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Home Archive for category "International Environmental Law" (Page 4)

Environmental Aspects of the South China Sea Award

Published on July 21, 2016        Author: 

Earlier posts (here and here) have provided a general overview of the much-anticipated 12 July Award of an UNCLOS Annex VII Tribunal in the Philippines v China case. This post will focus on the environmental aspects of the Award. The Tribunal’s consideration of environmental issues is largely contained in the part of the Award dealing with the Philippines’ submissions 11 and 12(B) ([815]-[993]). While these submissions were phrased differently, they both sought declarations that China had violated its obligations under UNCLOS to protect and preserve the marine environment (submission 11 related to various locations whereas submission 12 related to Mischief Reef). The Philippines’ environmental claims related to two aspects of China’s conduct: firstly China’s alleged toleration or support of environmentally harmful fishing practices by its nationals; secondly, the environmental impact of China’s land reclamation and construction activities.

Treaty Interpretation and Due Diligence

The Tribunal’s interpretation of the general obligation under UNCLOS Article 192 to ‘protect and preserve the marine environment’, and the more specific obligations under Article 194 regarding marine pollution, embedded these provisions within wider environmental law. The Tribunal noted that these obligations require states to exercise due diligence and to ensure that activities occurring within their jurisdiction and control do not harm the marine environment, referring to ITLOS’ 2015 Advisory Opinion regarding a state’s obligation to investigate reports by another state of non-compliance by its vessels with provisions of the Convention concerning protection of the marine environment, and the ICJ’s remark in Pulp Mills on ‘due diligence’ requiring a ‘certain level of vigilance’: [944].

In interpreting Article 194(5) of UNCLOS, which requires states to ‘protect and preserve rare or fragile ecosystems as well as the habitat of depleted, threatened or endangered species’, the Tribunal drew on several aspects of wider international environmental law. This included having regard to the definition of an ‘ecosystem’ in Article 2 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the term not being defined in UNCLOS. Based on the scientific evidence before it, the Tribunal had no doubt that the marine environments in question were ‘rare or fragile ecosystems’ and the habitats of ‘depleted, threatened, or endangered species’: [945].
The Tribunal also had regard to CITES, to which both the Philippines and China are parties, in informing the content of UNCLOS Articles 192 and 194(5). The context here was that the sea turtles found on board Chinese fishing vessels were listed under Appendix I of CITES as a species threated with extinction, and the giant clams which had been harvested by Chinese nationals, as well as corals in the area, were listed in Appendix II of CITES: [956]-[957]. The evidence indicated that Chinese-flagged vessels had made widespread use of a particularly damaging technique of breaking up coral with their propellers to extract clams: see [847]-[851], [958]. Read the rest of this entry…

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Philippines v China: first thoughts on the Award in the South China Seas Case

Published on July 12, 2016        Author: 

Any international lawyer looking at a news site in the last few hours will have seen that the final award has been handed down at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Philippines v China dispute brought under the UN Convention on the Law Sea Annex VII procedure. The arbitral tribunal’s decision is simply historic. While Philippines has lost on a number of smaller points, the scale of its win overall is much greater than most commentators were expecting.

What follows is a very preliminary comment – and I stress that faced with a 500 page decision I may well revise my views later. It is also more in the nature of an explainer than a deep dive on any of the many legal questions already highlighted below. (This is also an excessively long post, for which I apologise.) However, on a first, quite brief, examination the tribunal has attempted to be meticulously fair to China and has applied the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea strictly and thoroughly. It has delivered a result which was, by and large, predictable.

James Kraska of the US Naval College has summarised the key holdings as:

  • the nine dash line has no basis in law,
  • there are no islands in the disputed area within the meaning of Article 123, UNCLOS,
  • China has interfered in the Philippines’ EEZ; and
  • China’s actions have aggravated the dispute.

I would add to this list three matters. First, the Tribunal has concluded that Mischief Reef is a low tide elevation over which no State can claim sovereignty or possession. This means it is simply a maritime feature within the Philippines exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Chinese island-building activities there are thus not merely without legal effect but are in violation of the sovereign rights of the Philippines.

Second, it has found that China has breached various obligations under UNCLOS regarding the protection and preservation of the marine environment by having caused severe and irreparable harm to coral reef ecosystems in its construction of artificial islands in the South China Seas.

Third, international tribunals normally bend over backwards to avoid findings of bad faith against a state. That is, one cannot act in bad faith without violating some other substantive right. So most tribunals consider it sufficient to stop at determining that a right or duty has been violated. This tribunal has found China violated Article 300 of UNCLOS: the duty to act in good faith. This is an extraordinary rebuke and a clear indication that the law of the sea dispute resolution system will not be cowed by the posturing of the superpower. As a matter of principle, it takes a principled stand on the supremacy of the rule of law. As a matter of pragmatism, it flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that angering China over this dispute could jeopardise the stability of the law of the sea system.
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Shipping and climate change: the IMO is making progress – though worryingly slowly

Published on May 3, 2016        Author: 

The Paris Agreement, which was adopted in the UN Climate Change Conference in December 2016 in Paris, does not include aviation and shipping in its regulatory framework. Acknowledging the global and complex nature of shipping activities, the Kyoto Protocol entrusted the reduction of GHG emission from marine bunker fuels to the International Maritime Organisation (article 2 (2)). One of the purposes of the IMO is to ‘encourage and facilitate the general adoption of the highest practicable standards in matters concerning the … prevention and control of marine pollution from ships’ (article 1 (a) of the IMO Convention), and its Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) has the task of negotiating, adopting and amending international conventions, regulations and measures related to the protection of the marine environment. Since 1997, the MEPC has been actively engaged in discussions concerning the reduction of GHG emissions from ships and the elaboration of a legal framework for energy efficiency in the shipping industry as a means of tackling climate change. The IMO has adopted a number of measures to address these issues, but progress has been slow.

Despite encouragement from the former IMO Secretary General to ‘bring the spirit of the Paris Agreement to IMO’ and by the UN Secretary General to continue the momentum of the Paris Agreement, the response in the MEPC in its 69th Session which took place from 18-22 April 2016 was less enthusiastic, though some progress was made. This post discusses the recent discussions and negotiations in the IMO MEPC with respect to reduction of emissions from ships.   Read the rest of this entry…

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The ‘Internationalization’ of Maritime Disputes in the South China Sea: Environmental Destruction in the High Seas and Threats to the Global Commons

Published on April 28, 2016        Author: 

What does it mean to ‘internationalize’ a maritime dispute? Accusations of ‘internationalization’ of the maritime disputes in the South China Sea have been strident over the past weeks, most recently from the 18 April 2016 Joint Communique of the Foreign Ministers of the Russian Federation, the Republic of India, and the People’s Republic of China, which stressed that “Russia, India and China are committed to maintaining a legal order for the seas and oceans based on the principles of international law, as reflected notably in the UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS). All related disputes should be addressed through negotiations and agreements between the parties concerned. In this regard the Ministers called for full respect of all provisions of UNCLOS, as well as the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the Guidelines for the implementation of the DOC.” (Joint Communique, para. 21). Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was also reported to have observed to Chinese media in Moscow during the Russia-China-India April 2016 trilateral summit that “[attempts to internationalize the issue] are completely counterproductive. Only negotiations, which China and the ASEAN are pursuing, can bring the desired result; namely, mutually acceptable agreements” – a sentiment echoed by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi who was also reported to have voiced his opposition to the ‘internationalization’ of the South China Sea dispute on the basis of the Philippines’ “unilaterally-proposed arbitration case”. Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated the call for negotiations only between the states involved, reportedly implying  nations outside the region such as the United States have “no role in regional disputes”.  The Russia-China-India trilateral statement came one week after the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, yielded the April 11, 2016 G7 Foreign Ministers’ Statement on Maritime Security, which stated, among others, that the G7 “express[es]… strong opposition to any intimidating, coercive or provocative unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions, and urge all states to refrain from such actions as land reclamations including large scale  ones, building of outposts, as well as their use for military purposes and to act in accordance with international law including the principles of freedoms of navigation and overflight. In areas pending final delimitation, we underline the importance of coastal states refraining from unilateral actions that cause permanent physical change to the marine environment insofar as such actions jeopardize or hamper the reaching of the final agreement, as well as the importance of making every effort to enter into provisional arrangements of a practical nature, in those areas.” (G7 Statement, para. 5).   Read the rest of this entry…

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Evidence but not Empiricism? Environmental Impact Assessments at the International Court of Justice in Certain Activities Carried Out by Nicaragua in the Border Area (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua) and Construction of a Road in Costa Rica Along the San Juan River (Nicaragua v. Costa Rica)

Published on February 26, 2016        Author: 

December 2015 was a landmark month for treaty-based developments in international environmental law, after the successful conclusion of the Paris Agreement (see Jorge Vinuales’ three-part analysis here, here, and here, and subsequent reactions from Annalisa Savaresi here and Po-Hsiang Ou here). However, one should not also overlook more modest jurisprudential developments arising from the International Court of Justice’s 16 December 2015 Judgment on the Merits in Certain Activities Carried Out by Nicaragua in the Border Area (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua) and Construction of a Road in Costa Rica along the San Juan River (Nicaragua v. Costa Rica). While the Court in this case continued to affirm as settled law that States have to conduct environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for projects that could result transboundary harm – even innovatively introducing provisional measures in 2011 that required parties to cooperate on environmental monitoring – the Court ultimately remained opaque on the method and criteria it used to assess the degree of “risk of transboundary harm” that would be sufficient to trigger a State’s obligation to conduct an EIA. It was a regrettably lost opportunity for the Court to provide practical and conceptual guidance to States on how to assess “significant risk of transboundary harm” which triggers the international legal duty of a State to conduct an EIA before starting the proposed activity.  The question of transboundary harm risk assessment has become increasingly urgent in recent years, particularly as more cross-border public-private partnership projects proliferate and States assume the international legal burden of conducting proper EIAs at the outset of any such cross-border PPP project.

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The power of 2°C: towards a new paradigm of international lawmaking?

Published on February 25, 2016        Author: 

The outcomes of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — the Paris Agreement — is widely lauded as a ‘historic’ achievement. It is still up for debate whether the new Agreement will really become a historical turning point that can lead us to a carbon neutral future, as some scientists criticised its empty promises and insufficient actions. However, one implication of the Paris Agreement is clearly ‘historic’ and should be celebrated — it is the most important international treaty adopted in the recent decade, agreed by 195 countries. Despite stagnation in international lawmaking observed by Pauwelyn, Wessel and Wouters (2014), the Paris Agreement under the UNFCCC shows that reaching a multilateral agreement is still possible. In addition to Prof Jorge Viñuales’ recent analysis, in this post I would like to discuss a key factor that makes the Paris Agreement ‘special’, i.e. a strong link between climate talks and numerical standards.

One shining star of the COP21 talks was the so-called 2-degree target — in order to prevent dangerous climate change, global mean temperature should not rise 2 Celsius degrees above preindustrial levels. The target was first recognised by the European Union (EU) in 1996 and has gradually proliferated into political debates and the public sphere (see Randall’s widely cited article for the history of the target). Now 2°C is literally everywhere in the news; CNN even has a special column called two degrees. One well-known achievement of the Paris Agreement is that not only it stresses the importance of keeping global warming ‘well below 2 °C’, but also pledges to ‘pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C’ (Article 2(1)(a) of the Agreement). 2°C has undoubtedly become the symbol of climate negotiations, and moving from 2 to 1.5 °C is considered by many as a major triumph.

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The Paris Agreement: A Rejoinder

Published on February 16, 2016        Author: 

In his analysis of the recently adopted Paris Agreement, Professor Jorge Viñuales shed light on the main features of this new treaty. He concludes that, while the Agreement is not perfect, it is certainly ‘more than many of those who have followed the climate negotiations over the years realistically expected.’ I cannot but agree with this assessment: the Paris Agreement is probably the best that could be achieved at this place and time and, given the premises, its adoption as a treaty last December was almost miraculous. This post expands upon a couple of points raised in his analysis, focusing on the legal form of the Paris Agreement, its relationship with the UNFCCC and on the nature of obligations concerning the review of parties’ commitments.

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The Paris Climate Agreement: An Initial Examination (Part III of III)

Published on February 8, 2016        Author: 

Editor’s Note: This is the last post in a series (see Part I and Part II) featuring Professor Jorge Viñuales’ analysis of the landmark December 2015 Paris Agreement. Professor Viñuales is the Harold Samuel Professor of Law and Environmental Policy at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Law and the Director of the Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy, and Natural Resource Governance (C-EENRG).

Implementation techniques

The main innovation of the Paris Agreement lies in its implementation techniques and, particularly, the ‘enhanced transparency framework for action and support’ established by Article 13. This mechanism, the first of its kind in global environmental governance, is the embodiment of the approach, followed since the launching of the ADP in 2011, according to which emission targets would be set domestically and measuring, reporting and verification (MRV) would be organised at the international level. It is, of course, not the only technique, as the Agreement also contemplates many others. For analytical purposes, I will make a distinction between information-based techniques, facilitative techniques and the management of non-compliance.

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The Paris Climate Agreement: An Initial Examination (Part II of III)

Published on February 8, 2016        Author: 

Editor’s Note:  This is the second in a series of three posts that continues Professor Jorge Viñuales’ analysis of the landmark December 2015 Paris Agreement.  Professor Viñuales is the Harold Samuel Professor of Law and Environmental Policy at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Law and the Director of the Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy, and Natural Resource Governance (C-EENRG).

In yesterday’s post, I examined the context leading to the Paris Agreement, its basic legal structure and goals. ‘The Paris Agreement is appended as an Annex to the ‘Adoption of the Paris Agreement’, Draft Decision -/CP.21, 12 December 2015, FCCC/CP/2015/L.9 (‘Decision’). Today’s post proceeds to scrutinize the Agreement’s three main action areas.  Tomorrow’s final post discusses the implementation techniques applicable in the Agreement, and offers concluding observations.

Action areas

The Paris Agreement sets three main action areas, two of which – mitigation (Articles 3-6) and adaptation (Article 7) – are given particular weight, whereas the third – loss and damage (Article 8) – is more circumscribed, and perhaps even confined within narrow bounds.

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The Paris Climate Agreement: An Initial Examination (Part I of III)

Published on February 7, 2016        Author: 

Editor’s Note:  This is the first in a series of three posts analyzing the landmark December 2015 Paris Agreement, authored by Professor Jorge Viñuales, the Harold Samuel Professor of Law and Environmental Policy at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Law and the Director of the Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy, and Natural Resource Governance (C-EENRG).

Less is more, at least sometimes. The 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (‘UNFCCC’) resulted – against all odds – in the adoption of a ‘Paris Agreement’ (hereafter, “Decision”) which will be opened for signature on the 22 April 2016. (The Paris Agreement is appended as the Annex to the Decision.) The Paris Agreement is not perfect, but is more than many of those who have followed the climate negotiations over the years realistically expected.  My purpose here is not to provide a comprehensive analysis of this instrument. That will come in time, once the new Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (‘APA’) but also a number of other Party and ‘non-Party stakeholders’ (Decision, paras. 134-137).  have provided further details as to both the modalities of the different mechanisms introduced by the Agreement and the variety of nationally determined contributions and other actions pledged in connection with mitigation and adaptation. However, from the perspective of a lawyer and addressing an audience of lawyers, I thought it would not be without interest to provide an annotated snapshot of the legal architecture of the Paris Agreement.  Part I of these posts focus on the context that led to the adoption of the Paris Agreement and provides an original schematic of the Paris Agreement and the goals of the Paris Agreement.  Part II tomorrow will set out the three main components of the Paris Agreement’s architecture and offers concluding observations.  Finally, Part III will discuss the implementation techniques of the Agreement and offer concluding observations.

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