On Friday November 6 President Obama announced that he had accepted Secretary of State John Kerry’s recommendation to reject TransCanada’s application to build the Keystone XL pipeline. The decision ends a seven-year process during which the pipeline became a top political controversy with strong support from Republicans and opposition from every Democratic presidential candidate. Announcing his decision, President Obama stated that "America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change, and frankly, approving this project would have undercut that leadership." The President astutely noted that “for years, the Keystone Pipeline has occupied . . . an overinflated role in our political discourse. It became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter. And all of this obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.”
Meeting in Dubai, the parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer agreed to use the Protocol to phase down use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). In addition to being ozone-depleting substances, HFCs are powerful greenhouse gases. The “Dubai Path” agreed to by all 197 UN member countries (who also are parties to the Montreal Protocol) will result in a formal amendment in 2016 to formalize the phasedown. When President Obama first met Chinese President Xi Jinping in California in June 2013, the two countries agreed to pursue an HFC phasedown. It is estimated that HFC phasedown will avoid the equivalent of emissions of100 billion tons of carbon dioxide. Once again the Montreal Protocol will prove to be an even more potent mechanism for combatting climate change than the Kyoto Protocol was.
Last week the government of Finland issued a license for the construction of a high-level nuclear waste repository on Olkiluoto Island. The Posiva repository, which will be the first of its kind in the world, is designed to hold the waste for 100,000 years. The radioactive waste will be buried inside iron-and-copper capsules 400 meters underground. The capsules will be surrounded by clay barriers and capped with rubble and cement. The Posiva repository is designed to hold up to 6,500 metric tons of waste, less than a tenth of the 70,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste currently at nuclear power plants in the U.S., which produce another 2,200 tons of waste each year.
In an unusual move, the management of Volkswagen sent a memo to its employees offering them amnesty if they tell what they know about the emissions testing scandal that has engulfed the company. The company promised that employees who provide information would not be fired or hit with claims for damages if they come forward by the end of the month. Jack Ewing & Julie Creswell, Seeking Information, VW Offers Amnesty to Employees, N.Y. Times, Nov. 13, 2015, at B1. The company conceded that it could not provide amnesty from criminal prosecutions, but it noted that cooperation “speaks in the employees favor,” based on past experience.
On November 8 President Ollanta Humala of Peru approved the creation of a 3.3 million acre national park. The Sierra Del Divisor National Park, which is larger than Yosemite and Yellowstone combined, is the final link in the 67 million acre Andes-Amazon Conservation Corridor. The creation of contiguous protected areas in different countries will enhance protection for wildlife and other species in the corridor.
On November 18 the U.S and Cuba signed an agreement pledging cooperation on marine research and protection issues. Under the agreement, scientists with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who are responsible for marine sanctuaries in the Florida Keys and the Texas Flower Garden Banks national sanctuary will work with scientists from Cuba’s Guanahacabibes National Park and Banco de San Antonio in the westernmost part of Cuba. This agreement has been hailed as opening the door to more extensive environmental cooperation between the two countries in the future.
On November 9 New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that he had settled charges against Peabody Energy for failing to disclose to investors and securities regulators what the company knew about the risks of climate change. Peabody will not pay any financial penalty, but it agreed to make more detailed disclosures about the impact of climate change risks on the coal company’s future financial prospects. The action was brought pursuant to New York’s Martin Act that forbids companies from making false representations to investors or securities regulators. I was quoted in the press as saying that security disclosure requirements can be used as “truth serum” for corporations. David Hasemyer, Peabody Settlement Shows Muscle of Law Now Aimed at Exxon, Inside Climate News, Nov. 10, 2015 (http://insideclimatenews.org/news/10112015/peabody-coal-climate-change-settlement-new-york-ag-exxon-subpoena-investigation).