I posted the following on my parallel blog (globalenvironmentallaw.com) on Saturday Dec. 13. I was unable to post on this blog at the time because I was in China where the government's "great firewall" blocks Blogspot, which is the reason I maintain two parallel blogs.
Last week I flew to Zhengzhou, China, capital of Henan Province, to give some lectures on environmental law. Prior to leaving Shanghai I participated in two classes at New York University’s Shanghai Center in Pudong on December 8. The classes included both students from NYU and from East China Normal University. One class focused on environmental law and the other on cultural influences on legal systems. Students in each class are engaged in some really interesting research projects that explore comparative aspects of law in China and the U.S.
When I landed at the Zhengzhou Airport on December 9 I was greeted by Professor Xiao Qian Gang, one of the fathers of Chinese water and natural resources law who was involved in drafting landmark legislation on these subjects during the 1970s. Professor Xiao is now 80 years old, but he has amazing energy and we spent three days exploring Henan Province together. On the way into Zhengzhou we stopped at the Foxconn plant near the airport where Apple’s iPhones are made. The complex is gigantic with eight enormous buildings covering the size of a small city. My hosts thought that 100,000 workers work in the complex, but the plant personnel said that it was closer to 200,000. During my lectures, I told my audiences that my iPhone was excited to return to the place of its birth.
On the evening of December 9 I gave a lecture to approximately 100 law students at Zhengzhou University. The law school emphasizes environmental law and one of their professors had used my casebook while studying in the United States. The students treated me like a rock star, asking me to pose for photos with them and taking selfies (‘su pi”s in Chinese) with me - a few even asked me for my autograph after the lecture.
On December 10 my hosts took me to the Shaolin Temple, the birthplace of martial arts, which is located about a 90-minute drive from Zhengzhou at Shaoshi Mountain in Dengfeng. It had snowed lightly the night before and a sheet of ice covered the trails. The monastery mobilized the martial arts students to remove the ice with sticks and brooms to make hiking less periolous. We hiked a considerable distance exploring the sprawling complex and watched a kung fu demonstration. We then drove to the town of LuYuan for lunch followed by a trip to the spectacular Longmen Grottos. The Longmen Grottos are where approximately 20,000 buddha statues have been carved into rock cliffs along the banks of the Yi River. We hiked up into the cliffs to see the carvings. Photos from the trip will be placed in the Photo Album portion of this website shortly.
On December 11 we traveled to the town of Kaifeng, the capital of China during the Song Dynasty in east-central Henan Province. Kaifeng is believed to have been the largest city in the world exactly 1000 years ago. In the morning we visited Millenium City Park and the Xuande Palace, home of the Chinese emperors during the Song Dynasty. After lunch we visited a Song Dynasty theme park where we witnessed the reenacted of an ancient battle with warriors, including a female general, on horseback.
On Friday December 12 I gave a 90-minute lecture on environmental law at the Henan University of Economics and Law. There were approximately 250 students in the audience. Most of them did not speak English, but the translation was excellent. During the question and answer session one student stood up and asked a question that she had written out in English. When I complimented her in Chinese and said I wish my Chinese was as good as her English, the students all applauded her. Her question concerned the perceived tradeoff between economic growth and environmental regulation in China. In response I cited several examples of instances where economists had forecast doom from environmental regulation only to be proven wrong. While it its true that regulation creates winners and losers and the coal industry is losing throughout the world right now, renewable energy projects are a source of economic opportunity. In my discussions with Chinese students it seems clear that China’s environmental problems are a big concern to them, but they seem encouraged by the Chinese governments willingness to endorse the new U.S./China climate agreement.
I flew back to Shanghai on Friday night. On Saturday morning December 13 I spoke about the U.S. Supreme Court to a class of Chinese lawyers who are enrolled in Emory University’s Comparative Law Program at Shanghai Jiaotong University. The students in the class, most of whom work for law firms in Shanghai, will be spending the spring semester at Emory in Atlanta. Many of them then plan to stay in Atlanta to receive the LLM degree from Emory. After the class the students took the professor, Dan Guttman, and I out to lunch at a nearby restaurant.
In Lima, Peru the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has gone into overtime as negotiators struggle to bridge a divide over loss and damage and contributions to a green climate fund to compensate developing countries. The contours of a likely agreement that could be signed next year in Paris have become clear and they look much like an extension of the Copenhagen Accord that relies on voluntary commitments from each country.
David Doniger of NRDC and I had letters to the editor published in the Wall Street Journal of December 13-14. Our letters criticized Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe’s claim on behalf of Peabody Energy that EPA’s Clean Power Plan is illegal and unconstitutional. My letter notes that Tribe frequently has made extreme constitutional claims against EPA on behalf of industry groups, but no court has agreed with him. The letters are available online at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/prof-tribe-may-not-get-very-far-on-his-epa-brief-letters-to-the-editor-1418421985.
In other news last week:
On December 11 the Supreme Court of Canada heard oral argument on the question whether plaintiffs can enforce a $9 billion judgment by an Ecuadoran court against Chevron for oil pollution in Ecuador.
An oil spill in a protected wetlands area in Bangladesh that occurred when a ship sunk has led environmentalists to criticize the fact that commercial ship traffic is allowed at all in the area.
China opened a key section of its massive south-to-north water project running 860 miles from the Danjiangkou Reservoir in Hubei Province to supply 9.5 billion cubic meters of water a year to northern China. Water from the first stage of the $80 billion project was barely usable when it reached Tianjin last year because it had picked up so many pollutants while traveling north.
Global oil prices continued to collapse last week with crude oil prices plunging below $60 a barrel. Chinese authorities are seizing the opportunity to cut fuel subsidies, a move that other countries should emulate. If the petroleum price stabilization tax that I advocated during my presentation to the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium last summer in Tarragona had been in effect, plunging oil prices would not harm renewable energy projects, but rather would only cut government deficits.
The budget deal that the U.S. Congress approved last week apparently bars the Export-Import Bank from eliminating loan guarantees for fossil fuel projects in other countries.
Tomorrow morning I am giving a lecture at the Shanghai College of Politics and Law. I will be spending a good part of the week grading my Environmental Law exams, which should arrive by Fedex tomorrow. I fly back to Beijing on Friday and then back to Washington on Saturday.