Ma Jun Receives Prince Claus Award

Ma Jun Receives Prince Claus Award
Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun receives the Prince Claus Award at the Dutch Royal Palace in Amsterdam on Dec. 6, 2017

March 2013 Environmental Field Trip to Israel

March 2013 Environmental Field Trip to Israel
Maryland students vist Israel's first solar power plant in the Negev desert as part of a spring break field trip to study environmental issues in the Middle East

Workshop with All China Environment Federation

Workshop with All China Environment Federation
Participants in March 12 Workshop with All China Environment Federation in Beijing

Winners of Jordanian National Moot Court Competition

Winners of Jordanian National Moot Court Competition
Jordanian Justice Minister Aymen Odah presents trophy to Noura Saleh & Niveen Abdel Rahman from Al Al Bait University along with US AID Mission Director Jay Knott & ABA's Maha Shomali

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Diverse Reactions to the Copenhagen Conference

Ten days after the close of the Copenhagen Conference a lively debate continues concerning what was accomplished and what the next steps should be. Last week Yvo de Boer, the UN official who had been in charge of the talks, called for an end to “fingerpointing” and “recriminations” after British climate minister Ed Miliband blamed China for blocking greater progress at Copenhagen, sparking an angry response from Chinese officials.

Some law professors are debating the legal status the “Copenhagen Accord” negotiated by President Obama with the leaders of China, Brazil, India and South Africa in the closing moments of what was scheduled to be the last day of the conference. Should it be considered “soft law” or does the fact that the Conference of the Parties (COP) simply “noted” its existence, rather than formally adopting it, deprive it of any legal force, and does any of this even really matter at all? Does the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have sufficient authority from the COP to establish the financial mechanisms called for by the Accord including the Green Climate Fund and High Level Panel and to develop the transparency guidelines it promises? How many countries will submit emission reduction commitments to “fill in the blanks” in the Accord’s Appendices by January 31 and how strong will these commitments be?

The European press made much of the fact that market price of emissions allowances trading in the European Union (EUAs) dropped significantly following the close of the conference. While much of the global press portrayed Copenhagen as a failure, David Doniger, Policy Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate Center, hails the Copenhagen Accord as “a big step forward” ( Doniger responds in detail to the most prominent criticisms of the Accord (e.g., it won’t keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Centigrade, it doesn’t specify the emissions cuts, the commitments aren’t legally binding, it threatens the future of the UNFCCC, it won’t move the U.S. Senate). Some who were disappointed that more was not accomplished at Copenhagen disagree sharply with his assessment, but Doniger argues that the Accord achieved far more than had been expected while making a necessary end run around obstructionist countries that rendered the COP process ineffective. Crucially, he challenges the notion floated by industry opponents of U.S. climate legislation that there is no hope for Senate action, arguing that Copenhagen actually has made such action more likely.

The huge turnout of civil society groups at Copenhagen may have made it seem like a zoo at times, but it also fostered greater contact between NGOs from all over the world. Guest blogger Huang Jing from the China Youth Climate Action Network described the interactions between Chinese and U.S. youth as one of the most exciting aspects of her experience in Copenhagen. For more information see her guest blog post from December 24.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

China-US Youth Activities at Copenhagen Conference (Guest Blogger Huang Jing)

[Professor Percival's former student Huang Jing, who was in Copenhagen with the China Youth Action Climate Network,has contributed the following more detailed blog post about her activities at the recent Copenhagen Conference]

China-U.S. Youth Climate Change: Our Shared Future
On December 10th, from 7-10pm at the University of Copenhagen, about 40 Chinese youth and 60 U.S. youth hold a workshop on “Our Shared Future” in Copenhagen University. This workshop was an unprecedented meeting to discuss their individual journeys to the Copenhagen climate talks, create new relationships that transcend language and cultural differences, and pioneer a new generation of US-Chinese diplomacy built on shared trust and ambition. The main participants came from the most influential US and Chinese youth climate organizations, including the China Youth Climate Action Network, which unites hundreds of campuses and thousands of students across China, and SustainUS, which is leading the largest US youth delegation to the Copenhagen climate talks. After frank and honest conversation on their road to Copenhagen and the climate strategy for the shared future, the young people from the two biggest emitters built mutual trust and would like to explore their ambitions together in the future.

Following this workshop, a joint press conference featuring youth of the two respective countries was held December 14 at 4:00pm in Asger Jorn press conference room of Bella Center. Youth representatives from the United States and China discussed their experiences from the joint meeting and shared plans to continue the development of a relationship based on mutual trust and cooperation in transitioning towards a prosperous and sustainable future for both countries. By joining together, Chinese and United States youth are leading in a way that their elected officials have not been able to.

Every day, about 15,000 people flooded into Bella Center, including governmental representatives, UN staffs, press and media, NGO delegators. The China Youths are 30 among the 15,000. During the COP 15, the first Chinese Youth delegation launched various campaigns to help the world hear their voice.

Campaign One: Green China
On the opening day of COP 15, the Chinese youth delegation, together with Chinese entrepreneurs, also members of Society Entrepreneur Ecology (SEE) and Shanshui Conservation Center, launched the Green China initiative campaign. Jointly they made a promise to build a green China. Chinese youth will do their best to influence the other 400 million Chinese youth to promote climate change actions. We drew considerable attention from much of the news media, including the BBC, Beijing TV station, etc. It was a great presence.

Campaign Two: Traditional Chinese Medical Diagnoses on Climate Change
We held our second major campaign on the 3rd day of COP15 in the Bella Centre: the traditional Chinese Medicine diagnoses on climate change. Our inspiration came from the philosophy behind Chinese medicine - the diagnosis of a whole body as a system. We seek to view the whole world as one system, and work together to combat climate change. Also Chinese medicine is a long-term cure that promotes the enhancement of overall wellness rather than a quick fix.

So we set up a stand decorated as the traditional Chinese Medicine doctor stand and designed a two-meter high thermometer. At every hour, the temperature was raised one degree Celsius, and one living creature (we had our team members dressed up as pandas, monkeys, elephants etc. ) perished and had to be taken away by the devil. We also gave a diagnosed prescription that addressed issues and actions regarding climate change to each 'patient'. We sincerely hope our participants can take actions NOW before it is too late.

Campaign Three: Join in the March, Because There is 'No Planet B'
Dec. 12th was the Global Climate Action Day in Copenhagen. Thousands of similar activities were held worldwide to echo the same message. About 100,000 environmental activists representing 515 environmental NGOs from 67 countries descended on downtown Copenhagen to call for "climate justice".

This was the first time the China youth delegation became part of the people, holding a banner and shouting slogans. We, together with the other demonstrators, hoped to wake up people’s awareness on climate change issues. Every bit of public education can contribute to promoting fundamental changes in society. Ordinary people must change their lifestyles for the planet because there is “No Planet B”.

Due to limitations on the entrance of NGOs into Bella Center, we had to cancel some planned activities in the second week of COP 15. For example, we were supposed to have our “wish tree” campaign, inviting people to write up their climate wishes and put it up in the tree on Dec. 16th, the last day NGOs could get into Bella Center. But people could no longer be satisfied with this type of mild and even poetic way of expressing ourselves on that day. However, we tried our best, and we have no regrets.
[Photos of Huang Jing's group in Copenhagen are posted at: Click on "Huang Jing" at the top of the welcoming page].

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Copenhagen Accord (by Bob Percival)

The Copenhagen conference has now concluded, after extending past its anticipated closing on Friday night into mid-afternoon on Saturday. A total of 193 countries and 119 heads of state participated in the conference, including President Obama who made the most of his brief time in Copenhagen by inserting himself into a meeting with the leaders of China, Brazil, India and South Africa. The result was what has been dubbed “The Copenhagen Accord,” an agreement between the U.S. and leaders of these rapidly developing countries that was applauded by most, but not all of the other countries. In the face of objections from Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and other countries, the Conference of the Parties simply “noted” the Copenhagen Accord, rather than adopting it.

On Saturday I was interviewed by a Chinese reporter who asked for my reactions to what happened at the Copenhagen conference. This is how I responded:

“I think the Copenhagen conference reflected changing global political realities.  China, Brazil and India are now vitally important because of their rapidly growing economies.  Their interests no longer are entirely congruent with the rest of the G-77 developing countries.  President Obama's direct negotiations with their leaders on the final evening of the conference reflected these realities and produced a result - the Copenhagen Accord.

The final deal is not surprising in light of the diminished expectations that prevailed before the conference due to the lack of progress toward a legally binding deal at the various meetings that took place over the past year.  The conference did serve to smoke out more details on what important countries are willing to do, tempered by domestic political realities. 

Perhaps the best that can be said is that the conference was not a failure.  Virtually all 193 nations agreed that climate change represents a global crisis that demands fundamental changes in the world's energy infrastructure.  The failure to produce a legally binding document mandating these changes reflects another global political reality - international law is moving away from multilateral consensus agreements due to the lack of a global enforcement infrastructure.  What is developing instead is a kind of "global law" where countries borrow law from one another and a few principal approaches to common problems emerge.

Everyone understands the inadequacy of the commitments that were announced in Copenhagen.  This understanding itself is a positive development even if the failure to achieve more dramatic emission reduction commitments was disappointing.  As the damaging effects of climate change become more visible in coming years, domestic political support for more dramatic action is likely to grow in many countries.  It will not be a legally-binding, international treaty that stimulates the shift to an alternative global energy infrastructure, but rather the growing realization that it is in every country's interest to mandate such action.”

A copy of the Copenhagen Accord is available online at:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Climate of Change Observations (Guest Post from Copenhagen by Elizabeth Burleson)

The peacefully permitted protest scheduled to start at Taarnby Station and walk to the Bella Center had yet to impact ingress and egress to the proceedings when I reached the Bella Center by 7:30 this morning. I was able to go right in. Many country delegates spent the night in the center as negotiations went around the clock. The RINGOS (Research and Independent Non-governmental Organizations) quickly filled a large conference room to negotiate the distribution of remaining passes into the conference. Process rather than substantive treaty language has consumed many delegation’s time and energy. The RINGOS gave passes out to those who had been attending RINGO meetings.

I find myself saddened by the development of civil society splintering into RINGOS, BINGOS, ENGOS, etc. Scarce resources certainly lead to conflict, be it access to a seat at the negotiating table or to adequate water, energy, and stable climate. By mid morning a coalition of delegates within the Bella Center marched outside in solidarity with the 4000 individuals gathered at the gate seeking participation in the proceedings.

As a National Wildlife Federation Delegate, I joined the Climate Action Network (CAN) REDD meeting to assess the latest Cop Decision text on forestry. We agreed upon general recommendations regarding remaining bracketed language that should be removed from the text and discussed who could share these recommendations on the ministerial level. I was able to do so with Senator Kerry. His speech raised spirits and set a progressive tone. I also thought highly of the UN panel discussion on climate displacement and the CAN panel discussion on US energy policy, an issue that has involved greater political bipartisanship of late than climate legislative efforts.

Passing members of the press who were editing footage of the morning's demonstrations on their laptops was sobering. Delegates tried to keep each other informed as to what was occurring outside. Public transport to and from the Bella Center was suspended for part of the day as demonstrations in the City Center and outside the Bella Center sought to impact the proceedings. The deliberative process at the ministerial level inched along, weighed down by domestic political realities of respective representatives.

IUCN held a reception and dinner in the elephant house of the Copenhagen Zoo - symbolic on several levels. An old legend tells of five blind men who come upon an elephant. Touching it's side, the first concluded that an elephant is like a wall. Feeling it's tusk, the second decided that an elephant is like a spear. Grasping it's trunk, the third insisted that an elephant is like a snake while the fourth felt the Elephant's leg and knew that an elephant is like a tree. The fifth man held the elephant's tail and said that an elephant is like a rope.

The lesson that I take away from this timeless story is that collective understanding can transcend confusion and can facilitate cooperation.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Observations from COP-15 (by Guest Blogger Elizabeth Burleson)

[Elizabeth Burleson is an environmental law professor from the University of South Dakota School of Law. For more information about her go to and click on "Burleson" on the opening page.]

I hit the decks running at Cop 15 heading into meetings with no sleep straight from the airport. The World Resource Institute provided an excellent framework for the finance debate between creating new institutions to distribute resources versus employing existing international institutions. Former US Congressman Dick Ottinger and I followed this with a lunch and briefing by the Climate and Energy Funders Group. Together with the Climate Action Network, delegates from a number of foundations (ranging from Rockefeller to Doris Duke) pooled collective understanding on how to effectively finance climate mitigation, adaptation, and innovation collaboration on environmentally sound technology. Forest Day events gathered stakeholders and decision-makers on REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries). I met with a diverse range of United Nations representatives, scientists, economists, academics, and civil society non-governmental delegates. I found this forum to be an incubator of transnational cooperation. Dinner with the Climate and Energy Funders Group led to several great conversations on implementing the Bali Action Plan (1. Mitigation, 2. Adaptation, 3. Technology Transfer and 4. Financing). Having walked roughly 10 miles and stayed up until 2 am to respond to my delegation listserv and an array of Cop email, I felt in a daze arriving at the Bella Center before dawn. It was worth it however for the 20 minute wait to clear security as the lines left many delegates waiting in freezing temperatures for hours. My National Wildlife Federation delegation reported that many left when tensions grew. On the inside of the Bella Center, delegates rushed to find 8 am briefing meetings. A Chinese youth delegate happily shared his perspective on the proceedings to date. Helping the United Nations Environmental Program with their booth and side event materials on adaptation, I had the chance to talk one on one with over 50 country delegates, NGO representatives, and a general cross section of Cop 15 participants.

As a USD law professor teaching and researching climate, water, energy, and good governance, I brainstormed with graduate students that approached the UNEP booth interested in pursuing careers that encompassed climate. They shared their observations on the impact that civil society was having on the international climate proceedings and on the cooperation occurring between public private players. I shared my UN involvement from pre-Rio through Copenhagen including findings as a co-author of a UNEP book entitled GREENING WATER LAW. United Nations observers shared their understanding of Cop developments and coordinated joint side event logistics on core themes. My favorite meeting of the day involved UNEP representatives and several scientists strategizing on environmentally sound battery technology options for the future. Many country delegates stopped by for UNEP materials and to debrief after the Monday interruption of proceedings. I spoke with at least 10 African country delegations regarding their hopes for renewed consensus building.

I helped the National Wildlife Federation put on a side event on Amazonian Forestry issues, coordinating participation by a Brazilian governor (who navigated the long lines into the conference just in time for the presentation). As part of the National Wildlife delegation, Larry was able to obtain entrance into Al Gore’s organization’s new film “Climate of Change.” Gore personally gave an inspiring introduction to the film. Having worked with him at COP IV to the Rio Conference in 1992, I was heartened to see him at the core of bringing civil society into meaningful participation with international decision-makers. We stand at a cross-roads. As a UNICEF delegate to the Bali Climate Conference, I had a heightened sense of the urgency of agreeing upon a shared vision in an inclusive process. Good governance encompasses transparency, representation, and public participation. Efficiency and Equity can both be achieved here in Copenhagen with the requisite trust and political will.

In the mid afternoon on Monday Dec. 14, I witnessed the central hall of the Bella Center become the venue for a blue rain poncho clad intervention by civil society supporting Africa. Roughly 60 people began yelling “We stand with Africa, Kyoto Targets Now.” They held signs that reiterated these statements and were soon surrounded by cameras as the entire hall filled with thousands of participants stopped to take note. It remained orderly and did not take on the level of tension of the participants unable to enter the Bella Center. Yet, many NGO delegates were critical of the handling of public participation. Up to 100,000 individuals marched on Saturday in support of international cooperation on climate change. Amnesty International condemned leaving people bound for 4 hours forced to sit on city streets in freezing temperatures, arresting nearly 1000 and then releasing all but a handful). The general sense was that responding to a few brick throwers should not risk the safety and civil rights of civil society at large. Many delegates are now torn between trying to attend Bella Center proceedings and risking unrest as rumors circulate that protests might hinder access at the venue. All non-governmental delegations have been required to reduce their delegations by two thirds. Some delegations are coordinating via Skype meetings while others are shifting their focus to Klimaforum09 events.

As I write on Tuesday Dec. 15th, I am able to watch snow flurries swirling around Tivoli’s roller coaster rides, while helicopters circle above. I can hear people yelling and sirens calling. Local warning systems are needed the world over to provide accurate advice for people on the streets as natural or political events unfold. I am suppressing a foreboding, as someone who could watch the smoke from the towers on 9/11 and listen to days of hovering helicopters. I remain optimistic that light will shine through these short days in Copenhagen and together the international community will find peaceful middle ground that effectively responds to our collective climate change challenge.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jordan Trip, Copenhagen Conference (by Bob Percival)

I returned to the United States on Saturday after spending a productive and enjoyable week in Jordan. The purpose of my trip was to assist in developing an environmental law curriculum for Jordanian law schools. At present only two environmental law courses are being taught in Jordan - an introductory environmental law course at Yarmouk University and an international environmental law course at Amman University -- and there are few course materials on the subject available in Arabic. In order to help jump start the teaching of environmental law, it has been decided that an environmental law problem will be the subject for the annual Jordanian National Law School Moot Court competition. The competition has become extremely popular among the Jordanian law schools and competition is fierce. On Monday afternoon I met with law professors from seven Jordanian law schools who responded positively to the idea of using an environmental topic for the 2010 competition after three consecutive years of using commercial law topics.

On Monday morning we attended the opening session of an Environmental Litigation Training Workshop that U.S. EPA was conducting for Jordanian judges. I spoke briefly with EPA Chief Administrative Law Judge Susan Biro, James McDonald, director of management for EPA’s Office of Administrative Law Judges, and Timothy Epp, counsel to EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board. Adnan Zawahreh, director of the inspectorate for Jordan's Ministry of Environment showed a video of himself uncovering a secret pipe that had been concealed underneath another pipeline in order to hide pollution violations. After being caught red handed the company needed two more warnings before agreeing to come into compliance. Mr. Adnan explained the importance of using videos to document environmental violations.

On Tuesday morning December 8 I met with Yehya Khaled, Director General of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), and Chris Johnson, director of Wild Jordan, at the RSCN offices in Amman. Their groups are NGOs who have been given responsibility by the Jordanian government for managing the country's six protected areas. They discussed the difficulties of enforcing the country's relatively good laws governing protected areas and local resistance to land use planning regulations. Wild Jordan, which is a subsidiary of the RSCN, emphasizes the importance of melding environmental protection efforts with the economic needs of local communities, something they are doing by promoting eco-tourism. RSCN and Wild Jordan are starting their own school that will be used to train the Royal Rangers, the country's environmental police, and they plan to locate it in an abandoned quarry.

On Tuesday morning I also visited the University of Jordan where I met George Hazboun, the dean of the law school, and several other law professors. I then had lunch at the Hotel Intercontinental with Jordanian Justice Minister Ayman Oodeh, Minister of Environment Khaled Irani, Lawrence Mandel, Deputy Chief of Mission for the U.S. Embassy, and officials from U.S. AID. Comparing notes on environmental disputes in the U.S. and Jordan, I mentioned the Stop the Beach litigation that was just argued in the U.S. Supreme Court. It turns out that Jordan has a slightly different issue concerning the shrinking Dead Sea where structures initially built near the water are now located far away from the water’s edge.

On Wednesday I gave a lecture on environmental law at Yarmouk University in the town of Irbid, Jordan, near the Syrian border. The university has 32,000 students with more than 700 students in the law school. Law school dean Ayman Masadeh remembered me from his visit to the University of Maryland School of Law last spring. Yarmouk is the only school trying to teach introductory environmental law and the professor who is doing so, who is from Iraqi, discussed whether the U.S. military could be held liable for environmental damage in his home country.

On Wednesday night I had dinner with the group of judges who are on the board of the Arab Council for Judicial Legal Studies. These included the president of Lebanon's appellate court, a Supreme Court Justice from the Palestinian Territories, and judges from Morocco and Algeria. I learned that King Abdullah had fired the Jordanian prime minister and dissolved the cabinet so that both the Environment Minister and Justice Minister I had lunch with the day before were no longer in office, at least temporarily, until a new cabinet is formed.

On Thursday morning December 10 I gave a lecture on environmental law at Philadelphia University, a private university with 6,000 students located in the town of Ayn al Basha al Badida. Following the lecture there was a spirited question and answer session that included a question by a student who asked whether the U.S. military could be held liable for environmental damage in Iraq. I showed brief clips of some of the most recent environmental law films my students at Maryland had made and one of the professors indicated that he would be interested in having his students experiment with making environmental films. The Jordanian Ministry of the Environment is planning to host a film competition next year that will include a category for student films.

On Thursday afternoon I made a presentation on “The Emergence of Global Environmental Law” to a small but select audience of lawyers at the King Hussein Club in downtown Amman. The group included Judge Abdullah, the Jordanian judge most interested in environmental law, and Adnan Zawahreh, director of the inspectorate for Jordan's Ministry of Environment. After my presentation we had a really wide ranging discussion of developments in environmental law in different parts of the world. The audience seemed particularly interested in my experience in China.

Photos of my trip to Jordan are available online at:

Meanwhile the Copenhagen conference continues. For guest blog reports from some of my friends who are attending the conference, go to and click on “Huang Jing” and “Miller” at the top of the opening page.

Guest Blog Post from Copenhagen Conference from Huang Jing (China Youth Climate Action Network)

December 13, 2009: Two months ago, I learned from the CYCAN (China Youth Climate Action Network) website that Chinese Youth would form a delegation to go to Copenhagen to attend the COP-15. I got very excited about this precious opportunity.
In the next two months, I applied for the selection process, got interviewed by the selection committee, attended a training workshop by Chinese experts, participated in the preliminary group meetings, and made fundraising efforts for the group with my teammate.
Finally, we successfully formed the 1st Chinese Youth Delegation which contains 40 young Chinese leaders. We represent a nation that makes up one-fifth of humanity, and a youth population of 400 million people. Our main missions are to represent China’s Youth Commitment to a Low Carbon Future and to set a precedent of Chinese Youth engagement on important international issues. To this end, we plan to organize various campaigns with one theme called “no other way but now”. We also set up our own blogs, the Chinese blog can be viewed at and the English blog is located at . You can also see the small bilingual bios of each member of our delegation from this link
In the following two weeks, we have divided into three teams to conduct our activities: a policy team, a communications team and a campaign team. The policy team will focus on the negotiations in COP-15. The communications team is responsible for contact with international and domestic media while the campaign team will launch many interesting youth campaign activities both inside and outside the Bella Center.
There is No Other Way but act NOW!

[For more photos of Huang Jing in Copenhagen go to and click on "Huang Jing" at the top of the opening page.]

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Copenhagen Conference Guest Blog by Alan Miller

Here is the first guest blog post from the Copenhagen climate negotiations from guest blogger Alan Miller, principal climate change specialist for the Environment Department of the International Finance Corporation. For more information on Alan Miller go to and click on "Miller" at the top of the welcoming page.

Thurs. Dec. 11: Observations from the Copenhagen Climate Negotiations (COP15) (by Alan Miller)

For an old climate hand – my experience in climate negotiations goes back before the Rio Conference to early “90s – I tend to think I’ve seen it all. The Copenhagen meetings have upped the ante in several ways. The sheer numbers are daunting, an estimated 20,000 registered delegates, observers, and media from over 150 countries. The logistics of entry every morning resemble a crowded airport as we all descend on the dozen or so security lines. Inside a small town awaits, with cafes (open faced sandwiches appealing), dozens of exhibits, colorful attire from traditional garbs of developing countries, and hundreds of NGOs and special interest organizations from every perspective – religious, gender, youth, indigenous peoples, and justice. Some groups are clearly here for the first time -- for example, a Chinese business organization – and are understandably overwhelmed and confused by the experience. As an American it’s great to see the U.S. with a strong presence including a small theater where the EPA Administrator and many other federal officials give presentations every afternoon.

One of the most enjoyable features of the conference is the presence of large numbers of energetic teenagers sponsored by Greenpeace and other organizations. Some wonder around in green paint and space alien attire asking random passers-by to “take me to your climate leader”. Others appeared in pajamas with pillows and sang “Give Peace a Chance” on the anniversary of the “sleep-in” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

The Danish organizers have done an impressive job in managing the crowds but also maintaining an environmental ethos. Recycling bins are everywhere. All delegates get free public transportation and have access to free bicycles for commuting (the conference site is several miles from the city center but next to a metro stop). Climate-change related art and culture events dot the town, from concerts (the Back Street Boys) to 8 meter cubes representing the volume taken by a ton of carbon dioxide.

Of course the main event – almost hidden in the noise – are the negotiations themselves. A sense of optimism pervades the halls based on next week’s arrival of an expected 110+ heads of state. President Obama’s appearance alone generates great expectations, something we associate with American politics but which turns out to be equally true of people from most of the world. The first week is dominated by career negotiators and more mundane matters, refining texts that have been under negotiation for the two years since the Bali Action Plan was adopted, removing brackets and consolidating competing options. One trend that continues to evolve is the seeming disintegration of the G77 and China, the bloc of developing countries who have traditionally negotiated as one. At the November climate meetings in Barcelona, the African countries walked out, halting negotiations for almost a day. This time it’s the small island states demanding discussion of more aggressive goals and threatening to disrupt the process.

As of today (Thursday morning) it doesn’t seem possible it can all come together in a week’s time. Yet I left yesterday with a strongly positive hearing after sitting at a small briefing for international organizations by Yvo de Boer, the Convention Executive Secretary. As he told us, heads of state “don’t come together to commiserate, only to celebrate”. Am hoping he’s proven correct.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Jordan Trip, Stop the Beach Argument, Thai Decision, Bhopal Anniversary, India Climate Plan & Copenhagen

I arrived in Amman, Jordan early this morning to assist the ABA’s Rule of Law Initiative in the development of environmental law courses for Jordanian law schools. This afternoon I met with Jordan’s Minister of Environment Khaled Irani in his office at the Ministry of Environment. Environmental law is developing rapidly in Jordan as illustrated by the fact that the Ministry of Environment now is responsible for administering 19 laws, including many that initially were not considered environmental laws. However, penalties for environmental violations remain very low and often do not recoup the economic benefit of noncompliance. Following the meeting with Minister Irani, I went to the Palace of Justice where I met with Judge Abdullah Abu Ghanem, the Jordanian judge who is most interested in developing environmental law training programs for the judiciary. With his assistance, officials from U.S. EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board and Office of Administrative Law Judges will start a three-day environmental law training course here tomorrow for Jordanian judges.

On Monday November 30 my Environmental Law class debuted this year’s group of environmental law films. A total of 13 films were produced by the students, the most ever. On Wednesday December 2 the class concluded the semester by going on a field trip to the U.S. Supreme Court to watch the oral argument in a fascinating property rights case challenging Florida’s efforts to protect eroding coastline. The case of Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Department of Environmental Conservation involves a challenge to a Florida Supreme Court decision upholding a Florida law designed to facilitate state efforts to prevent beach erosion. A tiny group of property owners are arguing that the Florida court committed a “judicial taking” by abruptly reinterpreting Florida common law to not require the property line of owners of beachfront property always to extend to the water. Under the law the state acquires ownership of new land created by the state-funded replenishment program seaward of the prior property. Because he owns Florida beachfront property, Justice Stevens recused himself from the case and did not participate in the oral argument, raising the possibility that the decision below could be affirmed by an equally divided U.S. Supreme Court.

On Wednesday the Supreme Court of Thailand largely upheld an injunction that had been issued in September to stop construction of $12 billion worth of petrochemical and power projects for failure to perform full-blown environmental impact assessments. The court ruled that work on 65 of 76 projects planned for the Map Ta Phut industrial park near Bangkok had to be suspended pending the completion of adequate environmental impact reports. The court based its decision on a provision added to the Thai constitution in 2007 that subjects industrial development projects to environmental and health studies.

Thursday marked the 25th anniversary of the deadly chemical leak at a Unon Carbide plant in Bhopal, India that quickly killed thousands of nearby residents while permanently maiming tens of thousands. Tragically, the site has not been cleaned up and many continue to be exposed to chemical contamination there. After lawsuits filed against Union Carbide in the U.S. were dismissed, the company settled with the government of India for only $470 million, leaving survivors of the dead with an average compensation payment of $2,200 per victim. See Suketu Mehta, A Cloud Still Hangs Over Bhopal, N.Y. Times, Dec. 3, 2009, at A33 (

With the start of the Copenhagen conference approaching, the Australian Senate narrowly defeated a compromise plan to create a cap-and-trade program to control the country’s emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). India announced that while it would continue to oppose any binding limits on its GHG emissions, it would seek to reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 20 to 25% by the year 2020 compared with 2005 levels. The Indian government said it would propose legislation to impose fuel efficiency standards on all vehicles by December 2011 while urging lower levels of government to adopt green building codes. On Tuesday December 1 the Financial Times reported that Chinese wind farm projects have been suspended from receiving Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) grants while an investigation is undertaken to determine if the projects will result in genuine reductions in carbon emissions. Kathrin Hille, Geoff Dyer & Fiona Harvey, UN Halts Funds to China Wind Farms, Financial Times, Dec. 1, 2009 ( China has received nearly half of all CDM credits issued worldwide to date.

While I will not be among the 15,000 people attending the Copenhagen conference, I have arranged for four friends who will be there to serve as guest bloggers. They should present a diverse set of perspectives on the events taking place there. The four are: environmental law professor Betsy Burleson from the University of South Dakota, my former student Huang Jing from Beijing who will be attending as part of the China Youth Action Network, Alan Miller, principal climate change specialist in the Environment Department of the International FInance Corporation (, and my former student Yvette Pena-Lopes who is Legislative Affairs Director of the Blue-Green Alliance.