I wish everyone a happy new year. Looking back over the past year, I have thought about the top developments in global environmental law that I have blogged about over the past year. First would be the Copenhagen Conference, the preparations for which dominated much of the global environmental news throughout the year. The conference did not meet initial expectations, but it was not the disaster that opponents of controls on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would like to think. It highlighted emerging divisions among developing countries and the rising influence of China, India and Brazil. Other important developments in global environmental law in 2009, in no particular order, include: the environment being on the losing end of all five environmental decisions issued by the U.S. Supreme Court during its Term ending in June 2009, successful settlements of multinational tort litigation in the Saro-wiwa and Trafigura cases, Chevron’s efforts to forestall a large judgment against it for environmental contamination in Ecuador, and President Obama’s inauguration and the substantial changes it produced in U.S. environmental policy (including House passage of cap-and-trade legislation, tightened national fuel economy standards, and EPA’s endangerment finding for greenhouse gas emissions). Here’s hoping 2010 will be a good year for the environment.
Right now I am in Paris with my wife to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary on Tuesday in one of our favorite cities in the world. Last week France’s Constitutional Council struck down the country’s carbon tax, which was due to go into effect on January 1. The tax, which had been championed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government, was invalidated on the grounds that it violated the equality principle because too many sources of carbon emissions were exempted. The tax was expected to raise 1.5 billion Euros for the French government in 2010. President Sarkozy responded to the court’s decision by pledging to amend the carbon tax to satisfy the court’s concerns. He is is expected to unveil his proposal to the cabinet on January 20. It is likely that the amended carbon tax will not have as many exemptions, which may generate more opposition to it.
The dawn of the new year featured the closing of the Ignalina nuclear powerplant in Lithuania. The closure of the plant was a condition imposed in for the country’s entry into the European Union in 2004 because the plant used a dangerous design similar to the reactor involved in the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Many Lithuanians were distressed by the reactor’s closing because it leaves the country temporarily more dependent on energy imports from Russia. The Lithuanian government, in partnership with Estonia, Latvia and Poland, is planning to construct a new nuclear power plant at Ignalina using a modern design, but it will be many years before the plant is online because the construction contract has not yet been signed.
Pope Benedict XVI welcomed the new year by emphasizing the importance of environmental protection to the prevention of global conflict in his message celebrating New Year’s Day as the World Day of Peace. The pope’s message “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation” (available at: http://pinoygreenacademy.typepad.com/pinoy_green_academy/2010/01/green-new-year-message-by-pope-benedict-xvi.html) echoed the famous “Peace with All of Creation” message issued twenty years previously by His Holiness Pope John Paul II.