Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) stopped increasing last year, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). This was the first time in 40 years that a halt in the growth of CO2 emissions occurred in the absence of a global economic decline. CO2 emissions remained at a level of 32.3 gigatonnes, the same as in 2013, despite a 3% increase in global economic growth. The IEA described the development as “a real surprise” that shows that efforts to control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions may have been more successful than anticipated. Growing efficiency in the use of energy in developed countries and China’s slower economic growth contributed to the halt in rising CO2 emissions. Pilita Clark, Climate Boost as CO2 Emissions Growth Grinds to a Halt, Financial Times, March 13, 2015, at 1. Last year China’s consumption of coal declined by 2.9%, according to government statistics. This development may improve the prospects for a new climate accord being reached in December when representatives of the nations of the world meet in Paris for the next climate Conference of the Parties.
The Supreme People’s Court of China reported a surge in environmental cases filed in the country’s courts in 2014. In its annual report released on March 12, the Court said that 16,000 cases involving environmental violations were filed last year, an 850% increase over 2013. A total of 3,331 cases seeking civil damages for pollution were filed in 2014, an increase of more than 50% from 2013. Te-Ping Chen, China Sees More Cases Against Polluters, Wall St. J., March 13, 2015, at A11. In a news conference held today at the end of the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, Premier Li Kequiang conceded that the progress that the Chinese government has made in environmental protection “still falls far short of the expectation of the people.” Noting that he had stated last year that “the Chinese government would declare war against environmental pollution,” Li stated that the government remains “determined to carry forward our efforts until we achieve our goal.” He avoided any mention of the film “Under the Dome,” which the Chinese government ordered removed from the internet. On March 7 Chinese environment minister Chen Jijing, who had praised the film, made no mention of it at what reporters described as a “carefully scripted news conference.” Edward Wong & Chris Buckley, Chinese Premier Vows Tougher Regulation on Air Pollution, N.Y. Times, March 15, 2015. At his March 15th news conference, Premier Li stated: “All acts of illegal production and emissions will be brought to justice and held accountable. We need to make businesses that illicitly emit and dump pay a price too heavy to bear. We must ensure that the enforcement of the environmental protection law is not a stick of cotton candy but a powerful mace.”
Wednesday March 11 marked the fourth anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. Approximately 79,000 people who lived in the hundreds of square miles that remain off-limits to habitation remain displaced. However, efforts are being made to decontaminate the area, unlike the area around Chernobyl which remains an exclusion zone nearly 29 years after that deadly accident. Approximately $13.5 billion has been spent on efforts to decontaminate the area around the reactor. More than 5.5 bags of contaminated material have accumulated though it is unclear where it ultimately will be stored. Julie Makinen, After 4 Years, Fukushima Cleanup Remains Daunting, The Jerusalem Post, March 15, 2015, at 17. Due to the Fukushima disaster, Japan’s 48 nuclear reactors remain offline, which has spurred Japanese utilities to build new coal-fired powerplants. On March 12 plans to build a 1.3 gigawatt coal-fired powerplant in Akita prefecture were announced by Kansai Electric Power Company and the Marubeni Corporation. This increases the number of new coal-fired powerplants in Japan announced in 2015 to seven. More are expected to be announced by other utilities. Mari Iwata, In Japan, Coal Makes Comeback at Utilities, Wall St. J., March 13-15, 2015, at 22.
China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has approved the construction of two new nuclear powerplants in Liaoning. These are the first new nuclear plants approved since China lifted a post-Fukushima moratorium on nuclear construction in 2012. China currently has 22 nuclear powerplants in operation and a similar number under construction. Last week the European Commission (EC) upheld a decision by Euratom, the EU’s nuclear watchdog, to veto a plan by Hungary to allow Russia’s state-owned nuclear construction company Rosatom to build two 1,200MW nuclear reactors in Paks, 75 miles south of Budapest. Citing the importance of avoiding increased reliance on Russia for energy supplies, the EC refused to approve the plan’s requirement that nuclear fuel be imported exclusively from Russia. Andrew Byrne & Christian Oliver, Brussels Veto of Hungarian Nuclear Deal Set to Inflame Tensions with Russia, Financial Times, March 13, 2015, at A1.
On March 11 Professor Suzan Gokalp Alica from Gazi University in Ankara, Turkey gave a lecture on Turkish environmental law to my seminar on Global Environmental Law. She noted that many pieces of environmental legislation have been enacted in response to EU directives. Although Turkey is not yet a member of the EU, it hopes eventually to join the Union. Three lawyers from Turkey also came to class. Prior to class the group and I watched the finals of the Myerowitz Moot Court competition. They were surprised that the competition was judged by real like judges, including judges from federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Judges rarely, if ever, visit law schools in Turkey, they noted.
I am now in Tel Aviv. In a few hours I will be meeting Maryland students and Julie Weisman from the Water Resources Action Project at Ben Gurion Airport. We will be spending the next week visiting water recycling projects in Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories. The students are from Maryland’s Carey School of Law, the Smith School of Business, and Maryland’s nursing and dental schools. They will be researching greywater recycling.