10th IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium

10th IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium
More than 250 environmental experts from 35 countries gather at the University of Maryland for the 10th Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law in July 2012

March 2013 Environmental Field Trip to Israel

March 2013 Environmental Field Trip to Israel
Maryland students vist Israel's first solar power plant in the Negev desert as part of a spring break field trip to study environmental issues in the Middle East

Workshop with All China Environment Federation

Workshop with All China Environment Federation
Participants in March 12 Workshop with All China Environment Federation in Beijing

Winners of Jordanian National Moot Court Competition

Winners of Jordanian National Moot Court Competition
Jordanian Justice Minister Aymen Odah presents trophy to Noura Saleh & Niveen Abdel Rahman from Al Al Bait University along with US AID Mission Director Jay Knott & ABA's Maha Shomali

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Russia Makes Vast Arctic Claim, Aussie Coal Project Delayed, China Steps up Enforcement, Shanghai Children's Lead Levels Plunge, China Trip (by Bob Percival)

In a new submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, the Russian government on August 3 claimed sovereignty over more than 460,000 miles of the Arctic.   A similar bid by Russia in 2001 was rejected for insufficient evidence.  Russia’s claim, which is based on its contention that its continental shelf extends beyond the North Pole, is rejected by the other countries with territory bordering on the Arctic.  In 2007 a Russian submarine planted a flag on the seabed under the North Pole.

As reported last week, EPA announced its final rules for controlling greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing powerplants on August 3.  Known as the Clean Power Plan, the regulations are designed to reduce GHG emissions from this sector by 32% over 2005 levels by 2030.  I gave five press interviews on the regulations and wrote an online oped supporting them.

On August 6 an Australian court reversed approval of the Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project that environmentalist argue will threaten the Great Barrier Reef.  The decision reportedly was based on the Environment Department’s failure to consider impacts on endangered reptiles in the vicinity of the project.  The decision is expected to delay, but not necessarily kill, the $12.1 billion project by the Indian firm Adani. 

The Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) reported last week on environmental enforcement during the first six month of 2015. MEP reported that it had shut down 9,300 companies and suspended work at another 15,000 during this six-month period.  Nearly 300 companies were fined a total of 236 million RMB ($38 million).  Managers of companies were prosecuted in 740 cases and 57 government officials were punished for enforcement failures.   Beginning on January 1 new amendments to China’s basic environmental law took effect that were designed to improve enforcement.  The amendments authorize public interest lawsuits and provide for daily penalties for violators.  The Qingdao Maritime Court recently agreed to hear a public interest lawsuit against ConocoPhillips and China National Offshore Oil for an oil spill in Bohai Bay that occurred in 2011.  The lawsuit was brought by the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation.  Previously the court had refused to accept a lawsuit by the All China Environment Federation on behalf of fisherman harmed by the spill. 

Because enforcement in China is largely left to local officials, China’s small Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) summoned the leaders of ten cities to encourage them to step up enforcement.   Some companies have pushed back against enforcement.  Claiming that local enforcers failed to follow proper procedures, the Shaanxi Coal Chemical Energy Company in Xianyang has refused to pay 15.8 million RMB ($2.5 million) in fines,  Zheng Jinran, Companies, Officials Punished for Failure to Control Pollution, China Daily, Aug. 6, 2015, at 1. 

The Supreme People’s Procurate (SPP) last week announced that, as part of an effort to step up criminal enforcement of food safety laws, it will target corrupt officials who take bribes to protect violators.  The SPP reported a 136% increase in arrests of food safety violators in the last year.

A two-year study of 2,144 chlidren in the greater Shanghai area found a 75% drop in lead levels in the children's blood during the last 20 years.  The study, conducted by researchers from China’s Ministry of Education and the Shanghai Key Laboratory of Children’s Environmental Health at Shanghai Xinhua Hospital, credited the phaseout of gasoline additives in 1997 with the dramatic reduction.  Average blood lead levels plunged from 83 micrograms per liter to 20 microgram per liter.  However, these levels are still above the 10 micrograms per liter average found in children in the U.S.  Cai Wenjun, Lead Levels in Kids Drop 75% in 20 Years, Shanghai Daily, Aug. 6, 2015, at 5.  In the last two weeks levels of ozone have replaced PM2.5 as the major air pollution concern in Shanghai.  At one point they reached a level of 246 micrograms per cubic meter of air at one point, far above the World Health Organization’s recommended limit of 100 micrograms per cubic meter.

I am currently in Hong Kong, which experienced its hottest day in history yesterday when temperatures hit 97 degrees Fahrenheit.  Air pollution levels were unusually high, which authorities attributed to unusual air circulation caused by Typhoon Soudelor.  Today I visited the June 4 Museum in Kowloon which documents the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 3-4, 1989.  The Hong Kong press reports that when Taylor Swift’s new album 1989 goes on sale on the mainland the authorities may require her to delete “1989 T.S.” from the label for fear that it will be a reminder of those tragic events.

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