The 19th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-19) opened in Warsaw last Monday. Expectations are low, but the focus is on creating a roadmap to an eventual agreement by 2015 on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol and the development of mechanisms for compensating developing countries who suffer loss and damage from climate change. A pall was cast over the negotiations when the government of Japan announced on Friday that it has scaled back its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to the shutdown of its nuclear power industry in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Japan now pledges that its GHG emissions will increase by no more than 3% over 1990 levels by the year 2020. In response to the Copenhagen Accord Japan had pledged in January 2010 to seek a 25% reduction in its GHG emissions by 2020. Prior to the March 2011 Fukushima accident, nuclear power had provided 30% of Japan’s electricity. At the Warsaw negotiations Japan pledged to contribute $16 billion in public and private funds by 2015 to help developing countries reduce their GHG emissions. On Wednesday Australia’s new government introduced legislation to repeal that country’s carbon tax, fulfilling a campaign pledge. Hiroko Tabuchi and David Jolly, Japan Backs Off From Emissions Target, Citing Fukushima Disaster, N.Y. Times, Nov. 16, 2013, at A4.
The Philippines is struggling to recover from the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan, which some believe to have been the most powerful storm in history. At the COP-19 negotiations, Philippine delegate Naderev “Neb” Saño made a plea for “drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons become a way of life.” Philippine public interest environmental lawyer Tony Oposa (see July 28, 2013 blog post) reports that while none of the staff of his School of the SEA (Sea and Earth Advocates) perished, five of the school’s seven buildings were destroyed. From the maps tracing the typhoon’s path, it looked to me like Tony’s school was directly in the path of the fiercest part of the typhoon, but he reports that it hit during very low tides and that there is a very large tidal flat protecting the school. The school’s White House (conference hall) was damaged, but their Climate Change House, built after the school was hit by Typhoon Frank in 2008, survived. Durwood Zaelke’s Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD) (firstname.lastname@example.org) will be coordinating efforts to collect contributions for rebuilding the School of the SEA.
On Tuesday Nov. 12, Ecuador’s National Court of Justice upheld a judgment against Chevron Corporation for oil pollution in the Amazon during the 1980s, but cut the size of the award in half from $19 billion to $9.5 billion. The initial decision in February 2011 by a trial court in Lago Agrio, Ecuador had specified that the judgment would double if Chevron did not apologize to the people of Ecuador within 10 days. This was the portion of this decision that I questioned from the outset. Chevron refused to apologize and thus it was hit with the punitive damages award that Ecuador’s highest court has now properly thrown out. It is revealing that the plaintiffs actually praised the decision by Ecuador’s highest court because it upheld the rest of the judgment. Meanwhile the unusual trial of Chevron’s Racketeering Induced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) lawsuit against the Ecuadoran plaintiffs and their attorneys continues in federal district court in New York, the court that most U.S. media organizations fail to mention was the place the plaintiffs initially filed their lawsuit. Mercedes Alvaro & Daniel GIlbert, Ecuador Affirms, Halves Chevron Judgment, Wall St. J., Nov. 13, 2013, at A1. The plaintiffs initial lawsuit eventually was dismissed in the U.S. at the behest of the oil company defendants who insisted that it should be heard by the courts of Ecuador. Having lost in Ecuador, they are now charging that the very courts that they claimed were the best place to hear the claims are corrupt.
On February 12 Unilever PLC, the world’s largest purchaser of palm oil, announced that by the end of 2014 it will ensure that all of the palm oil it buys comes from verified sources. The company is making this pledge so that it eventually will be able to drop suppliers who produce palm oil in ways that unnecessarily damage the environment. Unilever purchases1.3 million tons of palm oil each year. Unilever previously has promised that by 2020 it will only purchase palm oil from sources that are certified as sustainable. The company admitted that at the end of last year only 5% of the palm oil it purchased came from verified and certified sources. Other large palm oil purchasers, including Nestle SA and the Procter & Gamble Company have committed to sustainable palm oil sourcing. Peter Evans, Unilever to Verify Palm-Oil Suppliers, Wall St. J., Nov 13, 2013, at B7.
Last week’s blog (Nov. 10, 2013 blog post) reported that on November 6 the U.S. signed the Minimata Convention on Mercury, and it disputed press reports that the U.S. had “ratified” it, noting that the Senate will not ratify any treaty in the current political climate. It turns out that the press confusion over “ratification” stemmed from the fact that the U.S. also became the first nation to deposit its “instrument of acceptance” of the Convention with the United Nations. The Convention provides that it will enter into force “on the ninetieth day after the deposit of the fiftieth instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.” The State Department explained why it formally accepted the Minimata Convention without seeking Senate ratification in the following statement: “The United States has already taken significant steps to reduce the amount of mercury we generate and release to the environment, and can implement Convention obligations under existing legislative and regulatory authority. The Minimata Convention complements domestic measures by addressing the transnational nature of the problem.” In 2008 Congress passed, and President George W. Bush signed into law the Mercury Export Ban Act that added §§ 6(f) and 12(c) to the Toxic Substances Control Act to prohibit the sale, distribution, transfer and export of elemental mercury. Coupled with EPA’s Clean Air Act regulations on mercury emissions from power plants, the U.S. does not need new legislation on mercury so the Minimata Convention can be accepted as an executive agreement.
On November 14 the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) announced that it is closing eight coal-fired generating units at power plants it currently operates at three locations in Alabama and Kentucky. These plants are among the oldest and dirtiest sources of electricity in the U.S. In 2011 TVA promised the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a settlement that it would close 18 coal-fired generating units by the year 2018. Many electric utilities in the U.S. are shifting away from coal in favor of cheaper natural gas. Rebecca Smith, In a Blow to Coal, TVA to Shut 8 Units, Wall St. J., Nov. 15, 2013, at B3.
On Monday Joanna Goger from the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Maryland College Park gave a guest lecture on protection of biodiversity in my Environmental Law class. Joanna is coauthoring a book on Water Resources Management and Protection with my colleague Mike Pappas and I. On Monday night my wife and I attended Freshfarm Market’s annual Farmland Fest at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington D.C. We won the silent auction for an extraordinary case of wine from the wine cellar of restaurateur Mark Kuller. I may serve some bottles of this wine next Friday Nov. 22 when Maryland’s Environmental Law Program hosts our 22nd Annual Environmental Law Winetasting.
On Friday November 15 I was visited by Andriy Volkov of Odessa State University of Environmental Studies in Ukraine. We discussed environmental issues facing Ukraine including the status of efforts to strengthen containment of radioactive contamination inside the damaged nuclear reactor at Chernobyl (see March 22, 2009 blog post concerning my visit to Chernobyl). Professor Volkov demonstrated the computer program he created to track environmental contamination for his startup Environmental Decision Support Services (http://environmental-dss.com).