10th IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium

10th IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium
More than 250 environmental experts from 35 countries gather at the University of Maryland for the 10th Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law in July 2012

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

Monday, September 27, 2010

Millennium Development Goals, Clean Cookstove Initiative, Global Spread of GMO Crops & Carbon Disclosure’s “Global 500” (By Bob Percival)

Last week world leaders gathered to review their progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight internationally-agreed goals aimed at reducing poverty and improving education, health, gender equality and environmental sustainability by 2015. While progress toward achieving the goals has been uneven, the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) announced an MDG Acceleration Framework to speed progress. Ten pilot countries from different regions have selected off-track targets as their focus areas and identified the constraints to faster progress, practical solutions to address them, and partners to implement these solutions.  A report describing the results of these pilots is available online here: UnlockingProgress_MAF Lessons from Pilot_Countries_September 2010-2.pdf. The Summit on the Millennium Development Goals concluded with the adoption of a global action plan to achieve the eight anti-poverty goals and new commitments for women and children’s health, as described online at: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/ The new global commitments were met with considerable skepticism in many quarters.

Last week the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves was announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, joined by representatives of the UN Foundation, several nations and many NGOs. The initiative seeks to replace 100 million traditional stoves that are widely used for cooking and heating in households across the developing world with affordable, efficient, environmentally-friendly models by 2020. The World Health organization estimates that pollution and safety hazards from existing cookstoves contribute to 2 million premature deaths annually in the developing world. The stoves also are a significant source of black carbon contributing to global warming and climate change. The Global Alliance will seek to establish manufacturing facilities in developing countries to make the stoves readily available at low cost while spurring job growth in development countries. The initiative represents another example of the development of global environmental policy outside traditional government regulatory structures. Products like cookstoves that are used by individuals have not been extensively regulated around the world, yet they can represent highly significant sources of environmental problems. By not giving away the stoves for free, the Alliance has indicated that it has learned from past mistakes where free distribution of stoves led consumers not to value them very highly.

Last week the Wall Street Journal published data showing how extensive the use of genetically modified crops has become throughout the world. In the U.S. more than 80% of soybean, cotton and corn crops are genetically modified now with nearly 160 million acres of GMO crops planted. Brazil is second in GMO acreage with 52.9 million acres, followed by Argentina with 52.6 million acres, India with 20.8 million acres (cotton), Canada with 20.3 million acres, China with 9.1 million acres, Paraguay with 5.4 million acres (soybeans).

Last week the Carbon Disclosure Project identified a “global 500” of companies that have begun to report their emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The project disclosed that fewer than one-fifth of these companies had made significant progress in reducing their emissions of GHGs.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

9th IUCN Academy Colloquium, 9th Circuit Rejects Nigerian Suit Against Chevron (by Bob Percival)

This week the 8th Annual Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law, the premier gathering of environmental law professors from around the world, was held at the University of Ghent in the historic and beautiful city of Ghent, Belgium. I arrived in Ghent on Tuesday morning September 16 after a short train ride from the Brussels airport. As usual with these colloquia, the participants were a vibrant and diverse group of nearly 200 environmental law experts from 34 countries throughout the world. More than 100 presentations were made during three plenary sessions and 34 panels.

On Tuesday afternoon I chaired a panel on “Biodiversity and Climate Change: Poverty, Ethics and Justice”. On the panel were Professor Mekete Bekele Tekle from the University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Professor Jose Juan Gonzalez Marquez from the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana in Mexico City, and Ph.D. candidate Julien B├ętaille from the University of Limoges in France. Mekete gave a powerful explanation of the multiple environmental problems confronting Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world on track to become the world’s 9th most populous country by 2050. Jose Juan made a provocative proposal for global payments to compensate residents of poor areas of southern Mexico for agreeing to preserve habitat. Julien discussed the Draft Convention on the International Status of Environmentally-Displaced Persons, which has been developed by professors from the University of Limoges with contributions from legal experts from several countries. The presentations were followed by a lively discussion with a highly sophisticated audience of legal experts from around the world.

On Tuesday evening participants in the Colloquium were treated to a reception at Ghent’s historic Town Hall (Stadhuis), a short walk from the University of Ghent’s School of Law where the colloquium was held. The group was welcomed by the city alderman and treated to light refreshments. At the reception it was announced that Professor Jamie Benidickson from the University of Ottawa had been awarded the Academy’s senior scholarship prize in part for his book The Culture of Flushing: A Social and Legal History of Sewage (UBC Press, 2007).

On Wednesday morning I made a presentation on “Protection of Biodiversity, Climate Change and Emerging Global Environmental Law.” I emphasized that climate change is posing a fundamental challenge to models for protecting biodiversity premised on protecting habitats from more localized impacts of development. I discussed how biodiversity law is adapting to climate change and how globalization is affecting the evolution of environmental law. With me on the panel were Arie Trouwbourst from Tilburg University in the Netherlands, who discussed the implications of climate change for the Bonn Convention on Migratory Species, and Herwig Unnerstall from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany, who discussed the impact of climate change on Natura 2000, the European Union’s network of natural areas protected by the 1992 Habitats Directive.

On Wednesday evening the colloquium participants walked across Ghent for a group dinner in the Club of Flanders located in the Crypt of the Saint Pieters Abbey. In this spectacular setting we listened to University of Nairobi Professor Charles Okidi, who has been teaching environmental law for four decades, deliver the annual distinguished lecture. Professor Okidi spoke on “International Legal Responses to Threats to Marine Biological Diversity.” Following the dinner several groups of professors spontaneously performed national songs, inspired initially by the Latin Americans. The large contingent of professors from Australia then regaled the group with a rendition of “Waltzing Matilda”.

The colloquium concluded on Thursday afternoon. A post-lunch session had been planned to enable Tseming Yang to discuss his work at EPA, but he was unable to attend the colloquium at the last minute. The next colloquium will be held from July 3-7, 2011 at the Wild Coast Sun resort, on the East Cape south of Durban, South Africa. The theme of the colloquium will be “Water and the Law: Towards Sustainability”. The University of Maryland School of Law will host the 10th annual colloquium of the Academy in 2012. An album of photos of Ghent and some colloquium events, including a video of the Australian professors singing “Waltzing Matilda,” can be viewed online at: http://gallery.me.com/rperci/100708.

On September 10 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a jury verdict denying relief to Nigerian protesters injured in 1998 when Nigerian Government Security Forces evicted them from an offshore drilling platform operated by Chevron. The court found nothing wrong with the jury instructions or evidentiary rulings made by the district court. The court found it unnecessary to decide whether the Death on the High Seas Act preempts wrongful death and survival claims brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act by the families of two protesters who were killed. However, the court did hold that corporations cannot be held liable under the Torture Victim Protection Act because of its reference to “individuals.” The court recognized that this aspect of its decision is in tension with a previous decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. A copy of the court’s decision in Bowoto v. Chevron Corporation is available online at: http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2010/09/10/09-15641.pdf.

Monday, September 13, 2010

German Energy Plan & AICGS Conference, EPA Seeks Fracking Data, China Energy, and Unilever & Maersk Green their Businesses

On Monday, September 13th, I participated in a conference sponsored by the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) as part of its “Transatlantic Climate and Energy Dialogue: Balancing Aspirations with Actions.” The conference was held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. After an opening update on climate negotiations from Elliott Diringer of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, I was on the first panel with my former colleague Miranda Schreurs, who is now the Director of the Environmental Policy Institute at the Freie Universit├Ąt of Berlin. Miranda discussed the German government’s bold new energy plan that seeks to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 40% by 2020, 55% by 2030, 70% by 2040 and 80% by 2050. Environmentalists are upset because the plan would extend the lives of some of the existing nuclear powerplants by 8 to 14 years. See Patrick McGroarty, Germany to Extend Life of Nuclear Reactors, Wall St. J., Sept. 7, 2010, at A17. The plan seeks to obtain 18% of Germany’s primary energy from renewable sources by 2020 and 60% by 2050. Our panel provided “German and U.S. Perspectives on Intellectual Property Rights and Green Technology Transfer”. Also speaking on tech transfer in the second morning panel were Joanna Lewis of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service who provided a case study of wind energy in China, Dominic Marcellino of the Ecologic Institute who is tracking tech transfer during the climate negotiations, and Alan Miller of the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Alan, who is one of the co-authors of my environmental law casebook, stressed that while most of the UNFCCC negotiations have focused on public investment in green technology, approximately 80% of the investment is being done by private companies. He explained why the IFC was willing to continue fund state-of-the-art fossil-fueled powerplants despite critics who believe that only renewable energy projects should be funded.

On September 9th, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent letters to nine companies requesting detailed data on the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to crack underground rock formations to release oil and natural gas. The data is to be used as part of a new EPA study of the environmental consequences of fracking. In 2004 EPA released a controversial study finding that the practice was safe, which Congress relied upon to exempt the practice from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. However, there have been many complaints of contamination of underground aquifers near sties where fracking is used, an issued explored by the award-winning documentary film “Gasland” (http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/613/index.html). EPA’s new study, whose results are expected to be published by the end of 2012, is being undertaken in response to a new mandate from Congress. Tom Zeller, Jr., EPA to Study Chemicals Used to Tap Natural Gas, N.Y. Times, Sept. 10, 2010, at B3.

On September 9th the United Steelworkers union filed a 5,800-page complaint with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative charging that Chinese officials are unfairly subsidizing the production of clean energy technologies, including wind turbines and compact fluorescent light bulbs. Elizabeth Williamson & Ian Talley, Steelworkers Blast China on Subsidies, Wall St. J., Sept. 10, 2010, at A4. Chinese authorities reportedly are scrambling to meet energy efficiency targets contained in the country’s 2006-2010 five-year plan. Faced with the realization that they may come up short of the target, Chinese officials reportedly are even ordering temporary shutdowns of enterprises. Shai Oster, Beijing Gets Tough on Targets for Energy, Wall St. J., Sept. 10, 2010, at A10.

On September 8th, the Unilever Corporation announced that it had made a multi-million dollar investment in Solazyme, Inc., a U.S. company that harvests oil from algae, as a way of moving away from use of palm oil in its food and consumer products. Unilever says that it may take three to seven more years before algal oil could be used as an ingredient in its products, but it is convinced of its potential. Paul Sonne, To Wash Hands of Palm Oil Unilever Embraces Algae, Wall St. J., Sept. 8, 2010, at B1. On September 7th, the Danish shipping company Maersk announced that it would voluntarily switch away from low-cost, dirty bunker fuel to low sulfur fuel when its ships berth in Hong Kong. The move will cost the company an extra $1 million per year during its 850 annual port calls in Hong Kong, but it will greatly reduce air pollution from the ships. Cleaner fuel already is required for ships visiting many European ports and similar requirements will take effect in U.S. and Canadian ports in 2012. Asia is moving much more slowly on the issue and Maersk hopes its Hong Kong initiative, which it said was taken in response to calls from the Hong Kong NGO Civic Exchange, will help spur further action. Bettina Wassener, Maersk to Use Cleaner Fuel in its Hong Kong Shipping, N.Y. Times, Sept. 8, 2010, at B10.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Burger King Greens Palm Oil Supplies, IPCC Reforms, Russia Wheat Export Ban, India Reopens Bhopal Case & Passes Nuclear Liability Law (by Bob Percival

Last week Burger King delighted environmentalists by announcing that it would discontinue purchasing palm oil from Indonesia’s Sinar Mas group in response to an audit assessing the impact of the company’s behavior on orangutan habitat and tropical rain forests. The audit was discussed on this website in a blog post on August 15, 2010. Curiously, Cargill, another major global agribusiness, cited the same audit in refusing to cut its ties to Sinar Mas companies, which are controlled by the Widjaja family. Cargill noted that Sinar Mas has pledged to join the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and to obtain its certification for all its palm oil operations by 2015. Burger King joins Unilever, Nestle and Kraft in cutting off SInar Mas as a supplier. Anthony Deutsch, Burger King Axes Palm Oil Supplier, Financial Times, Sept. 4/5, 2010at 10. While in Miami last week I spotted a clever Burger King ad on the side of a downtown building near the arena where the Miami Heat basketball team plays. The ad features the smiling Burger King mascot welcoming LeBron James to Miami by saying “King to King: Welcome to My Court.”

Last Monday the group appointed by the InterAcademy Council to review the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommended that the IPCC improve its capacity to ferret out errors. The panel recommended that the IPCC exercise greater caution in using non peer-reviewed studies and that they more openly discuss dissenting views. Next month the governments that control the IPCC will meet in South Korea to discuss what action to take.

Last week Russia extended its ban on wheat exports until late 2011. The ban was undertaken in part as a response to drought, record heat and rampant wildfires that have destroyed significant parts of the country’s wheat crop. Despite food riots that occurred in Mozambique last Wednesday when the government raised bread prices by 30 percent, global stockpiles of wheat are much greater than they were two years ago, though global wheat prices are up more than 60 percent over the last year. Noting that food prices have risen 5 percent in the last month, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has scheduled a special meeting for September 24 in Rome to discuss global food prices.

Last Tuesday the Supreme Court of India reopened the Bhopal prosecutions after an outcry that the defendants had received sentences that were too light. In June seven former Union Carbide executives were sentenced to two years imprisonment and fines after being convicted of criminal negligence. Following an appeal by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation, the Court said that it would reconsider its 1996 decision that had reduced charges of culpable homicide to criminal negligence. The initial charges could have resulted in prison sentences of up to 10 years. Amy Kazmin, India’s Senior Judges Reopen Bhopal Case, Financial Times, Sept. 1, 2010, at 4. The decision came one day after India’s Parliament approved legislation governing liability for nuclear power accidents. The Indian legislation holds open the possibility that suppliers of equipment for nuclear powerplants can be held liable for accidents, rather than placing liability entirely on the plant’s operators. Jim Yardley, Nuclear Deal Is Approved in India, With Compromises, N.Y. Times, Aug. 31, 2010, at A4.