On May 15 the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted new rules to protect the environment in polar waters in the Arctic and Antarctica (waters north of 60 degrees N latitude and waters south of 60 degrees S latitude). Called the Polar Code, the regulations will strengthen restrictions on waste disposal by ships operating in these waters beginning in January 2017. The new rules will ban all discharges of oil residues from ship engines and chemicals used to clean ships and their tanks. They require food waste to be ground up and disposed at least 14 miles from land or the nearest ice formation. The new rules complement rules on ship design and equipment for vessels operating in polar waters adopted by the IMO in November. Environmental groups welcome the new rules, while arguing that a ban on ships using bunker fuel, which already applies in Antarctic waters, should be extended to Arctic waters. Some countries, led by Russia, blocked this proposal when it was made several years ago. Costas Paris, United Nations Installs New Rules for Polar Ship Routes, Wall St. J., May 16, 2015, at B3.
On May 15 Canada pledged to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. While Canada’s submission provided few details concerning how it would achieve its pledge, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq stated that new regulations would be issued to encourage the use of natural gas to generate electricity and to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. Canadian environmentalists greeted the pledge with great skepticism, noting that Canada has failed to meet previous promises to reduce GHG emissions.
I have been back for a week from my first trip of the year to China. I spent the first week of May at Shanghai Jiaotong University’s KoGuan School of Law where I am serving as a high-level visiting foreign expert. On May 4 I gave a guest lecture on “The Evolution of Global Environmental Law” at the Shanghai University of Politics and Law. I will be making return trips to China in June and August. During the last two weeks of July I will be co-teaching a seminar on Comparative U.S./China Environmental Law at Vermont Law School.
China’s government is intensifying its efforts to combat its still-serious pollution problems. The government has set a target of having 5 million electric, hybrid, or fuel cell vehicles on the roads by the year 2020. In the first quarter of 2015, 27,271 such vehicles were produced in China, a nearly threefold increase over last year. On May 5 the China’s State Council released a guideline on eco-civilization that seeks to hold officials responsible for failures to enforce environmental laws. It provides for restrictions on promotion for such officials and promises to incorporate environmental performance metrics into the annual assessment of government officials. In Hebei province, environmental performance now reportedly accounts for 20 percent of annual performance assessments for government officials. Reporting on the new guidance, the People’s Daily on May 6 declared: “Gone are the days when economic development came at the price of the natural environment, as well as the idea that economy and ecology are against each other.” If only that were true.
A study by the NGO Civic Exchange, working in collaboration with researchers from the Institute for the Environment at the University of Science and Technology, finds that levels of small particulates (PM2.5) in Hong Kong exceeded the level deemed safe by the World Health Organization (25 micrograms per cubic meter of air 24-hour mean) on 280 days last year. The group measured the pollution levels by installing air quality monitors on a tram. The Eastern District of Hong Kong Island, where there is substantially less vehicular traffic, exceeded safe levels of air quality on only 80 days last year. Emily Tsang, Pollution Exceeds WHO Safety Limit on 280 Days, South China Morning Post, May 1, 2015, at A1.
A team of American and Chinese scientists has just published a study in Environmental Health Perspectives finding that China’s extraordinary efforts to reduce air pollution during the 2008 Beijing Olympics resulted in the birth of babies with significantly higher birth rates. David Q. Rich, et al., Differences in Birth Weight Health Associated with the 2008 Beijing Olympic Air Pollution Reduction: Results from a Natural Experiment, available online at: http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1408795/. The study, which included 83,672 pregnant women in Beijing, found that babies born immediately after the Olympics were on average 23 grams heavier than those born in 2007 and 2009. The authors conclude that this suggests that air pollution, which was much higher before and after the Olympics, can impair the placenta’s functioning.
On May 6 China’s Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Environmental Protection issued a draft report encouraging public and private partnerships to improve water quality, particularly the quality of drinking water. The report comes in the wake of China’s State Council announcing a crackdown on water pollution on April 16. The city of Beijing levied a fine of 3.9 million RMB ($630,000) for water pollution against the Beijing Simplot Food Processing Company, which supplies McDonalds with french fries. This reportedly was the largest fine for water pollution levied by the city.
Maryland Carey Law held its commencement ceremonies on Thursday May 14. Prior to the honors recognition and hooding ceremonies the Environmental Law Program held its annual party for students graduating with the Certificate of Concentration in Environmental Law. Because this year’s hooding ceremony was held in the evening, the environmental law program celebration was held at lunchtime. There was a record turnout of more than 80 students and their families. This year 26 students qualified for the Certificate of Concentration in Environmental Law. Noting the photo slideshow of the students’ activities that was shown at the party, Dean Donald Tobin observed that it looked like the environmental students “had some fun” while accomplishing impressive things during their time in law school. The dean then presented the certificates of concentration to the graduates, who also received the program’s signature wine glasses (“Wine - Nature’s Thanks for Preserving the Earth”). Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was the commencement speaker at the Hooding Ceremony, which was held in the evening at the Joseph Myerhoff Symphony Hall.