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 Bétaille 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.