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Home Archive for category "International Environmental Law" (Page 5)

A “Legally Binding Treaty” or Not? The Wrong Question for Paris Climate Summit

Published on December 4, 2015        Author: 

Both media and negotiators are spending an inordinate amount of time on whether the Paris climate summit starting this week should lead to a “legally binding treaty”. For the EU Commission, it “must be”. For US Secretary of State John Kerry “definitely not”.

For realist scholars of international relations this obsession is puzzling. In the absence of an international police force, why care about whether a commitment is legally binding? For international lawyers, in contrast, it seems to confirm the self-standing moral authority of their discipline. Why else would politicians hackle about bindingness?

The Paris red herring

Yet, “to treaty or not to treaty” is really not the question. Paris will certainly be a treaty and not be a treaty. Read the rest of this entry…

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UN Climate Change Negotiations: Last Tango in Paris?

Published on November 10, 2015        Author: 

The Paris Climate Change Conference starting on 30 November 2015 is tasked to set the world on a path to address the greatest challenge to ever face humankind, by adopting a new climate agreement. It was hoped that agreement in Paris would bring an end to the impasse that has long affected international climate governance. However, the outlook for the conference is rather bleak. We are just a few weeks away from the conference, but Parties remain far from reaching any agreement. Negotiations under the body entrusted to draft the text of the Paris agreement, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), have abundantly shown that Parties’ views on how to tackle climate change still significantly diverge. At the end of the last ADP session before Paris, progress on the preparation of the text of the agreement remained limited. In fact, Parties even backtracked on the little compromise they had managed to achieve at earlier ADP sessions. This post reflects on the difficulties experienced in the work of the ADP and on their implications for the Paris conference.

Ever since 1992, Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have attempted to agree on measures to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent ‘dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.’ The international scientific body entrusted to assess climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has indicated that such a level requires keeping the increase in global annual average temperature below 2° C as compared with pre-industrial times. Over twenty years after its adoption, however, the UNFCCC has struggled to keep the world within the limits indicated by the IPCC. In fact, global emissions of greenhouse gases have anything but diminished.

The reason international climate governance has proven to be such an intractable affair relates both to the enormity of the challenge at hand, as well as to the gaping disparity in States’ capacity to tackle climate change. The main instrument adopted to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere under the UNFCCC, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, fundamentally acknowledged this gap. Building upon a static differentiation between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries, the Protocol imposed binding emission reduction targets only on the first. With ever growing emissions in emerging economies, like China and India, however, the IPCC has repeatedly flagged that both developed and developing countries need to reduce their emissions.

To make matters worse, political will behind the Kyoto Protocol has significantly faltered. Read the rest of this entry…

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Japan’s New Optional Clause Declaration at the ICJ: A Pre-Emptive Strike?

Published on October 20, 2015        Author: 

On the pitch, the best offense is sometimes a good defense. Alternatively, you can simply decide not to play.

It was reported yesterday that Japan has submitted a new reservation to its declaration recognizing the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The new reservation, which is not yet available on the Court’s website, apparently seeks to exclude disputes relating to living marine resources from the Court’s jurisdiction. According to a fact sheet from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan considers that such disputes should instead be heard under the dispute settlement provisions of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

This is an interesting, if not surprising, development. In March 2014, the ICJ held in Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan) that Japan’s authorization of special permits for the killing of whales in connection with the research program known as JARPA II did not comply with Article VIII of the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW). Article VIII, paragraph 1, provides that “any Contracting Government may grant to any of its nationals a special permit authorizing that national to kill, take and treat whales for purposes of scientific research subject to such restrictions as to number and subject to such other conditions as the Contracting Government thinks fit”. Whaling that is authorized by special permit under Article VIII is exempt from other restrictions imposed by the ICRW regime, including the moratorium on commercial whaling that has been in place since the 1980s.

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Evidence in Environmental/Scientific Exceptions: Some Contrasts between the WTO Panel Report in China-Rare Earths and the ICJ Judgment in Whaling in the Antarctic

Published on April 7, 2014        Author: 

Rare earths imageTwo significant international decisions involving environmental protection claims were issued within the last few days of March 2014.  On 26 March 2014, a World Trade Organization (WTO) Panel issued its Report in China-Measures Related to the Exportation of Rare Earths, Tungsten, and Molybdenum (hereafter, China-Rare Earths), which held, among others, that “China may not seek to justify the export duties it applies to various forms of rare earths, tungsten, and molybdenum [pictured above left, credit] pursuant to Article XX(b) [exception for measures “necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health”] of the GATT 1994.” (Panel Report, para. 8.11b)  On 31 March 2014, the International Court of Justice issued its Judgment in Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan: New Zealand intervening) (hereafter, the Whaling case) where the Court held, among others, that “the special permits granted by Japan in connection with JARPA II [Japanese Whale Research Programme under Special Permit in the Antarctic Phase II] do not fall within the provisions of Article VIII, paragraph 1 [, of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.” [Judgment, para. 247(2)].  In China-Rare Earths, China sought to justify export duties that facially violated Paragraph 11.3 of China’s Accession Protocol to the WTO, by essentially alleging that these duties were justifiable as measures “necessary to protect human, animal, or plant life or health” within the purview of Article XX(b) of GATT 1994.  In the Whaling case, Japan sought to justify JARPA II as a programme “undertaken for purposes of scientific research and is therefore covered by the exemption provided for in Article VIII, paragraph 1, of the [International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling].” (Judgment, para. 49).  While both decisions contain rich analyses of numerous issues of treaty interpretation, one can also look at significant methodological contrasts between the ICJ and the WTO Panel on the treatment of scientific evidence and assignment of evidentiary burdens for the environmental/scientific issues in each case.

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The Right to Regulate for Public Morals Upheld (Somewhat): The WTO Panel Report in EC-Seal Products

Published on January 27, 2014        Author: 

Whitecoat Seal PupThere have been few interpretations of Article XX(a) of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT 1994) – the  specific exception that justifies what would ordinarily be a State’s GATT-inconsistent measure, unless such measure is deemed “necessary to protect public morals”.  As with any of the ten enumerated exceptions under Article XX of GATT 1994, a State invoking GATT Article XX(a) must first meet the requirements of the specific exception (e.g. demonstrating that the challenged measure is indeed “necessary to protect public morals”), and thereafter show that the challenged measure also complies with the overall requirements of ‘good faith’ (Brazil – Measures Affecting Imports of Retreaded Tyres, Appellate Body Report of 3 December 2007, at para. 215) as contained in the chapeau to Article XX (e.g. demonstrating that the challenged measure is not being applied in a manner which would constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination between countries where the same conditions prevail, or a disguised restriction on international trade).  The 25 November 2013 Panel Report in European Communities – Measures Prohibiting the Importation and Marketing of Seal Products [hereafter, “EC-Seal Products“] issued the very first decision upholding a State’s right to regulate for public morals as an exception under Article XX(a) of GATT 1994, in relation to ongoing trade arising from seal hunting (pictured above left,) and seal products.

It may be recalled that the 2009 Panel Report in China- Measures Affecting Trading Rights and Distribution Services for Certain Publications and Audiovisual Entertainment Products [hereafter, “China – Publications and Audiovisual Products“] was the first occasion for a WTO panel to directly interpret the scope and meaning of measures “necessary to protect public morals” under GATT Article XX(a). China had invoked the “public morals” exception in GATT Article XX(a) to justify a set of measures that regulated the entry of foreign publications, audiovisuals and other media forms.  China argued that its regulations were designed to protect public morals in China by reviewing the content of foreign cultural goods and forms of expression that could potentially collide with significant values in Chinese society.  The China – Publications and Audiovisual Products Panel had little trouble accepting the interpretation of “public morals” (China-Publications and Audiovisual Products, para. 7.759) already laid down in the 2004 Panel Report in United States- Measures Affecting the Cross-Border Supply of Gambling and Betting Services [hereafter, “US-Gambling“], which had defined “public morals” in Article XIV of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), as “standards of right and wrong conduct maintained by or on behalf of a community or nation” (US – Gambling, para. 6.465).  However, the Panel ultimately rejected China’s assertion of GATT Article XX(a) exception (China-Publications and Audiovisual Products, para. 7.911), finding that China had failed to show the “necessity” of its challenged measures for the supposed purpose of protecting public morals.  The Appellate Body upheld these findings in its December 2009 Report.

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Aerial Herbicide Spraying Case Dead in the Air

Published on September 17, 2013        Author: 

The ICJ has just announced the removal from its list of the Aerial Herbicide Spraying (Ecuador v. Colombia) case (press release; order), which was consensually discontinued as the parties reached an agreement resolving their differences. The main issue in the case was that Colombia’s aerial hearbicide spraying of coca leaf plantations in Colombia (with the ample help of the US in the ‘war on drugs’) harmed the people and environment of Ecuador as in some cases the herbicide drifted accross the border. The 9 September 2013 Agreement:

establishes, inter alia, an exclusion zone, in which Colombia will not conduct aerial spraying operations, creates a Joint Commission to ensure that spraying operations outside that zone have not caused herbicides to drift into Ecuador and, so long as they have not, provides a mechanism for the gradual reduction in the width of the said zone; … sets out operational parameters for Colombia’s spraying programme, records the agreement of the two Governments to ongoing exchanges of information in that regard, and establishes a dispute settlement mechanism.

The case before the ICJ was well advanced, with the written pleadings already completed. While it is of course always a good thing that states are able to resolve their disputes peacefully, it’s to an extent a pity that the Court was not given the opportunity to decide this case, which could have been very important with regard to questions of transboundary harm. It even had one particular issue near and dear to my heart, as Ecuador alleged that Colombia was violating the human rights of Ecuadorians living accross the border, thus raising the issue of the extraterritorial application of the relevant human rights treaties (yet the Court was probably not going to rule on it anyway). Of note is also how the Court’s docket has recently shrunk rather signficantly, partly due to more (and welcome) efficiency and mostly due to a lower number of incoming cases.

UPDATE: But it seems the Court is getting a follow-up to the Nicaragua v. Colombia delimitation case. Lose some, win some.

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Decoding the Durban Platform

Published on December 14, 2011        Author: 

Lavanya Rajamani is a Professor of International Law at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, India.

The Durban climate conference, marked by tension, high drama and sleepless nights, arrived 36 hours after the scheduled end of the conference, at a set of historic decisions. These include decisions to implement the Cancun Agreements, operationalize the Green Climate Fund, extend the Kyoto Protocol for a second commitment period, and launch a new process to negotiate a future climate regime. This was a ‘package deal’ in that without an agreement to negotiate a future climate regime, the EU would not have agreed to a Kyoto second commitment period.

Parties launched a process titled the Durban Platform on Enhanced Action (see here) to negotiate ‘a Protocol, another legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all.’ This instrument is scheduled to be adopted in 2015, and implemented from 2020. Although the media has interpreted this decision to mean that all ‘major emitters,’ developed and developing alike, will be legally bound to GHG emissions cuts from 2020, the tortured language used in this decision masks a vast terrain of contestations.

In the lead up to Durban several developing countries were reluctant to endorse a legally binding instrument (see previous post), however India alone held out till the last hours of the conference. India insisted that agreeing to a legally binding instrument was a Cabinet-mandated red line that it could not cross. It could agree at best to launch a process towards a ‘legal outcome’  – which would leave the precise legal form of the instrument open. A ‘legal outcome’ could encompass legally binding instruments as well as Conference of Parties decisions, which although operationally significant, are not, save in the exception, legally binding. This formulation lacked the clarity and ambition that the EU, the Alliance of Small Island States, the Least Developed Countries, many Latin American countries, and even India’s BASIC allies, Brazil and South Africa, were seeking. Critically, this was not sufficient for the EU to endorse a second commitment period. After a fast and furious ‘huddle’ in the final hours of the conference, India agreed to substitute the term ‘legal outcome’ with a marginally less ambiguous term, ‘agreed outcome with legal force,’ thus triggering the acceptance of a Kyoto second commitment period by the EU and its allies. Much of the details on Kyoto will be worked out in 2012, but Durban did give it a new lease of life.

Unlike the terms ‘Protocol’ and ‘another legal instrument’ the term, ‘agreed outcome with legal force’ does not reflexively signal a legally binding instrument. Nevertheless the overwhelming implication of these formulations as well as the political machinations surrounding it is that we are moving towards a legally binding regime. And, one in which the nature and extent of differentiation in favor of developing countries will shift considerably from the existing regime that is rooted in the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.

The Durban Platform decision does not contain a reference to ‘equity’ or ‘common but differentiated responsibilities.’ This is no benign oversight.  Read the rest of this entry…

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The Durban Climate Conference: Prospects for a Legally Binding Agreement Post 2012

Published on December 8, 2011        Author: 

Lavanya Rajamani is a Professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, India. She was previously University Lecturer in Environmental Law, University of Cambridge and Fellow & Director of Studies in Law at Queen’s College, Cambridge. She is co-editor of  ‘Promoting Compliance in an Evolving Climate Regime’ (CUP, 2011), and ‘Climate Change Liability: Transnational Law and Practice’ (CUP, 2011). She has worked as a consultant to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat, the Danish Ministry of Climate Change and Energy, the UNDP, the World Bank, the Alliance of Small Island States, and the International Institute of Sustainable Development. She has worked on and followed the climate negotiations since 1997, in different capacities, including as a negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States during the negotiations for the Marrakech Accords, and as a legal advisor to the Chair of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long term Cooperative Action under the FCCC – the inter-governmental group tasked with arriving at an agreed outcome on climate change post-2012 – in the lead up to the Copenhagen Climate Conference, 2009.

Ever since the Bali Action Plan, 2007, launched the current phase of negotiations under the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), parties have been dithering over the legal form that the “agreed outcome” to these negotiations should take. The options range from protocols and amendments that are legally binding and can deliver the benefits of consistent application, certainty, predictability and accountability, to soft law options such as decisions taken by the Conference of Parties (COP), which, while operationally significant, are not, save in the exception, legally binding. This divisive issue has taken centre-stage at the ongoing Durban Climate Change Conference.

Many countries, including the host country, South Africa (part of the BASIC group of Brazil, South Africa, India and China) have coalesced in favour of a legally binding instrument to crystallise mitigation and other commitments that will chart the world through to a 2°C or even 1.5°C world. The Alliance of Small Island States and other vulnerable countries on the frontlines of climate impact believe that anything short of a legally binding instrument would be an affront to their grave existential crisis. The EU has indicated that they will offer the Kyoto Protocol a lifeline to ensure its survival for a transitional commitment period, conditional on the adoption at Durban of a deadline-driven roadmap towards a “global and comprehensive legally binding agreement” under the FCCC. This agreement, applicable to all, is intended to take effect post-2020.

Brazil, China and India argue that extending Kyoto is a legal obligation, not a bargaining tool to wrench further concessions from developing countries. These countries are, if at all, only willing to consider a mandate for a new legally binding instrument after the completion of the review of the long-term global goal of 2°C slated for 2015. The United States, nervous about the gathering momentum in favour of a Durban mandate, has indicated that any new legally binding instrument, if and when it becomes necessary, must incorporate symmetrical mitigation commitments, at least in form, for all significant emitters. In this they are joined by the Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and others. Needless to say, the BASIC countries will find such symmetry unpalatable.

Whatever the merits of these positions, it is worth stepping back from the ever-dire politics of the blame game, and exploring what legally binding instruments do that COP decisions cannot; why, if at all, we need such an instrument; and why developing countries, may have little to fear and much to gain from a legally binding instrument. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Position of British Parties on International Law Issues

Published on April 22, 2010        Author: 

As readers will know the UK will hold a general election on the 6th of May. This evening, as a part of a unprecedented three part series of debates, the leaders of the three main UK parties (Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats) will hold a debate on foreign affairs. I thought it would be useful to highlight, brieftly, the position of those three parties on some issues of international law. The BBC website has a useful summary of the position of these parties on Europe and Foreign Affairs, which you can find here. However, some of the positions attributed to the parties by the BBC do not appear in their manifesto and don’ t seem to be on the parties website either. Unlike the position in the United States in recent years, and with the exception of their position on relations with the European Union, there is no radical difference between the parties on questions of foreign affairs. I don’t intend to say much on Europe, but it is worth pointing out, in brief, that the Conservatives hold the most sceptical position, including, for example, a commitment never to join the single european currency – the Euro; and amending UK law to ensure that any future transfers of powers to the EU must be approved by referendum. The Liberal Democrats , by contrast hold the most Euro friendly position (both with respect to the single currency and Europe more generally) with Labour being somewhere in the middle. On another matter related to Europe, the Conservatives have promised to replace the Human Rights Act (which incorporates the European Convention of Human Rights into UK law) with a UK Bill of Rights. I will leave it to others more knowledgeable about that issue to comment on it.

On general international law issues there is actually broad agreement among the parties on a range of issues. Let me start by pointing out the position of the parties on a number of international treaties – both exisiting treaties and those possible future treaties that the parties commit themselves to support. Labour and the Conservatives commit themselves in their manifesto to reform of the UN Security Council (which presumably means amendment of the UN Charter). Read the rest of this entry…

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