On Friday Juan Nuñez, the Ecuadoran judge presiding over the trial of the long-running lawsuit against Chevron for oil contamination of the Oriente region, recused himself from the case after Chevron released video that the company claimed showed the judge was committed to ruling against the oil company. In the video, which was posted on Chevron’s website, the judge reportedly refuses to reveal the verdict several times, but then responds “yes, sir” to a question Chevron claims was an inquiry as to whether Chevron will lose the lawsuit. There also reportedly is a discussion of how remediation funds Chevron would be ordered to pay will be spent and a suggestion that some could be used to pay off government officials. The video was covertly filmed by an Ecuadoran former contractor for Chevron who the oil company claims was acting entirely independently. While the judge claimed the video had been doctored and denied that he had prejudged the case, he was asked to recuse himself by Washington Pezantes, the attorney general of Ecuador. The quick recusal suggests that the Ecuadoran judiciary appreciates the importance of the case and the likely battle that would follow efforts to enforce any judgment against Chevron in the U.S. courts. Judge Nicolás Zambrano will now preside over the case, which is being heard in Lago Agrio, Ecuador.
Debate continued over what role China and India should play in the post-Kyoto climate treaty expected to be signed in Copenhagen in December. On Wednesday the government of India released a report projecting that India’s emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) could quadruple over the next 20 years. But India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh emphasized that on a per capita basis India’s emissions will remain below the per capita emissions of developed countries. Five independent studies released by the government project that India’s emissions will rise from 1.4 billion tons in 2008 to between 4 billion and 7.3 billion tons in 2031. The country’s per capita emissions were forecast to rise to between 2.77 and nearly 5 tons per capita compared to a global average of 4.22 tons per capita in 2005. James Lamont, Amy Kazmin & Fiona Harvey, India’s Growth Set to Quadruple CO2 Emissions, FInancial Times, Sept. 2, 2009. The UK’s climate change minister Ed Miliband visited New Dehli last week to discuss the Copenhagen negotiations with Indian government officials. Last week Chinese economists released a study concluding that it would cost China $438 billion annually to reduce the country’s GHG emissions beginning in 2030. Kathrin Hille& Fiona Harvey, China’s High Price for Emissions Cuts, Financial Times, Sept. 2, 2009, at 4.
As pre-Copenhagen negotiations continue, efforts to promote the development of new, climate-friendly energy technologies expand. On Tuesday the U.S. government announced the award of $502 million in grants for a dozen wind and solar energy projects. More than half of the grant money went to Iberdrola SA, a Spanish wind power company, for five such projects. Spain became a global leader in solar power in 2008 through aggressive government subsides that have now been scaled back dramatically. As a result of the cutback in subsidies Spain’s installed solar capacity actually is projected to decline this year. On Friday Vice President Biden announced the first ever federal loan guarantee for a renewable energy project, a $535 million loan to Solyndra, Inc. for a solar panel factory to be built in Fremont, California, a town hit hard by the closing of an auto plant there earlier this year. Chinese automaker BYD announced last Monday that it would start selling its all-electric e6 sedan in the U.S. next year, a year ahead of schedule. American investor Warren Buffet , who owns a 10 percent stake in BYD, is said to be considering expansion of his investment in the company. Norway announced that it will shift the investment strategy of its $400 billion sovereign wealth fund, the world’s second largest, to encourage more investment in technologies to reduce GHG emissions in the developing world. The fund revealed that it has invested $1.2 billion in clean energy companies in India, which it described as just the start.
On Tuesday September 1 the European Union’s program to phase out use of incandescent light bulbs began when a ban on retailers buying or importing most such bulbs took effect. While stores can sell their remaining stocks of incandescent bulbs, when those stocks are exhausted consumers will have to buy more efficient compact fluorescent bulbs that generally use 80 percent less energy. A similar ban will go into effect in the U.S. in 2012 and opponents already are trying to stir up public opposition by arguing that fluorescent light is of poorer quality, the bulbs cost more and are more dangerous when broken.
Last Monday I submitted an abstract of the paper I am coauthoring with Zhang Jingjing for presentation at the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law annual colloquium in Wuhan, China in November. The paper will explore why environmental law has not been more successful in compensating victims of environmental harm despite several efforts to overcome the common law’s “causation conundrum.” Jingjing, who formerly was a top public interest environmental litigator for the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV) in Beijing, is now China country director for the Public Interest Law Institute (PILI). On Thursday morning I participated in a 90-minute conference call for members of the IUCN Academy’s governance committee. The other committee members were located in South Africa, Australia and Canada, but using Skype we were able to converse over the internet for free with only an occasional dropped connection.