While I was in the Middle East, several noteworthy developments occurred that are relevant to global environmental law. These and other developments are mentioned below.
On March 23, the leaders of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan signed an agreement governing the sharing of water from the Nile River, which flows through each of the countries. Egypt previously had voiced concern that Ethiopia’s construction of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Project, a $4.8 billion hydroelectric dam project, would unfairly reduce the amount of water flowing to it from the Nile. Some Egyptian legislators had even threatened military action if Ethiopia did not stop construction of the dam, which commenced in 2011. The new agreement appears to resolve these concerns by ensuring that Ethiopia will only gradually fill the area behind the dam when it is completed in 2017 while enabling Egypt to purchase cheap electricity generated by the project.
The NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Date Center reported last week that Arctic sea ice hit a record low this year (http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/). At its peak on February 25 the area covered by sea ice was only 5.61 million square miles, 50,000 square miles less than the previous low established in 2011.
On March 19 President Obama signed an executive order directing federal entities to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 40% below 2008 levels by 2025. The executive order also establishes a goal that 30 percent of the energy used by the executive branch will be generated from renewable sources. Obama unveiled the executive order at a forum for federal suppliers and where several private companies announced their own voluntary programs to reduce their emissions of GHGs. A fact sheet on the executive order and the private commitments secured by the administration is available online at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/03/19/fact-sheet-reducing-greenhouse-gas-emissions-federal-government-and-acro.
The plunge in oil prices and environmental opposition has brought a halt to projects to release oil and gas from shale formations outside of the U.S. Justin Scheck & Selina Williams, Shale Push Falters Outside U.S.,” Wall St. J. (Europe), March 20-22, 2015, at 15. Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil and Chevron have stopped nearly all of their fracking projects in Europe, Russia, and China. France banned fracking in 2011 and revoked licenses that had been awarded to Total and GDF Suez. Germany has imposed a moratorium on fracking. Conoco Phillips is still working on fracking projects in Poland where Chevron, Exxon and Total pulled out after achieving poor results. Chevron is drilling in Argentina and seven wells have been drilled in shale formations in the United Kingdom, one of which used frackinG.
On March 27 the government of Mexico announced that the country plans to reduce its emissions of GHGs by 22% by the year 2030. Under the terms of the commitment, Mexico’s emissions will peak by 2026 and be 22% below “business as usual” levels in 2030. Mexico currently is the 10th largest emitter of GHGs.
On March 20 The Lancet published the results of an assessment by 17 experts from 11 countries convened by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the carcinogenicity of five organophosphate pesticides. Kathryn Z. Guyton, et al., “Carcinogenicity of tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate,” The Lancet, March 20, 2015 (http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(15)70134-8/abstract). The experts labeled two of the chemicals (tetrachlorvinphos and parathion) as “possible carcinogens” (class 2B) and three of the chemicals (glyphosate, malathion and diazinon) as “probable carcinogens” (class 2A). Because glyphosate is used in herbicides with annual sales of $6 billion, includoing Monsanto’s popular “Roundup” weed-killer, IARC’s classification decision has drawn fury from Monsanto, which notes that it conflicts with the conclusion of a four-year evaluation for the EU that concluded that glyphosate was “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans.”