dam to travel west through the Three Gorges. The area is quite beautiful with dramatic cliffs on both sides of the river in many places. However, because the dam required relocation of nearly two million people, the scenery throughout the trip is marred by the scars of buildings abandoned to the rising waters. East of the town of Badong, smoke from cement plants pours along the river gorge, obscuring the view of the scenery for many miles. I disembarked from the hydrofoil in Wanzhou where I boarded an express bus for Chongqing. The entire trip from the dam to Chongqing took 9 hours.

In Chongqing I was met by Professor Shen from the Southwest University School of Law. On Thursday morning I lectured to his class on the history of the common law. I then met the dean and vice dean of the law school before delivering public lectures on “The Emergence of Global Environmental Law” and “The Role of Non-governmental Organizations in the Implementation and Enforcement of Regulatory Programs.” Between 50 and 60 students attended each lecture, which was followed by a lively discussion with the audience on a wide range of topics.

Because Chongqing is near the earthquake zone, the students at Southwest University were particularly interested in hearing about how people in the U.S. are reacting to the earthquake. The students had established their own memorial to the earthquake victims by tying hundreds of red ribbons to shrubbery on campus. The school erected billboards with information about the history of earthquakes in China and advice on what to do in the event of an earthquake. A crowd of students clustered around a giant outdoor flat screen that carried continuous news coverage concerning earthquake relief and recovery efforts. Photos of my trip through Three Gorges and the visit to Chongqing are available online at: http://gallery.mac.com/rperci/100264.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Chinese Earthquake and Maryland Graduation

The earthquake that hit China occurred last Monday during the first hour of my Environmental Law class. We did not feel it at the China University of Political Science and Law, though it was so strong that others in Beijing did. At the end of the first hour of class, we took our regular break and several students returned very upset because they had learned about the earthquake through text messages on their cell phones. Two of the students in the class are from Chengdu, a city close to the epicenter of the quake. They kept trying to call home, but the calls did not go through. Fortunately, it was only because so many people were trying to call at once. Eventually the students managed to get through and ascertain that their families were fine.

One student repeated a rumor that Chinese scientists were predicting another earthquake would hit Beijing at 11pm, a rumor that was so prevalent that it was denounced on Chinese network news. My apartment building quickly circulated information for how to react in an earthquake. They are now collecting supplies for a relief shipment to the affected areas of Sichuan province. The quake death toll has now risen to 29,000 and it is expected to continue climbing to perhaps 50,000. More than 2 million Chinese have been rendered homeless by the quake.

On Tuesday I returned to the U.S. to attend the graduation for the University of Maryland School of Law. On Thursday evening we hosted a party for the 28 graduating students receiving their certificates of concentration in Environmental Law. This was a particularly accomplished class and it was fun to show many of the photos and videos of them I had acquired over the years. On Friday the graduation ceremony was held at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Prior to the ceremony the law faculty had to wait an hour on buses outside the hall because the University of Maryland School of Medicine ceremony ran very late. I was honored to be one of the “hooders” placing the graduation regalia on the law students as they walked across the stage. I was delighted to learn that most of our graduating environmental law students have secured good jobs in the environmental law field, one of the great strengths of our program. The only things marring a great graduation day were the medical school’s thoughtlessness in delaying our ceremony and the Washington Nationals’ embarrassing loss to the Baltimore Orioles in a game I attended at Camden Yards on Friday night.

I flew back to Beijing on Saturday, arriving on Sunday. I continue to be impressed with the quality of my Chinese students. Two week ago we discussed the Plaza Health Laboratories case where a human was declared not to be a point source under the Clean Water Act. The Chinese students were outraged by the decision. Last week we discussed the Kelo decision, which elicited tremendous debate among the students because so many people in China have been displaced by economic development projects. My students clearly are not afraid to think critically and independently, despite the traditional reputation of Chinese legal education.

On Tuesday I am flying into Sichuan province near the earthquake zone. I will be visiting the Three Gorges Dam and traveling through the Three Gorges by hydrofoil from Yichang to Chongqing where I will give two guest lectures at Southwest University School of Law.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Access to Information Conference in China

This week I traveled to Shanghai and X’ian where I gave three guest lectures, spoke to a conference and conducted a seminar. On Tuesday I flew to X’ian where I gave two guest lectures at the Northwest University School of Law. I spoke to an audience of more than 250 law students on “The Emergence of Global Environmental Law” and the “Role of the Judiciary in the U.S. Legal System.” The students were remarkably engaged for a group that was required to spend nearly three hours listening to me. After the lectures I met up with Jonathan Schwartz, a Fulbright professor at the International Studies University, at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. We watched the fountain and music show in the square behind the pagoda. On Wednesday the university took me to see the Army of Terracotta Warriors east of X’ian. In 1981 I had visited the site where thousands of buried, life-sized terracotta figures had been discovered by a farmer digging a well. The site is now much larger and more developed as two more large pits of warriors have been discovered since my initial visit.

After returning to Beijing to teach my Thursday class, I flew to Shanghai on Thursday night. On Friday I spoke to a conference organized by the China Environmental Culture Promotion Association, NRDC’s China Program, and Green Earth Volunteers. The conference on “Open Information and Environmental Protection” was attended by environmental NGOs and journalists from all over China. A major focus of the conference was on China’s new Open Information Act which became effective on May 1, 2008. Huang Zhen, Chief of the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau, explained that Shanghai has been a leader in providing public access to environmental information by implementing such policies in 2004, befor ethe national legislation was enacted.

Bie Tao from the Law and Policy Department of China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) showed photographs of environmental protests throughout China as citizens have mobilized to oppose the siting of chemical plants. He described how the new open information law operates. The website for China’s new Ministry of Environmental Protection will enable citizens to file requests for information online, just as the U.S. EPA currently does. China’s new law is similar to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, though it includes an additional exemption not present in the U.S. law: the Chinese government may withhold information on the grounds that its release would not promote “social stability.” I followed Bie Tao by making a presentation reviewing how U.S. law provides for citizen access to environmental information. Representatives of some of the Chinese environmental NGOs complained that it has been difficult at times even to obtain copies of environmental impact assessment, something that hopefully will change as the new law is implemented.

On Friday afternoon I met with Hong Gengming, Deputy Dean of the School of Law of the Shanghai University of FInance and Economics (SUFE). Professor Hong is an environmental law expert. After our meeting I spoke to a group of SUFE students and faculty on “The Emergence of Global Environmental Law.” My lecture was followed by an hour-long seminar on environmental law that I conducted with a group of students.

On Saturday morning I rejoined the Open Information conference for a field trip to visit the Pao Tu Wan Wetland Forest north of Shanghai. While hiking through this beautiful natural area adjoining the Huangpu River, I had a chance to get to know some of the conference participants better. We later visited Brilliant City, an incredible series of high-rise apartments ringing the Suzhou River in western Shanghai. We were met at the site by a local resident who explained how the river used to be heavily polluted but was cleaned up as part of the development project.

A photo gallery of my trips to X’ian and Shanghai is available online at http://gallery.mac.com/rperci/100240.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Vietnam

I just returned to Beijing after a wonderful week touring Vietnam. I took advantage of the May Day holiday to explore a country I have long wanted to visit. On Monday night after my Environmental Law class I flew from Beijing to Hanoi. On Tuesday afternoon I had a wonderful meeting with Dr. Tran Hong Ha, Director General of the Vietnam Environmental Protection Agency (VEPA). We met at VEPA’s offices in Hanoi.

Dr. Ha was accompanied by several of his top staff, including Duong Thanh An, director of VEPA’s International Division. We discussed the state of environmental law (“Moi Truong”) in Vietnam. Environmental protection was included in the Vietnamese Constitution in 1992 and the country’s first comprehensive environmental law was adopted the following year. In the subsequent decade considerable effort was devoted to improving environmental law, culminating in the enactment of the new Law of Environmental Protection on November 29, 2005. Dr. Ha presented me with a copy of the 2005 Law that includes an English translation.

Environmental law in Vietnam has not yet developed to the point where there is a specialized environmental bar, but both Hanoi University and Ho Chi Minh City University have departments of environmental law. VEPA is now focusing on developing regulations to implement the 2005 law and to conform to the requirements of international conventions that Vietnam has joined. The latter include the Convention on Biological Diversity, which we discussed with the VEPA official responsible for drafting the regulations. As in many developing countries, enforcement of environmental law has been a big problem in Vietnam. VEPA generally has been required to show actual harm to people before it can seek criminal sanctions.

We discussed various ways in which scholars from other countries could provide assistance to VEPA. I gave Dr. Ha a copy of my casebook and my compilation of U.S. environmental laws.

My visit to VEPA was arranged by Allison Moore, director of the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative in Vietnam. I first met Allison three years ago when she was directing the ABA’s efforts in China. On Tuesday evening we met with officials from the Vietnam Lawyer’s Association (VLA) and the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations (VUSTA). These included Pham Quoc Anh, president of the VLA who is a member of the National Assembly; Dr. Nguyan Hou Ninh, chairman of the Center for Environment Research, Education and Development (CERED); Ho Uy Liem, vice president and secretary general of VUSTA; Dr. Nguyen Manh Cuong, director of international relations for VUSTA; Dr. Nguyen Hoang Yen, deputy chief of the Vietnam Association for Conservation of Nature and Environment (VACNE); and Le Thi Kim Thanh, vice secretary general of the VLA.

Dr. Ninh was a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report. He gave me an autographed copy of his Nobel Prize commendation. He and other scientists in Vietnam are extremely worried about the impact of global climate change on Vietnam’s environment. Because so much of the country is coastline, sea level rise could have a particularly devastating effect on the country. Dr. Ninh showed us a chart of forecasts for how the Mekong Delta could be affected by sea level rise.

Vietnam has few environmental NGOs, but VUSTA and VLA have helped persuade the government to encourage the formation of more such organizations. I agreed to do whatever I can to assist, including returning to Vietnam to conduct a workshop on global environmental law later in the year.

While in Hanoi I visited the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where the embalmed remains of Vietnam’s former leader are on display. Ho Chi Minh and I share a birthday, May 19, which is now a national holiday in Vietnam. Wednesday April 30 was another national holiday, the 33rd anniversary of the “liberation” of Saigon. On Wednesday I toured Halong Bay, a World Heritage site that includes hundreds of spectacular karst islands northeast of Hanoi. On Thursday morning I flew to Hue and spent the next two days exploring the central coast between Hue and Hoi An. I flew to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) on Saturday and then back to Beijing on Sunday. Photos of my trip to Vietnam are available at http://gallery.mac.com/rperci/100217.