This week students in Professor Percival’s Global Environmental Law seminar completed updated profiles of the state of environmental law in 54 countries. Each of the 27 students in the seminar selected two countries to update. Based on student reports about their research, it seems apparent that each year it is becoming easier to find research material on the state of environmental law even in countries that are not household names. The updated profiles are being posted to Professor Percival's website at: www.globalenvironmentallaw.com. To view them, simply visit that website and click on the “Country Profiles” link at the top of the welcoming page.
A major positive development for global environmental law this week came on Friday when more than 140 nations agreed on a framework for negotiating a global treaty to reduce mercury pollution. At a meeting in Nairobi of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Governing Council, environmental ministers agreed to begin negotiations on a binding treaty to reduce mercury pollution. Negotiation of the treaty will commence later this year in the hopes of concluding a final agreement by the year 2013. The decision was the culmination of seven years of discussions on how to deal with global mercury pollution problems. Mercury emissions from coal-fired powerplants have become a particularly worrisome problem. Scientists estimate that as much as one-third of the mercury in the United States west of the Mississippi River is the result of mercury emissions from Chinese powerplants.
The key breakthrough in the negotiations came when the Obama administration reversed the Bush administration’s long-standing resistance to negotiating a global mercury treaty. After the U.S. changed its position, China and India also endorsed negotiating a global treaty. My former colleague Susan Egan Keene, who is now a policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), attended the Nairobi meeting and described the agreement as “an amazing and astonishing turn of events.” For several years Susan has been working on a project to investigate sources of mercury pollution in China. I saw her last year when she was in Beijing for the launch of a project between NRDC and the Center for Legal Assistance for Pollution Victims (CLAPV).
I certainly hope that the decisions by China and India to join the U.S. in endorsing negotiation of a global mercury treaty may presage a new willingness of these countries to join the U.S. in a new global climate change treaty. The Obama administration already has signaled that it will reverse the Bush administration’s opposition to binding controls on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Last week EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced that she would reconsider the Bush administration’s decision not to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide from new coal-fired powerplants. The emphasis Secretary of State Clinton placed on climate change issues during her visit to Beijing last week indicates that the U.S. will fully engage China in an effort to get that country to join in the new global regime to control GHG emissions, which will be negotiated in Copenhagen in December. Since China is now the world’s largest source of both mercury emissions and GHG emissions, its participation is crucial to the success of global efforts to respond to climate change.
On Saturday night I had dinner with Tseming Yang and three of the Chinese participants in the Vermont Law School Partnership for Environmental Law in China. They were in Washington on their way back from a conference at Washington & Lee School of Law on “Climate Policy for the Obama Administration.” The VLS/China project is flourishing and consuming most of Tseming’s time these days.