World leaders are gathering in Paris tomorrow for the formal opening of the long-awaited 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. It is widely anticipated that before the conference closes on December 11 a new global agreement will be adopted incorporating national plans to control emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13 will deflect part of the leaders’ attention as some will be conferring to further coordinate the global response to terrorism. Today Angola became the 184th country to submit its climate action plan ahead of the formal opening of the conference. In an effort to undermine President Obama’s negotiating position, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell published a harshly critical oped. Mitch McConnell, Obama Takes His Reckless Energy Plan to the United Nations, Washington Post, Nov. 29, 2015 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-president-doesnt-have-the-power-to-sign-onto-international-environment-commitments/2015/11/27/924a45e8-92ee-11e5-a2d6-f57908580b1f_story.html). McConnell argues that the President’s Clean Energy Plan is likely illegal (again citing Professor Laurence Tribe’s bogus arguments against it), opposed by a majority in Congress and likely to be revoked by a new Republican president.
Japan sparked international outrage last week when it announced that it would resume whaling in Antarctic waters despite a March 2014 ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that its previous whaling activities had violated the global moratorium on commercial whaling. International Court of Justice, Whaling in the Antarctic, Judgment of 31 March 31 2014 (http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/148/18136.pdf). Japan had argued that its whaling was legal because it was for “research” purposes, but the ICJ ruled that it was not essential to kill the whales to conduct research. Japan’s whaling fleet plans to take an average of 333 minke whales per year for the next 12 years, one-third the level of the Japanese fleet’s catch prior to the ICJ ruling. The governments of Australia and New Zealand, which brought the legal challenge in the ICJ, were joined by Britain in condemning Japan’s announcement.
On November 22, Rachel Notley, Premier of Canada’s province of Alberta, announced a “climate leadership plan” that includes a province-wide carbon tax. Notley was joined at the announcement by the leaders of the largest companies that extract oil from Alberta’s tar sands, including Suncor Energy and Shell Canada. Notley was elected premier of Alberta in a surprise electoral result that ended 40 years of conservative rule in the oil-rich province. Shortly after taking office Notley appointed a five-member panel of experts to develop the climate plan. Although Alberta already has a small carbon tax on industrial users, the new plan will expand the tax to cover end users of energy as well. The tax will be set at $20/ton of carbon in 2017, increasing to $30/ton in 2018, and rising annually at a rate of inflation plus 2%.
Brazil’s environmental minister Izabella Teixera announced that the Brazilian government will file a lawsuit seeking more than $5 billion from the mining companies whose tailings dam collapsed in the state of Minas Gerais on November 5. The collapse flattened the village of Bento Rodrigues, killing at least 13 people (11 are still missing) and engulfed the River Doce in an avalanche of 62 million cubic meters of mud and potentially toxic tailings. Teixera called the collapse “the country’s biggest environmental catastrophe.” The collapse occurred at an iron ore mine owned by Samarco, a joint venture between global mining giants Vale and BHP Billiton.