Last Monday representatives of 193 nations began the 16th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-16) in Cancun, Mexico. Elizabeth Burleson has posted a guest blog report from Cancun. There are reports that the U.S. and China are making progress in negotiations concerning how to monitor and verify greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A proposal to extend the GHG reduction commitments in the Kyoto Protocol beyond their current 2012 expiration date has met with resistance from Japan, Russia and Canada. The talks are scheduled to conclude on Friday December 10.
On Friday December 3, I was a guest on the BBC World Service’s “World, Have Your Say” program to discuss climate change. The program is a kind of global talk show with callers from all over the world interacting with the panelists. We discussed the impact of individual behavior on climate change, the importance of collective action, and the political barriers to an enforceable global agreement. Callers from England, Latvia, Sweden, Mozambique, Belgium, South Africa, New Zealand, Mexico and Botswana spoke during the hour-long program and emails from India, Afghanistan, Uganda, Ireland, and Canada were read. A tape of the program is available online at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00c4pnd
The release of an enormous cache of confidential cables from U.S. diplomats by Wikileaks has caused considerable controversy. I noticed in the initial subject index Wikileaks had prepared that “Environmental Affairs“ was listed as among the most frequent subject discussed in the cables, which may reflect the growing importance of environmental diplomacy. There seem to be few surprises pertaining to the environment in the material released so far. EU External Affairs Minister Chris Patten is quoted in an April 2004 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Brussels as stating that Russia is willing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in order to gain admittance to the World Trade Organization. A September 2009 cable from the U.S. embassy in Moscow explores why the U.S. should engage and assist Russia in a crackdown on illegal logging there.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is considering how to implement the conflict minerals disclosure provisions of the Dodd/Frank Wall Street Financial Reform and Consumer Protection Act (see July 18, 2010 blog entry). The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. retailers such as Walmart and Target who carry their own private label products are arguing that they should be exempt from the law because they do not exercise direct control over how these products are manufactured. Jessica Holzer, “Retailers Fight to Escape ‘Conflict Minerals’ Law,” Wall St. J., Dec. 2, 2010, at B1. How the SEC crafts its regulations implementing the law could have a major impact on the extent to which it encourages companies to green their supply chains.
On Monday December 1 my Environmental Law class screened the initial cuts of the short films the students made for this year’s Environmental Law Film Festival. The students made nine films. They included: a lego version of the 1972 film “Silent Running,” a sock puppet rock opera on oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the little mermaid takes on ocean pollution, an interview with a couple who were featured in BP’s “Beyond Petroleum” ad campaign, oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, geoengineering, the Leadership in Environmental Energy and Design (LEED) program, the story of the Patapsco River, and the health hazards of jumping into Baltimore Harbor. The films will be submitted to a panel of judges who will vote for the “Golden Tree” awards that will be presented to the students on March 23.
As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) celebrated its 40th anniversary last week, horrendous air pollution afflicted both Shanghai and Tehran. Many Chinese believe that Shanghai’s severe pollution is associated with the end of temporary measures to keep the air clean during the World Expo that closed on October 31. Air pollution was so bad in Tehran that the government closed public offices, banks and universities for a “pollution holiday” last Wednesday.
On Thursday FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, the country that has by far the world’s largest GHG emissions per capita - 46 metric tons of CO2 per person annually in 2006, compared to 27.5 tons/person in second place United Arab Emirates and 19.3 tons/person in seventh-place U.S. To cope with summer temperatures that can reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit, Qatar plans to air condition the outdoor stadiums, though they are exploring using solar energy to power the cooling systems. Qatar will build nine new soccer stadiums to host the event, but it plans to dismantle and recycle some of them to developing nations after the event.
The U.S. Supreme Court had the Connecticut v. American Electric Power certiorari petition on its conference list for Friday December 3. It may announce tomorrow whether or not it will review the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit allowing a common law nuisance action premised on climate change to go forward against large utilities that operate coal-fired powerplants.
On a personal note, my wife received wonderful news last Wednesday when her oncologist declared her chemotherapy complete and her cancer in remission for now. We celebrated together before I left for Europe. I am now in snowy Berlin, Germany where I will be making a presentation tomorrow morning on how to encourage green energy innovation at a conference sponsored by the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS).