On October 19 India launched a new National Green Tribunal, a specialized court to hear the country’s environmental cases. India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh views the court, created by Parliament’s passage of the National Green Tribunal Act last June, as an important part of efforts to strengthen enforcement of the nation’s environmental laws. The tribunal has 20 members - ten from the judiciary and ten environmental experts -- with Justice Lokeshwar Singh Panta serving as chairperson. It will have four regional circuits to hear environmental cases in various parts of the country. Armin Rosencranz, perhaps America’s leading expert on India’s environmental laws, is skeptical that the tribunal will make much difference. In 1995 India established a specialized tribunal to hear cases related to hazardous waste and in 1997 the country created the National Environmental Appellate Authority, which will be replaced by the new tribunal. Both entities were widely criticized and viewed as less than successful.
Last week delegates from nearly every country in the world convened in Nagoya, Japan for the Tenth Conference of the Parties (COP-10) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The United States is the only one of the 193 initial signatories to the CBD that has failed to ratify it. The high level ministerial portion of the conference will take place from October 27-29. As the CBD convened, the UN released a study on “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity. The study, prepared by Indian economist Pavan Sikhdev, estimated that environmental degradation causes damage ranging from $2 trillion to $4.5 trillion per year. One editorial writer noted that the range of the study’s estimate was so wide “as to be almost meaningless,” but “still better than nothing.” Nature by the Numbers, Financial Times, Oct. 20, 2010.
Even as China scrambles to meet the pledge in its current 11th five-year plan to reduce energy intensity by 20% by the end of this year, a new 12th five-year plan has been drafted. It reportedly pledges to reduce the energy consumed per unit of output by another 17.3% during the years 2011-2015. It also may have even more ambitious goals for reducing the carbon intensity of output. The new plan is to be approved at the next session of the National People’s Congress in March 2011. Frantic efforts to meet the existing plan’s energy efficiency target reportedly have led to closures of steel mills, electricity reductions to small businesses, and even a week-long dimming of traffic lights in Anping in Hebei province. Chinese energy intensity had fallen by 15.6% from 2005 to 2009, but in the first quarter of 2010 it rose by 3.2% in response to economic stimulus measures. Leslie Hook, China Feels the Strain in Rush to Save Energy, Financial Times, Oct. 19, 2010.
On Friday October 22, the Shenzen Zhongjin Lingnan Nonfemet Company revealed that Chinese environmental authorities had forced it to stop production at a large lead and zinc smelter it owns in Shaoguan in Guangdong province. The shutdown reportedly follows the discovery of thalium contamination in Guangdong’s North River. Because the smelter contributes 83% of the lead and zinc production by the company, which itself supplies 6% of China’s zinc, the shutdown had an impact on global zinc prices, which rose 1.5% on Friday. Some observers speculated that the shutdown may be related to China’s hosting of the 45-nation Asian Games in Guangzhou, which is 145 miles downstream. James T. Areddy, Zinc Prices Reel as China Probe Targets Plant, Wall St. J., Oct. 23, 2010.
On October 22 a court in Alberta, Canada fined Syncrude, Canada’s largest oil sands operator, $2.92 million for causing the deaths of 1,603 ducks who the company failed to prevent from landing on oily tailings impoundments it operated. The court noted that the company had cut back on its efforts to keep birds away from the toxic pools. Approximately $1.95 million of the penalty will be devoted to environmental projects to protect wildlife as part of the province’s new “creative sentencing” system. Greenpeace denounced the fine as “no more than a slap on the wrist.” Ian Austen, Canadian Oil Company Fined for Duck Deaths, New York Times, Oct. 23, 2010.
On October 19 I hosted Xi Xiangmin, the dean of the Ocean University School of Law in Qingdao, China. I first met Dean Xi in 2007 when we both spoke at a international conference on environmental legislation hosted by the National People’s Congress of China in Beijing. Dean Xi was a law school classmate of Professor Wang Canfa of the China University of Political Science and Law. He is an expert on environmental law. In the U.S. he is visiting the University of Maryland, the University of Baltimore, the Environmental Law Institute, and Vermont Law School. He also is stopping at Princeton University to visit his son who is studying there for a Ph.D. in mathematics. While visiting Maryland, Dean Xi met with Dean Phoebe Haddon and was given a tour of our East Asian Legal Studies Program. We presented him with a copy of Emeritus Professor Hungdah Chiu’s renowned Chinese language book on international law. A picture of Dean Xi has been posted on my blog at: www.globalenvironmentallaw.com