Adaptation: Not Just for the Developing World

Florida with 2-Meter Sea Level Rise

Since a large portion of the negotiations at COP15 have been about the financing of adaptation projects in the developing world, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that climate change is already posing a grave threat to coastal communities and ecosystems within the United States.  The areas most at risk within the lower 48 states include the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Florida, and the Gulf Coast, as well as the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Oregon coast.  We’re talking about some of our most iconic American landscapes and population centers, such as Cape Cod, downtown Manhattan, and the Chesapeake Bay.  And, we’re not talking about the remote possibility of impacts far into the future.  We’re talking about dramatic impacts that are already occurring now and will continue to harm coastal communities and ecosystems in the years to come, even if we achieve an aggressive climate change agreement here in Copenhagen.  Hence, the U.S. government has recognized the need for adaptation programs within just about every federal agency. Continue reading


Happy Human Rights Day!

Human Rights Panel

On this day in 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  To celebrate the anniversary of this historic text and the principles it proclaims, several leaders in the human rights field gave a panel presentation today at COP15.  Panelists included Martin Wagner of Earthjustice and Ulrich Holstein of the U.N. Human Rights Council, as well as distinguished speakers from the Seychelles, Kenya, and the Inuit people of Canada.  They each emphasized the vital importance of taking human rights into account during the climate change negotiations.  The panelists explained that emissions reductions targets are inherently a human rights issue because anything over 1.5 degrees and 350 ppm condemns entire nations to devastating consequences and, in many cases, complete disappearance.  Continue reading


Air Pollution and Climate Change: In Search of Co-Benefits

Since I’m getting ready to teach Air Pollution Law & Policy again this spring, I was keenly interested in hearing about the linkages between conventional air pollution and climate change.  So, I joined another packed session and heard representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, and Clean Air Task Force give fascinating presentations on the potential for well-integrated policies to achieve “co-benefits,” a fancy word for killing multiple birds with one stone and achieving benefits relating to climate, public health, and ecological systems all at the same time.  Continue reading


IPCC Soundly Rebukes Climate Deniers

Today, key members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the organization providing the scientific foundation for these climate talks) offered a panel presentation today in which they gave an overflowing room an update on their scientific research and a preview of what to expect in the hotly anticipated 5th Assessment Report (forthcoming 2013) as well as a few interim special reports (forthcoming 2010 and 2011).  Before diving into the new studies and preliminary results, however, the panelists responded to media inquiries by soundly rejecting the notion that a few hacked emails had any relevance concerning the overwhelming evidence of climate change trends and impacts.  They offered the following as just a few examples of how robust the IPCC process is and why they are so confident in the data and conclusions presented in their 4th Assessment Report (2007).  Continue reading


Most Vulnerable Nations Call for Financing Reforms

After a somewhat sleepy day yesterday, the discussions at COP15 are picking up in passion and intensity.  In this morning’s Plenary I (a meeting of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation or SBI), one of the main topics was the status of the Global Environment Facility, i.e., one of the most important mechanisms for financing climate-related projects in the developing world.  A representative from the GEF (pronounced “Jeff”), which is implemented by the World Bank, recited a litany of successes, touted the billions of dollars spent to date on climate-related projects, and identified the many tons of CO2 emissions reduced or avoided.  He also acknowledged the need for reforms in the GEF and outlined a number of key reforms that are already underway.  In response, delegates from numerous developing countries commended the managers of the GEF for their efforts at reform.  However, many of these delegates, particularly those from the least developed countries (known as “LDCs”) such as Sudan, Nicaragua, Benin, Iraq, Antiga & Barbuda, passionately and firmly called for more fundamental and extensive reforms.  Continue reading


Getting Settled In

Most of us have made it to Copenhagen now.  A few travel snags, but nothing too serious.  The Bella Center is very well organized, and the registration/badge pickup has gone fairly smoothly.  We’re excited to have free passes for travel on all public transit in Copenhagen — trains, buses, Metro, etc.  They’ve really thought of everything.  We’re all a bit jet-lagged and travel weary, so we’re glad to have this day to get ourselves acclimated and figure out the lay of the land.  The folks arriving mid-week will have to hit the ground running.  The meeting schedule is awe-inspiring and overwhelming.  The side events alone could occupy us full time.  I think I’ll need to focus on just a few subject areas and follow those through out both the sessions and the side events.  Trying to absorb everything would probably cause a serious brain overload.  More news to come when things really get underway …


The Truth About Cap-and-Trade

Three cheers for Lesley McAllister! In a recent article, this empirically-minded law professor explains why so many cap-and-trade programs have not made any dent in the emissions they were meant to control (34 Colum. J. Envtl. L. 395, 2009). Ever since I read this article a few weeks ago, I have been pondering its implications for the upcoming negotiations in Copenhagen. I’d like to highlight just a few of the lessons Professor McAllister gleans from a careful study of four existing cap-and-trade programs in the U.S. and Europe, and I hope she will forgive me for oversimplifying and injecting my own views with abandon. Continue reading


The View from Coal Country

A coal plant and playground

The conversation about climate change revolves to a great extent around coal-fired power plants in the U.S., China, and around the world because of their enormous emissions of carbon dioxide and the alarming rate at which new plants are being proposed and constructed. Today was a day for absorbing many of the other ugly truths about coal. Some students and I toured coal country in Western Pennsylvania with the help of community activists fighting bravely against entrenched adversaries. We watched in horror as an arsenic-laden mist rained down on our car while we drove past an enormous coal plant in a small rural town. Our jaws dropped even further as we drove for miles around a 1,300-acre toxic fly ash dump that loomed behind soft earthen dams and threatened to bury entire neighborhoods with toxic sludge when heavy rains come. Continue reading



11 Days and Counting …

It’s hard to believe the climate conference is about to begin. For the past several months, we’ve been studying the issues, making our travel plans, coordinating with colleagues, and making connections with other like-minded groups and individuals. Indeed, the email traffic has been fast and furious, with articles, reports, commentaries, predictions, and speculations flying about like mad. Who knows what our world leaders will do? They could dazzle us with their brilliant negotiating skills or disappoint us with their flimsy proposals. Either way, this event has already put a fire in the belly of huge numbers of people, and it has cemented bonds between members of a global community fiercely devoted to moving the ball forward on climate change. More than anything else, this is what gives me hope that we will actually respond to this crisis in time to stave off the unthinkable. World leaders and negotiating teams, the ball is in your court, but the rest of us will be watching!