Last week was International Law Week at the University of Maryland. The week’s activities culminated in a conference on “Multilateralism and Global Law” sponsored by Maryland’s International & Comparative Law Program. On Thursday October 24, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright delivered the keynote address on “The Role of Law in World Affairs - 2009” to an audience of more than 300 people in Westminster Hall. Secretary Albright gave a terrific presentation reflecting on the significant changes that have occurred in the international law field as a result of globalization. Following her talk, Secretary Albright responded candidly to several questions about global diplomacy. When asked about the prospects for a new global agreement to control greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions at the Copenhagen Conference, she was not optimistic. She noted that she had always thought that the Kyoto Protocol came too late in the Clinton Administration in which she had served and she observed that the Copenhagen Conference may be occurring too early in the Obama Administration. After her address, the Secretary joined a small group of faculty and students for a dinner that I attended.
On Friday October 25 the conference continued with a panel on “Global Environmental Law.” I participated in the panel which also featured Professor Hari Osofsky from Washington and Lee University School of Law and Professor Jutta Brunée from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. I explored why standards of liability for environmental harm have been one of the least well-developed areas of global environmental law. Hari spoke about how developments at different levels of government are influencing the development of global law and Jutta explored how different nations are interpreting the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”.
Professor Jeff Dunoff from Temple gave a terrific lunchtime presentation in which he contrasted three emerging approaches to global law - constitutionalism, global administrative law, and legal pluralism. Jacob Werksman, Director of the Institutions and Governance Program at the World Resources Institute, spoke on the concluding panel of the conference on “The Future of Global Legal Regulation.” Jake has been involved in advising the Danish government on the Copenhagen conference. He noted that in pre-Copenhagen negotiations the U.S. has been arguing that it is more important to have a “bottom-up” approach in which individual countries first develop their own legal mechanisms for controlling GHG emissions rather than pursuing the “top-down” model of the Kyoto Protocol where global commitments are made first and each country then must decide how to fulfill them. Papers prepared for the conference will be published in the Maryland Journal of International Law.
With the Copenhagen conference rapidly approaching, a flurry of pre-conference activity is occurring around the world. The Major Economies Forum (dubbed by environmentalists the “Major Emitters Forum because it included the world’s 17 largest economies) concluded in London with little consensus over levels of financial assistance to provide developing countries to help them reduce their GHG emissions. A conference in Beijing co-sponsored by the Brooking Institution and the China Institute of Strategy and Management on Wednesday and Thursday explored opportunities for greater collaboration by the two countries in developing low-carbon energy technologies.
Last week the Nigerian government proposed to give communities in the oil-rich Niger Delta a 10 percent stake in the national oil company’s holdings in joint ventures to develop oil in that area. The government is proposing to set up a trust fund that can distribute revenues directly to the communities to respond to long-standing complaints that they do not benefit from oil development that has caused substantial pollution in the Delta. The Nigerian government is trying to end civil unrest in the region that has generated attacks on oil facilities in the Delta, cutting production as much as 40 percent recently. Residents of the Delta live in abject poverty and suffer health problems exacerbated by their exposure to natural gas flares from oil production facilities. Only Russia flares more gas than Nigeria, which accounts for 10 percent of the world’s total, adding 40 million tons of GHG emissions to the global total. Many details of the government’s proposal remain to be worked out, but it was hailed as a promising breakthrough (“A Hope for Nigeria,” Financial Times, October 19, 2009) that might generate as much as $330 million annually for the communities.
Last Monday the National Academy of Sciences released an report on the “Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use”. The report estimated that damages to human health from air pollution caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels may run as high as $120 billion annually in the United States. The report, which was commissioned by Congress, does not include quantitative estimates of the damage caused by climate change or the effects of pollutants such as mercury, but it demonstrates the huge hidden costs of coal and oil use. A copy of the report is available online at: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12794