Last week the latest round of global negotiations to draft an agreement on a post-Kyoto greenhouse gas (GHG) control regime for signing at the Copenhagen conference in December concluded in Bonn. Little progress was reported, though the meeting concluded with the parties expressing cautious optimism. Further information is available at: http://unfccc.int/meetings/sb30/items/4842.php. The Japanese government proposed to cut its country’s emissions of GHG by 8% below 1990 by the year 2020, disappointing many environmentalists and other governments, including the Chinese who continue to resist any specific commitment to reduce their emissions. I have posted a description of my views concerning the Chinese position on the blog “Concurring Opinions,” where I am serving as a guest blogger this month (June 13th post on http://www.concurringopinions.com/). The next informal negotiating session will be held in Bonn beginning on August 10.
During the last two months indigenous groups in Peru have been protesting government plans for development of the Amazon region. More than 30 people were killed the week before last as the Peruvian government sought to quell protesters who had blocked a road and an airport. Last Wednesday the Peruvian Congress suspended a law that made it easier to cut down trees in the Amazon rainforest, but the protest intensified on Thursday as the indigenous groups held a National Protest Day in at least a dozen Peruvian cities. The leadership of the government-dominated Congress suspended for three months seven indigenous members of Congress who had been supporting the protests and an indigneous community radio station reportedly has been shut down.
Last week Royal Dutch Shell agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle the Alien Tort Statute lawsuit brought against it for involvement with the Nigerian military in the 1995 execution of environmental activist Ken Saro-wiwa. The settlement was reached just as the trial was about to commence after thirteen years of litigation. I spoke with one of the lawyers who had worked on the case and she expressed considerable excitement about the settlement. Shell maintains that it had no involvement in the execution of Sara-wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders who had been protesting oil pollution in the Niger Delta. It describes the settlement as a “humanitarian gesture.”
On Friday the U.S. Congress enacted landmark legislation to give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products. The law is a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision nine years ago rejecting the agency’s conclusion that it could regulate such products because they are “drug delivery devices” to hook smokers on nicotine. This decision contrasted sharply with the Court’s normal deference to agency interpretations of ambiguous statutory provisions. The new law is not without its critics because several compromises were made to win broad support for the legislation, including from some tobacco companies. The FDA will not be allowed to raise the age at which it is legal to smoke (foreclosing the option of declaring a new generation off limits to the tobacco industry by raising the legal age for smoking by one year every year). It cannot ban nicotine entirely or remove menthol flavoring from cigarettes. But in general the legislation is a huge step toward regulating products that kill 400,000 people in the U.S. every year. An interesting news story would be to explore why the political fates of the tobacco and gun lobbies (two of the three members of the “Mod Squad” -- for “merchants of death” -- in Christopher Buckley’s marvelously funny novel “Thank You for Smoking”) have diverged so dramatically in recent years.
On Thursday I took Zhang Jingjing, one of China’s top public interest environmental lawyers, to see the Washington Nationals in a rare comeback win at home. While eating dinner on Capital Hill after the game, we ran into Senator (and 2004 Presidential candidate) John Kerry who spoke with us and posed for a picture with Jingjing. Jingjing, who has been in the U.S. as a Yale World Fellow this year, told Senator Kerry that she attended his recent hearing on climate change and that she understands how important it is that China control its GHG emissions.