On Thursday evening I flew to Tel Aviv to start a spring break field trip to Israel with a group of University of Maryland students, including students from my Global Environmental Law seminar. Co-leading the trip with me is Julie Weisman, a New York attorney who works on Israeli water issues with the Water Resources Action Project (http://www.wrapdc.org). Tomorrow we are traveling to the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies (http://www.arava.org) in the Negev desert in southern Israel. After a day of classes on Monday, we will make a field trip to the Dead Sea on Tuesday, explore Jerusalem on Wednesday, and then visit the Environmental Law Clinic at Bar Ilan University on Thursday.
Last week President Obama made official his nomination of Gina McCarthy to be the next administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The nomination of McCarthy, the assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, drew widespread praise from the environmental community. The President also announced the nomination of Ernest Moniz, head of MIT’s Energy Initiative, to be U.S. Secretary of Energy. The two are widely expected to work together to control U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases.
The first week of the 16th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was held in Bangkok last week. The conference opened with calls for new efforts to combat overfishing, illegal logging and wildlife crime. At the opening of the conference on March 3 Thailand’s prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra promised to crack down on the illegal export of ivory to China. Huge demand for ivory from wealthy Chinese has fueled poaching of elephants in Thailand and Africa. The conference also featured what was billed as the first comprehensive meeting of officials from global wildlife enforcement networks who discussed how to combat trans-national wildlife crime. A proposal to ban international trade in polar bear parts was rejected at the conference on March 7.
China’s annual National People’s Congress is now underway in Beijing. This year’s meeting is particularly important because it marks an important leadership transition with incoming president Xi Jinping and incoming premier Li Keqiang replacing president Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao. The new leadership has acknowledged that environmental problems in China have become so severe that they must be a top priority for the new government. Some now argue that pollution problems have replaced land disputes as the primary cause of social unrest in the country. Despite the new leadership’s emphasis on protecting the environment, there are rumors that projects to dam the Nu River that previously had been vetoed by outgoing premier Wen Jiabao will be resuscitated after his departure.
Last week the Australian government’s Climate Commission issued a report concluding that the extreme weather events the country has been experiencing are attributable in part to climate change. The report, entitled “The Angry Summer” is available online at: http://climatecommission.gov.au/report/the-angry-summer/. It notes that extreme weather events are occurring across much of Australia, “including record-breaking heat, severe bushfires, extreme rainfall and damaging flooding.” The Commission reported that extreme heatwaves and catastrophic bushfire conditions “were made worse by climate change” and that it “is highly likely that extreme hot weather will become even more frequent and severe in Australia and around the globe, over the coming decades.”
In its annual report to shareholders last week, BP announced that the settlement it reached last year with private parties will likely cost it significantly more than the $7.8 billion it previously had estimated. Last month BP estimated that costs under the settlement could run as high as $8.5 billion. Although BP said last week that it could no longer estimate the final cost, based on claims processed so far, BP could end up paying as much as $11 billion under the settlement. The judge supervising implementation of the settlement has rebuffed BP’s argument that settlement administration Patrick Juneau has been too generous in paying compensation for lost earnings by businesses and individuals. Ed Crooks, BP Warns Spill Costs Will Soar, Financial Times, March 8, 2013, at 13. The trial of BP’s civil liability to the federal and state governments and private plaintiffs who opted out of the settlement continued in New Orleans last week.