Today I arrived in Barcelona for the opening of the World Conservation Congress. The Congress, sponsored by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is held every four years. Four years ago in 2004 I attended the Congress in Bangkok and in 2000 I participated in it when it was held in Amman, Jordan, with Queen Noor as the host. IUCN is an unusual conglomerate of governments, NGOs and others interested in global environmental protection.
Yesterday I visited Lisbon, Portugal for the first time. I was very impressed with the city which is a great combination of old and new. It is very pedestrian-friendly with cars stopping for people in crosswalks, something I never experienced in Beijing. I had a fabulous lunch at Eleven, Lisbon’s only restaurant with a Michelin star, which is located in a park with a spectacular view of Lisbon.
A week ago Friday I visited Vermont Law School (VLS) to give a lecture on “The War of the Worldviews: Precaution v. Reaction on the U.S. Supreme Court.” The lecture expanded on some themes I outlined in my article in the latest edition of the Supreme Court Review - that the Court is narrowly split between two fundamentally different approaches to government regulation that repeatedly resurface in cases involving standing, statutory interpretation, and deference to the decisions of administrative agencies. I had a great time at Vermont where I have a lot of terrific friends, including Tseming Yang, co-author of my forthcoming casebook on Global Environmental Law, and Jason Czarnezki, who just joined the VLS faculty from Marquette.
In the last two weeks there has been considerable news in the global environmental law area. Last Monday I was interviewed by Greenwire about voter approval of the new Ecuadoran constitution that contains the most far-reaching environmental provisions of any constitution. It recognizes the rights of nature in a distinctly eco-centric way not seen in other constitutions and it requires the government as a constitutional obligation to remediate environmental contamination. Of course, its impact will depend on how it is implemented by legislation and judicial interpretation. Given that this is Ecuador’s 20th constitution in a country that has seen so many changes of government in recent years, it remains to be seen whether the political stability that is necessary for law to thrive and be respected will be forthcoming.
The European Union seems to be holding firm with its desire to adopt stringent new limits on greenhouse gas emissions by automobiles. However, several European car companies and a few governments are lobbying hard to weaken the standards.
Tata Motors has announced that it will shift manufacture of the Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car, to a new plant outside of West Bengal where protests continue against the existing plant (see Sept. 8th post reporting on a settlement agreement that now appears not to have been successful).
While the U.S. financial crisis reflects the fruits of overly aggressive deregulation at the behest of the financial industry, as my colleague Rena Steinzor has pointed out in an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun (“Reviving Regulation, Baltimore Sun, Sept. 28, 2008), one probably can expect to start hearing the financial crisis being raised as an asserted justification for loosening (or at least not improving) environmental standards. That already seems to be happening here in Europe as part of the automakers’ opposition to strengthening controls on emissions of greenhouse gases.