In his Second Inaugural Address last Monday, President Obama surprised many observers by identifying efforts to combat climate change as one of his administration’s top priorities during his second term of office:
“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries. We must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure, our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”
Since it appears virtually impossible that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will agree to new climate legislation, the President’s remarks apparently signal a willingness to take further executive action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Because EPA’s efforts to regulate GHG emissions under the existing Clean Air Act have been upheld in court, Obama’s remarks suggest that we will see more such action in the future.
The annual World Economic Forum opened in Davos, Switzerland last week. In an interview at Davos, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim described the need to combat climate change as a matter of “conscience” in light of the overwhelming (“97 percent”) scientific consensus concerning its dangers. He noted that “In the worst climate scenario, my kids will live in a world without coral reefs, with acid oceans and with wars fought over water.” The interview is available online at: http://www.weforum.org/sessions/summary/insight-idea-jim-yong-kim
At the Davos Forum on January 24 Peter E. Voser, the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, signed an agreement with President Viktor F. Yanukovich of Ukraine enabling Shell to drill for natural gas in the Yuzivska field in eastern Ukraine. This agreement may be part of a wave of hydraulic fracturing to tap shale gas reserves in Europe, where the practice has developed more slowly than in the U.S. Chevron currently is fracking in Poland, but its efforts to do so in Ukraine have been blocked by opposition from local governments. Stanley Reed, Royal Dutch Shell to Drill for Natural Gas in Ukraine, N.Y. Times, Jan. 25, 2013, at B7. China’s efforts to promote shale gas development are off to a slow start. Last week more than 80 percent of the bids in an auction of drilling licenses came from local firms with no specific expertise in shale gas production, leading some observers to characterize it as “more of a land grab than an effective policy to open up acreage.” Duncan Mavin, China’s Bid for Shale-Gas Riches in Doubt, Wall St. J., Jan. 24, 2013, at C10. In the U.S. natural gas producer Chesapeake Energy Corporation has agreed to let the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conduct extensive testing at one of its drilling sites to gather data for an EPA report on the environmental impact of fracking. The report is expected to be released next year. Tennile Tracy, Chesapeake to Host EPA In Study of Fracking Risk, Wall St. J., Jan. 24, 2013, at B3.
On January 24, Apple released its 2013 Supplier Responsibility Report. A copy of the report is available online at: http://www.apple.com/supplierresponsibility/reports.html. A record 393 audits were conducted on Apple’s supply chain in 2012, a 72 percent increase over 2011. These included 55 focused environmental audits and 40 process safety assessments. The report notes that Apple has joined the Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade to support supply chain solutions to the Congo’s conflict minerals problem. Apple is “one of the first electronics companies to map its supply chain for conflict minerals,” identifying “211 smelters and refiners from which [its] suppliers source tin, tantalum, tungsten, or gold.” The report includes quotations from Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing, and NRDC’s Linda Greer, praising Apple for its efforts to improve environmental compliance by its suppliers. Although 78 percent of Apple’s suppliers that were audited were found to comply with environmental standards, “147 facilities were not properly storing, moving, or handling chemicals, . . . 85 facilities failed to label hazardous waste storage locations and chemical containers, . . . 106 facilities were not recycling or disposing of hazardous waste as required by law, . . . 35 facilities did not have proper measures to prevent stormwater contamination, . . . 96 facilities failed to adequately monitor and control air emissions,” and 65 facilities failed to document their compliance with environmental impact assessment requirements. Based on an anonymous employee tip, Apple’s auditors discovered that one supplier was intentionally dumping waste cutting oil into a restroom receptacle. The auditors forced the supplier to stop this practice. Apple dropped one Chinese company, the Guangdong Real Faith Pingzhou Electronic Company, as a supplier after an audit found that the company employed 74 workers who were less than 16 years old.
Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that industrial interests in China are pushing back against proposals to crack down on air pollution. Brian Spegele & Wayne Ma, China Clean-Air Bid Faces Resistance, Wall St. J., Jan. 22, 2013. Although China has had some success reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants (particulate emissions from this source fell by 21 percent from 2005 to 2010), this progress is being partly undermined by increased emissions from industrial production (particulate emissions from iron and steel plants increased 39% from 2005 to 2010) and the rapid growth of China’s motor vehicle fleet. Last week Beijing’s acting mayor Wang Anshun announced plans to remove 180,000 old vehicles from the highways and to replace coal-burning boilers in Bejing residences.
On Thursday January 24, the University of Maryland Carey School of Law hosted a talk by Professor Isabella Alacañiz from the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland-College Park. She shared a chapter (“Expert Bureaucrats and the Skill Gap in the Developing World”) of a book she is writing on an important aspect of the growth of global law -- the development of transnational expert networks. Her talk focused in particular on how experts in nuclear science and technology are cooperating through networks established pursuant to the African Regional Cooperative Agreement for Research, Development and Training Related to Nuclear Science and Technology (AFRA), the Regional Co-operative Agreement for Research, Development and Training Related to Nuclear Science and Technology for Asia and the Pacific (RCA), and the Regional Cooperative Arrangement for the Promotion of Nuclear Science and Technology in Latin America and the Caribbean (ARCAL). After the talk Professor Alacañiz and I had dinner and discussed efforts for closer collaboration of environmental faculty in the University of Maryland System.