Archive for the ‘climate change’ Category
If global climate change increasingly affects everything from public health to species extinction to infrastructure and property destruction to migration patterns—and it does—well, who can I sue about this?
No one apparently. If you think the international community’s struggles on what to do about climate change is pretty much a fragmented, inadequate mess, then international law on the subject is even messier and more inadequate.
A recent article in the Guardian notes that international law “stays silent on the responsibility for climate change.” This is not much of a surprise actually, but it’s actually important because if there were serious legal ramifications regarding climate change, faster action to mitigate its effects might occur.
“The global economy is underpinned by law, but you would think it had nothing to do with climate change,” Stephen Humphreys writes. “Climate-related cases have been absent from international courts – even from disputes involving human rights, investment or the environment. While there have been cases heard in some national courts, particularly in the US, they do not progress far.”
This weak legal response and virtually nonexistent regime means that “big polluters are getting off lightly.”
The article continues: “It is clear that 60% of proven oil reserves must be left in the ground if we are to have even a remote chance of limiting global warming to two degrees. Yet oil companies and exporters continue to drill and explore, to enjoy their assets and hedge against future losses, as though climate change were a mere financial risk rather than an existential threat to peoples’ lives and livelihoods.
“The world of international law is behaving as though the problem of climate change does not exist.”Look at one aspect, international trade law. An obvious policy for a country that’s serious about dealing with climate change would be to impose low carbon standards on the production of various everyday goods such as meat, mobile phones and plastics. “Does international trade law allow states to impose low-carbon standards on imported goods? The answer is yes and no,” Humphreys writes. “A low or zero-carbon import policy is almost certain to violate World Trade Organization (WTO) law. There may be viable policies but they will be time consuming and expensive to design, and there is no guarantee the WTO’s principal court won’t slap down any such policy on a technicality. No country has yet tried.“Why has the WTO not taken more proactive steps to tackle climate change? And why has the estimated $600 billion (£382 billion) in annual subsidies to fossil fuels never been challenged, while paltry subsidies to support renewable energy technologies have been stopped?”
These are unanswerable questions; and the questions become just as complex with respect to other international regimes, such as investment law and human rights law. A 2008 paper, “Global Climate Change and the Fragmentation of International Law” addressed this issue in highly academic terms, highlighting the challenges for international lawyers and policymakers “in navigating the relationship between the climate regime and the biodiversity regime, and the relationship between the climate regime and the multilateral trading system.”The authors concluded that a “narrow focus on conflicts misrepresents the multifaceted nature of climate change and precludes an adequate jurisprudential understanding of the relationship between the climate regime and other regimes.” They called for “improved understanding” and a “broadening of the debate.”
Seven years later, the needle has barely moved on any of this, but what is gaining some traction is the notion that it might be wise for international agreements to recognize national laws. Countries around the world are taking actions domestically to help cope with climate change. Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law has conveniently collected the relevant laws and policies of various countries into a database.
So is it too much to ask that an international agreement on climate change include legally binding enforcement mechanisms with teeth. Hey, you know the answer.
Image: From the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law website.
Two environmental groups are taking the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to court for failing to consider the harmful climate effects of the federal government’s coal leasing program.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by Friends of the Earth and the Western Organization of Resource Councils. Interestingly, Bloomberg reported that the suit is funded by Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul Allen.
In addition to the Allen connection, this is a big deal because the two groups are seeking the first comprehensive review of the federal coal-leasing program since 1979. “Since that time, scientific evidence has established that greenhouse gases produced by coal mining and combustion endanger the public health and welfare,” the groups said in a statement. “The BLM, however, has never analyzed the coal leasing program’s impact on climate change.” Read the rest of this entry »
The short answer is that climate change is no more out than it’s always been in the theater of absurd that’s the Senate, but now maybe more so.
That’s because James Inhofe at the controls of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee over the next two years, climate change will enter into an even more maddening and frighteningly hilarious era. Like whistling past the graveyard. Read the rest of this entry »
For all those climate deniers out there, I recommend that you read a recent article republished by Salon, “I was once a climate change denier,” by Kasra Hassani, a scientist with a PhD in microbiology and immunology.
In the article Hassani describes his journey past all of the typical denier positions, such as the “we have bigger problems” phase, or the “it’s all a conspiracy” phase, or the “OK, it may be happening, but who knows if it’s our fault” phase.
His bottom line: “No human is free of bias. There could be certain social, political and even personal circumstances that would stiffen a thought or belief in one’s mind. It takes effort try to identify our biases and rid ourselves of them, or at least be conscious of them. But it’s definitely worth it.”
Take that, Sen. Inhofe!
Image by Oxfam International via Flickr cc
As UCS notes, it’s not all that complicated: water when heated expands. Sea levels are rising, and rising faster as global warming heats up the planet.
The UCS says: “Today scores of coastal communities are seeing more frequent flooding during high tides. As sea level rises higher over the next 15 to 30 years, tidal flooding is expected to occur more often, cause more disruption, and even render some areas unusable — all within the time frame of a typical home mortgage.”
UCS also published a 76-page report, “Encroaching Tides: How Sea Level Rise and Tidal Flooding Threaten U.S. East and Gulf Coast Communities over the Next 30 Years.”
According to the report, “High tides are having a greater impact on U.S. communities today than in decades past for two reasons. First, our shores are more heavily developed, so higher tides affect more people and infrastructure. Second, these tides are now occurring on top of elevated—and rising—sea levels.”
Thus, building coastal resilience is both a local and a national imperative: “Coastal communities, and the nation as a whole, need to start planning today to cope with sea level rise and unprecedented tidal flooding, and to take swift and decisive action to limit longer-term damage to our coasts.”
Tidal flooding “has simply become a fact of life.” By 2045, some coastal communities will face flooding 24 times a year – or twice a month, the UCS says.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is urging the Port of San Francisco and the city’s Department of the Environment to develop policies that will bar the transportation and export of hazardous fuel materials in San Francisco.
Supervisors Malia Cohen and Scott Wiener introduced the resolution to prohibit the movement of crude oil, coal, and petroleum coke (petcoke) through San Francisco, citing safety concerns, dangers to the environment, public-health hazards, economic pitfalls, and public opposition. The resolution passed the board unanimously last week.
“San Francisco has always been known as a city at the forefront of environmental change. This resolution barring the handling of polluting, climate-warming fuels proves yet again that it is a city that leads the world in envisioning a better way to live,” said Stacey Geis, Earthjustice managing attorney of the California office. Read the rest of this entry »
Talk about strange bedfellows: China is the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, but the country, in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy, is working to curb the causes and effects of climate change.
It might seem like a strange partnership between a non-profit and a huge nation, but it seems to work. TNC’s Conservation Blueprint project identified 32 regions that TNC and the Chinese government believe are most vital to the country’s environmental future. The U.S.-based conservation group is analyzing how ecosystem-based adaptation strategies “can help those regions thrive.” Read the rest of this entry »