On Monday I spoke on the opening day of the World Bank’s week-long conference on Law, Climate Change and Development. The conference was part of the bank’s Law, Justice and Development Week. It was held at the bank’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. The conference opened with a keynote address by Achim Steiner, former head of the United Nations Environment Programme. Both Steiner and bank president Jim Yong Kim expressed hope that global momentum to address climate change will not be derailed by political developments. While they did not specifically mention the U.S. or the election of Donald Trump, it was clear that this was on the minds not only of the speakers but of most of the members of the audience.
I was on a panel on “Which Climate Change Regime Are You?” Amir Sokolowksi from Legal Atlas presented his fascinating work comparing the framework laws that different countries are adopting to respond to climate change. He examined the laws adopted by Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Guatemala. I responded to his paper by explaining why the U.S. tried, but was unable, to adopt a framework law on climate change. Searching the database I have compiled of the text of the major federal environmental statutes for my annual Statutory & Case Supplement, I found only one reference to “climate change” in the text of existing U.S. laws. Yet the U.S. has managed to put together a robust program to control emissions of greenhouse gases.
It has been months since my last blog entry and the political earthquake that was the U.S. presidential election occurred during this period. This week president-elect Donald Trump announced that he had selected Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be EPA Administrator and Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers to lead the U.S. Department of Interior. Pruitt is a climate change denier and he has been one of the harshest critics of EPA. Rodgers has a 5% rating from the League of Conservation Voters. Both nominations, which must be confirmed by the Senate, indicate that Trump is planning aggressive attempts to roll back environmental protections.
Much has happened in the last four months since my last blog entry. In October the 28th Conference of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, adopted far-reaching measures to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, a potent set of greenhouse gases that also are ozone-depleting substances, on a global basis. It is estimated that this measure alone may slow global warming by as much as 0.5C. This is a tremendous achievement that is the product of years of meticulous diplomacy.
At the beginning of October the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), meeting in Montreal, adopted a plan to require airlines to offset the greenhouse gas emissions from their international flights beginning in 2020. This also is a remarkable achievement for global environmental law. It was spawned in large part by the EU’s efforts to require airlines flying to and from Europe to pay emissions charges. Although Russia, India, China and the U.S. fiercely resisted the EU’s efforts, they were upheld by the European Court of Justice and suspended only after the ICAO agreed to convene negotiations for a global agreement.