As mentioned in my last blog post, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff faced a May 25 deadline to decide whether or not to veto a new Forest Law that would have granted amnesty for illegal logging and greatly reduced the area of required forest cover. On May 25, President Rousseff vetoed 12 articles of the law, including the amnesty and provisions reducing mandatory reforestation. Precise details of the partial veto have not been released, but it is being portrayed as a compromise that will not completely satisfy environmental interests.
Imagine an important policy issue on which there is rare bipartisan agreement between environmentalists, big oil and mining interests, the U.S. military, and business and political leaders. That would be the need for the U.S. to ratify the Law of the Sea Convention. On May 23 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on the issue as part of a renewed push for Senate ratification of this treaty that was concluded in 1982 and that entered into force in 1994. A total of 162 countries have ratified the Law of the Sea, which establishes ground rules governing the world’s oceans and legal mechanisms for resolving international disputes over ocean resources. Ratification of this treaty, which requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate, has been blocked for years by what the editors of the New York Times described as “a small group of cranky right-wingers and xenophobic activists,” Once More on the Law of the Sea,” N.Y. Times, May 24, 2012. In an effort to de-politicize the issue, Senator John Kerry, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, has promised that the final ratification vote will not be held until after the November election. With such broad bipartisan support -- the U.S. Chamber of Commerce even took out full-age ads supporting ratification last week -- it is hoped that this may be the year the U.S. finally joins the rest of the world by ratifying the treaty.
Last week the International Energy Agency reported that global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions increased by 1.0 gigatonnes (Gts) in 2011 to a record 31.6 Gts, a 3.2% increase over 2010. Emissions actually fell in the OECD by 0.6%, but this reduction was offset by a 6.1% increase in emissions in other countries. China accounted for the largest share of the global increase as its emissions rose by 720 million tonnes, or 9.3% due largely to increased coal consumption. However, China’s carbon intensity (emissions per unit of GDP) actually fell by 15% between 2005 and 2011 as the country improved its energy efficiency and use of renewable energy sources. India’s emissions rose by 140 million tonnes, an 8.7% increase, making it the fourth largest emitter in the world behind China, the U.S., and the European Union. However, CO2 emissions per capita in India are only 15% of the OCED average; China’s per capita emissions are now 63% of the OECD average.
U.S. CO2 emissions actually declined by 1.7% in 2011 due to the switch away from coal to cheaper natural gas and the impact of a mild winter. U.S. emissions are now 7.7% lower than they were in 2006 due to the shift away from coal in power production and increased fuel economy in the transportation sector. EU emissions declined by 1.9% in 2011, but Japan’s emissions increased by 2.4% due to greater use of fossil fuels to generate electricity in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
Last week ten Chinese and Indian airlines refused to provide the EU with carbon emissions data that would enable the EU to calculate emissions charges to impose on them. India’s minister of civil aviation Ajit Singh threatened to ban EU airlines from Indian airspace if the EU takes action to sanction the two Indian air carriers that fly to the EU. Singh argued that compliance with the EU emissions trading scheme for aviation could be the first step toward EU imposition of a carbon tax on shipping or cement. Connie Hedegaard, the EU climate commissioner, expressed hope that the dispute could be resolved by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization adopting a global scheme to control carbon emissions from aviation.
Last week Tokyo Electric Power announced that nearly twice as much radiation had been released in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident than the last Japanese government estimate. The new estimate of 900,000 terabecquerels still represents only 17% the 5.2 million terabecquerels of radiation released in the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Mitsuru Obe, Radiation Release in Japan Higher Than Reported, Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2012, at A9. While Japan and Germany move to phase out nuclear power and France’s new president Francois Hollande hopes to reduce his nation’s reliance on it, the British government proposed last week to finance a new generation of nuclear power plants. Britain’s Department of Energy and Climate Change released draft legislation that would set price guarantees for low carbon electricity generated by nuclear power plants and renewable energy projects. The proposal is viewed as an effort to avoid EU restrictions on direct subsidies for nuclear power construction. Stephen Castle, Britain Says It Will Add Reactors for Energy, N.Y. Times, May 23, 2012, at A7.
I am a member of an ad hoc workgroup that is exploring how to persuade the American Law Institute (ALI) to tackle an environmental project. On Monday May 21, the opening day of the ALI annual meeting, we had a lunch meeting in D.C. with thirteen environmental law experts interested in the project. We tentatively agreed to focus on a project on environmental impact assessment. On Tuesday May 22 I gave a workshop on U.S. constitutional law and the Supreme Court to a group of 40 Chinese middle managers who are enrolled in the Peking University National School of Development's Beijing International MBA Program. The group was visiting the University of Maryland School of Public Policy in College Park as part of Maryland’s Executive Master of Public Management Program (EMPM), which is specifically designed for Chinese executives. It was a fairly impressive group who asked lots of questions and expressed skepticism of my claim that the U.S. judiciary is virtually free of corruption. We discussed in detail the current controversy over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act. The group toured the U.S. Supreme Court on May 23.
On Wednesday May 23 I was in New York for the annual meeting of the National Committee on U.S./China Relations (NCUSR). I was invited to join the committee this year and this was the first time I attended the annual meeting. Former U.S. Ambassador to China John Huntsman, Jr. spoke to the group about his experiences in China. He emphasized the need for the U.S. and China to make their relationship work and to avoid using China as a “political pinata.” In response to a question from the head of Human Rights Watch, Huntsman suggested that the best way to help improve human rights in China would be to start a dialogue with U.S. companies operating in China about the rights of their Chinese workers. He emphasized the need to increase public understanding of the importance of good relations with China by “humanizing” the relationship. The National Committee includes a bipartisan who’s who of China experts, including prominent moderate Republicans, including Huntsman, former U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and New Jersey Governor Tom Kean. I am now in Boulder, Colorado for the wedding of one of my old mountain-climbing buddies from decades ago.