I returned from China on Thursday night after completing a terrific environmental field trip with students from my Vermont summer course in Comparative China/U.S. Environmental Law. On Tuesday August 14 we visited the offices of the Allbright law firm in the Citigroup Tower across the Huangpo River in Pudong. The firm has more than 400 lawyers and offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Shenzhen, and Suzhou. It is the largest Chinese law firm in the country. Dr. Ke Chen, Mr. Jie Zhu and two associates met with us to discuss the work of the firm. Dr. Chen made a fascinating presentation about the challenges of practicing law in China. He noted that one of his most significant accomplishments has been to arrange the financing for the new generation of nuclear power plants that are being built in China. The plants use a new reactor designed by Westinghouse that is supposed to be much safer than previous designs (“the robot shoots itself” is how he described the automatic shutdown that occurs when unusual events occur).
Following our meeting, Mr. Zhu and the associates took us to lunch in the canteen in the basement of their building. After lunch we walked a few blocks to the World FInancial Center, the tallest building in China for now. The students and I went to the 101st floor observation deck where we had a spectacular view of Shanghai.
On Wednesday August 15 we visited the Shanghai offices of Roots and Shoots, the environmental organization founded by Jane Goodall. Roots and Shoots Shanghai is one of the few non-profit organizations officially registered with the Chinese government. Zhenxi Zhong, the office’s executive director, gave us a terrific presentation about the group’s work promoting environmental education in China. The group recently completed a project to plant 1 million trees in Inner Mongolia two years ahead of schedule.
We then traveled to Zhongshan Park where we were hosted for lunch at the Royal Garden Restaurant by faculty from the East China University of Political Science and Law. Joining us for lunch were Dr. Gengyun Gu, the vice rector of the university, Guoxing Xiao, who teaches energy law, Prof. Yang Qu, and two students. Following lunch we took a brief tour of the university campus, which adjoins Zhongshan Park. We then went to the Shanghai government’s Energy Conservation Center where we saw demonstrations of new technologies to use energy more efficiently. A photo album from our trip will be added to this website shortly.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported last week that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the U.S. plunged by 5.8% in 2009 below 2008 levels from 6,983 to 6,576 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent. This was the largest annual drop since GHG emissions have been measured beginning in 1990. The agency gave three reasons for the decline: “an economy in recession, a particularly hard-hit energy-intensive industries sector, and a large drop in the price of natural gas that caused fuel switching away from coal to natural gas in the electric power sector.” A copy of the report is available online at: http://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/
Last week Greenpeace and the Worldwide Fund for Nature issued a report warning that drilling for oil in the Pechora Sea in the Russian arctic could have disastrous consequences due to the inability to respond effectively to an oil spill in such a remote region. Russia’s state-owned oil company Gazprom has begun drilling in the area from its Prirazlomnaya offshore platform. Shell meanwhile continues to face delays in its efforts to commence drilling in the Arctic off the northern coast of Alaska.
China’s two largest exporters of automobiles - Chery Automobile and Great Wall Motor - were forced to recall most of their vehicles sold in Australia because of the discovery of asbestos contamination in the cars. Asbestos use has been banned in Australia since 2004, but it is still permitted in China.
The long-running battle over construction of the $17 billion Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River, an Amazon tributary in Brazil, entered a new phase last week when a Brazilian court ordered that construction work be suspended. The court ruled that the Brazilian government had failed to comply with the requirement that indigenous communities be consulted prior to a decision approving the project.
Two weeks ago the Gibson Guitar Corp. agreed to settle charges that it had illegally imported wood from Madagascar and India in violation of the Lacey Act. Gibson agreed to pay a $300,000 penalty and to make a $50,000 community service payment to the U.S. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in order to avoid prosecution for the violations. The company also withdrew its claim for return of $262,000 of wood seized by federal authorities during a raid last year on the company’s factories in Tennessee. The Lacey Act makes it a federal crime to import wood taken in violation of the laws of the country of origin.