On Friday February 25 I spoke at a symposium on “Global Law and its Exceptions” at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle. The conference featured a terrific group of speakers who explored how global law is evolving in several fields, including constitutional law, corporate law, environmental law, administrative law, human rights, and family law. The symposium agenda is online at: https://www.law.washington.edu/cle/seminars/Global/agenda.pdf. I gave a presentation on “Global Law and the Environment,” and Professor Bill Rodgers responded to my presentation. The symposium was the brainchild of Professor Joel Ngugi who did an excellent job of framing the issues for discussion by proposing four ways to think about global law: legal harmonization, the transplant thesis (countries have always “borrowed” law from one another), the resistance thesis (that what’s happening is pernicious and should be resisted), and the emancipation thesis (that law is malleable and can be used for many ends).
Duncan Kennedy of Harvard then gave a keynote presentation. David Law of Washington University in St. Louis made a terrific presentation on global constitutional law, noting the high degree of borrowing in constitutional language (90 percent of constitutions have the same 9 rights and 70 percent the same 25 rights). He disputed the notion that Supreme Court judges from different countries are engaged in a cross-national “dialogue” and argued that citation of foreign sources by courts was largely a function of the extent to which judges had been trained in comparative law. Professor Frank Gevurtz of McGeorge expressed skepticism about global law, arguing that legal convergence occurs in cycles over time as corporate law tracks whatever fad is in vogue. There was a terrific audience of nearly 200, consisting mostly of lawyers, who generated a lively dialogue following the presentations. Papers prepared for the conference will be published in a symposium edition of the University of Washington Law Review. The University of Washington School of Law has a required first year course in Comparative and International Law.
The continued turmoil in Northern Africa and the Middle East is posing an immense challenge to global foreign policy. The unanimous vote by the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and to refer his brutal repression of protests to the International Criminal Court represents an historic vote by China in favor of sanctions on another country for suppressing dissent. It is estimated that China has 30,000 citizens in Libya, which supplies 3 percent of China’s imports of oil. The temporary surge in oil prices last week that followed the shutdown of oil supplies from Libya spurred the government of Spain to lower that country’s national speed limit from 120 km/hour to 110 km/hour (from 74 to 68 miles per hours) in order to conserve gasoline.
A group of 41 members of the Parliament in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are asking the government to redraw the boundaries of Africa’s oldest national park to permit oil exploration activities there. Virunga National Park is a World Heritage Site that is home to some of the famous mountain gorillas. But after Tullow Oil, a British company, discovered oil just west of the park in Uganda, Soco International and Dominion Petroleum have been pressing the DRC to grant them permission to drill in the park. Katrina Manson, Battle Over Oil in Congo National Park, Financial Times, Feb. 21, 2011.
Walmart continues to use its market power over suppliers to promote greener products. The company recently informed its suppliers that it would begin testing on June 1 to ensure that the products it carries do not contain polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a class of chemicals widely used as a flame retardant in a wide variety of products. Even though use of the chemical remains legal in the United States, studies have linked it to a variety of health problems. Last year EPA listed PDBEs as “chemicals of concern,” but it will take some time before the agency is able to regulate them, making Walmart’s action another example of voluntary private action to reduce risks to consumers. Lyndsey Layton, Wal-Mart Turns to “Retail Regulation” to Ban Flame Retardant, Washington Post, Feb. 27, 2011, at A4.
The Financial Times reported today that the size of land throughout the world planted with genetically modified (GM) crops increased by 10% in 2010 to 148 million hectares. This means that approximately 10 percent of all global cropland is now planted with genetically modified crops. Last year’s growth in GM crops represented the second largest growth since their commercial introduction in 1996.
My visit to Seattle coincide with that city’s lowest temperatures on record for this time of year. But I was delighted to get a chance to visit my brother and his family and to discover a wonderful boutique winery run by a lawyer that is making some of the best cabernets in Washington state. Tomorrow I am flying to Vermont to participate in Vermont Law School’s symposium on China’s Environmental Governance. I am looking forward to being reunited with China’s top environmental law scholars who will be participating in the symposium.