On Monday February 15 I spent the day at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland where I gave a lunchtime talk and had meetings with WHO officials. In my talk on “How Safe Is ‘Safe’? The Emerging Global Law of Environmental Health Protection” I reviewed the history of environmental risk regulation and new developments that are occurring as global environmental law continues to evolve. WHO officials, who have played a major role in improving public health on the planet, appreciate the importance of environmental regulation as a means for preventing harm to public health. In the meetings that I held with them following my talk we discussed some exciting new ways in which we can build more bridges between the environmental law and public health communities. I am grateful for the opportunity to visit WHO and I look forward to a very fruitful collaboration with them.
Students in my Global Environmental Law seminar have been busy this semester. They have just completed 50 new country profiles that have been added to my parallel website at www.globalenvironmentallaw.com. As a result we now have capsule descriptions of the state of environmental law in 112 countries: 28 in Africa, 27 in Europe, 15 in North America and Central America, 13 in Asia, 12 in the Middle East, 11 in South America, and 6 in Oceania.
President Obama this week announced the approval of federal loan guarantees to help finance the develop of two new nuclear powerplants in the U.S. His speech endorsing a revival of the U.S. nuclear power industry as a source of carbon-free energy was seen as an effort to reach out to Senate skeptics of cap-and-trade legislation who support an expansion of the nuclear industry. These include Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina who has come under fire in his own party for expressing an open mind on the need to control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Efforts to expand nuclear power should put more pressure on the administration to come up with a new plan to dispose of high-level radioactive waste after it seemingly has pulled the plug on the Yucca Mountain repository.
This week three prominent companies withdrew from the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a group of businesses and environmental groups that had endorsed legislation to control GHG emissions. The three include the American arm of the British oil company BP PLC, ConocoPhillips, and Caterpillar. The companies stated that their withdrawal from the group did not signal any change in their support for GHG controls, but rather disagreement over the precise form such controls should take. All three had objected to provisions in the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives in June.
This week Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), announced that he would resign effective July 1. He described the possibility of reaching a global agreement at the next climate summit in Cancun in December as “a very heavy lift” and criticized governments for not doing more to involve the private sector in the process.