Nearly two hundred environmental law professors from 41 countries gathered in Mexico City this week for the annual colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law. The event was hosted by the Metropolitan Autonomous University of Mexico City under the leadership of Jose Juan Gonzalez Marquez, Vice Chair of the Academy. It featured full-days of presentations on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, a field trip on Wednesday, and a half day of presentations on Friday, followed by a closing ceremony passing the torch to Wuhan University, which will host next year’s colloquium.
Many of the presentations dealt with climate change issues, including a terrific presentation by Professor Lesley McAllister who reviewed problems with existing cap-and-trade programs and questioned whether they would be successful when applied to control emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Anita Ronne from the University of Copenhagen described how Denmark’s development of renewal energy has enabled the country to increase GDP by 56% since 1989 while reducing CO2 emissions by 22%. She noted that on October 24, 51 countries meeting in Madrid agreed to establish an International Renewable Energy Agency to promote further development of renewables. A treaty establishing the agency will be signed in Madrid on January 26. Professor David Hodas emphasized the importance of establishing a global cap on GHG emissions and argued for immediate focus on GHG control actions on which even countries with divergent interests could agree. Professor Wang Xi from Shanghai Jiao Tong University noted that a large portion of Chinese emissions of GHG are caused by the products exported to the U.S. and other developed countries, which has been referred to as “carbon laundering”. Professor Marjan Peters of the University of Maastricht raised the idea of personable tradable carbon allowances in the form of “carbon credit cards”.
There was considerable discussion of the impact of the global financial crisis on global environmental protection efforts. Ricardo Sanchez from UNEP’s regional office for Latin America noted that crises often can be opportunities for promoting new policies, but others noted that many countries, including Mexico, will be forced to reduce their environmental protection budgets due to economic difficulties.
One of the great features of these annual colloquia is that they present an opportunity to learn about environmental law and policy developments throughout the world. Alfred Mumma from the University of Nairobi described his work as a member of Kenya’s National Environmental Tribunal, which was established in 2003. This specialized body of lawyers and scientists primarily has been hearing cases involving housing developments who need environmental impact assessment licenses. Disputes over the standing of neighborhood groups to appeal approvals of development projects have been a prominent issue before the tribunal. One advantage of the Tribunal is that it has taken on average only 6 months to resolve cases that would take an average of three years if litigated through Kenya’s court system. Rock Pring from the University of Denver described the results of his fascinating year-long collaboration with his wife on a study 35 specialized environmental courts in 21 countries. He noted that most such courts are established to increase access to environmental justice, though there is considerable variation in their jurisdiction and practices. Bangladesh’s environmental court heard only 17 cases last year due to its requirement that litigants must first receive permission from a government ministry. Sweden’s court only allows Swedish NGOs with more than 2,000 members to have standing, which limits the universe of NGOs who can appear before the court to two.
There was considerable discussion of developments in environmental law in Mexico. The governor of Mexico’s Federal District, Marcelo Ebrard Casaubon, hosted a reception for the IUCN Academy at his government’s offices in a historic 16th-century building adjoining the Zócalo, the largest main square in Latin America. He is committed to promoting green development and has launched several new policies, including vehicle-free mornings to promote bicycle use and the appointment of an experienced, independent prosecutor, Diana Ponce Nava, to focus on environmental cases. Several presentations focused on Mexico’s efforts to improve the management of protected areas by involving local communities in their management. Jose Cibrian Tovar, Director General of Mexico’s National Forest Commission, described “Pro Arbol” program to pay locals for forest preservation efforts. Some speakers noted that a major problem facing Mexican environmental protection efforts is that virtually all major projects involving development of natural resources in the country are tainted by corruption in some form.
At a plenary session on Monday I made a presentation on “Global Environmental Law and Poverty Alleviation.” I discussed the globalization of environmental law, a topic that I will explore in more depth during my Garrison Lecture at Pace Law School on April 1. I then explored how three global crises - the financial crisis, dramatic fluctuations in oil and food prices, and the climate crisis - are jeopardizing the achievement of the Millennium Development goals, particularly the goals of poverty alleviation and environmental protection.
Following the meeting with the governor on Wednesday there was a field trip to “Los Dinamos,” a forest preserve in the mountains outside of Mexico City named for small hydropower plants that were used to power a textile industry in the 18th century. Local residents escorted our group on hikes up into the forest. They described some of the difficulties facing the community because of the lack of clear legal protections for communal property.
Abstracts and papers prepared for the colloquium will be posted on the Academy’s website at: www.iucnael.org. A gallery of photos I took at the conference and in Mexico City is available at: http://gallery.me.com/rperci/100328. Surprisingly, many U.S. law schools who have specialized environmental law programs are not yet members of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law. In fact, I am told that there are now more law schools in China that are members than U.S. law schools. We hope to encourage more U.S. law schools to become academy members in the future.
After lunch on Tuesday we were treated to a performance of indigenous dancers, wearing thongs and elaborate feather costumes, who persuaded most of the conference participants to join them in dancing. Seeing professors in suits holding hands with Mayan dancers and running around a ceremonial circle was most amusing. On Thursday I also was amused, during a brief sightseeing trip around Mexico City, to see a group of naked protesters who covered their private parts with photos of the government officials who were the targets of their protest.
I arrived back in the U.S. on Friday just in time to join my dean at a dinner with two of our school’s most illustrious alums - Robert Parker, the world’s leading wine critic, and Jamie McCourt, president and co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Parker brought the wines, which were paired with each of eight courses prepared by Cindy Wolf, executive chef and co-owner of Baltimore’s Charleston restaurant. Parker’s running commentary on the fifteen different wines we tasted made for a most educational evening, as did his (and Jamie McCourt’s) recollections of what our law school used to be like. Needless to say, the food and wine were spectacular. Next Friday I will be hosting our Environmental Law Program’s annual winetasting party for students and alums.