As horrendous floods ravage Pakistan, massive wildfires burn in Russia, and landslides devastate villages in China, some scientists are suggesting that global warming is contributing to a summer of unusually violent weather phenomena. Warming seawater appears to be responsible for a 100-square mile sheet of ice four times the size of Manhattan breaking off from the Petermann ice shelf on the northwestern tip of Greenland.
After little progress was made toward narrowing differences over a new global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions control regime during a week of talks in Bonn, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced the formation of a High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability. The 21-member panel, announced on August 9, includes former prime ministers of Norway (Gro Harlem Brundtland), South Korea, Japan, Mozambique and Australia, current high-level officials and advisers from Barbados, China, Indian, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. The U.S. is represented on the panel by UN Ambassador Susan Rice and the EU by Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s Commissioner for Climate Change. The panel, which is co-chaired by the presidents of Finland and South Africa, is charged with reporting to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil in 2012 on how to “lift people out of poverty while tackling climate change and ensuring that economic development is environmentally friendly.”
On Tuesday August 10 the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation ruled that hundreds of federal lawsuits seeking damages from BP over the Gulf oil spill will be consolidated for trial before Judge Carl J. Barbier in federal district court in New Orleans. This decision is widely viewed as a defeat for BP because it had requested that the cases be tried in Houston. The panel did rule that shareholder litigation against BP would be consolidated for trial before Judge Keith P. Ellison in Houston. On Friday the state of Alabama filed lawsuits against BP and its partners in the drilling project that caused the Gulf oil spill seeking unspecified damages. The lawsuits were filed in federal district court in Montgomery, Alabama. A BP spokesperson seemed surprised by the new litigation, noting that the company had already voluntarily paid $347 million in claims from among the 148,000 claims it has received, without denying a single claim. BP has yet to act on 40,000 of these claims. On August 10 BP deposited the first $3 billion into the $20 billion compensation fund it had previously announced. On August 11 BP agreed to set aside its revenue stream from future U.S. oil production, a quarter of the company’s annual output, to guarantee that the $20 billion fund would be fully funded.
On Monday August 9 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its first regulations under the Clean Air Act limiting mercury emissions from cement plants. Mercury emissions have become a global problem that is the subject of international negotiations to establish a global treaty (see February 22, 2009 post). Portland cement plants are the third largest source of mercury emissions in the U.S. A copy of EPA’s regulations is available online at: http://www.epa.gov/ttn/oarpg/t1/fr_notices/portland_cement_fr_080910.pdf
In another indication of the complex architecture of developing global law, last week President Obama signed into law the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage (SPEECH) Act. The Act, which was inspired by New York’s 2008 Libel Terrorism Protection Act, makes libel judgments against U.S. writers obtained in foreign countries unenforceable in U.S. courts if they involve speech protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The SPEECH Act is designed to deter “libel tourists” from seeking to use British courts where there are far more limited free speech protections to obtain judgements against U.S. writers for acts that would not be deemed libelous under U.S. law. The law is expected to increase pressure on Britain to revise its libel laws.
On Tuesday August 10 the Sinar Mas group, Indonesia’s largest palm oil company, claimed that the results of an independent audit showed that it did not destroy peatland and forests of high ecological value. The company said that it hoped that the audit, which it commissioned in April to respond to charges by Greenpeace, would persuade companies like Nestle and Unilever to resume using them as a supplier. The audit was performed by Control Union Certification and the BSI Group, which are recognized as independent auditors by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). A copy of the audit is available here: http://www.smart-tbk.com/pdfs/Announcements/IVEX%20Report%20100810.pdf. Greenpeace states that the audit results actually confirm most of its charges, including that Sinar Mas commenced land clearing operations before receiving necessary permits and without performing conservation assessments. Greenpeace urged Cargill to join Nestle and Unilever in suspending Sinar Mas as a palm oil supplier. For Greenpeace’s take on the audit see: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/climate/sinar-mas-remains-a-notorious-forest-destroye/blog/26141.
While there is unprecedented global interest in the 2010-2011 Stetson International Environmental Moot Court Competition, to date only a few law schools from the western U.S. have entered teams in the Pacific Rounds of the North American regionals. The two top teams in the Pacific Rounds will advance to the international finals, which will be held at the University of Maryland from March 17-20, 2010. The problem involves a hypothetical oil spill that has international repercussions. For information on how to enter a team see http://www.law.stetson.edu/tmpl/academics/bio/internal-1-sub.aspx?id=4642.