NewsOctober 4, 2010

Climate Clippings: Lawsuits, the 'Climate Gap,' and a Better Drive

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By Douglas Fischer, for the Daily Climate

Courts Could Break Stalemate on International Climate Talks — Lawyers

Developing nations could use international law to break the current deadlock in the United Nations negotiations on climate change by taking industrialized nations to court, according to an analysis released today.

“Climate change litigation has been described as the next big target for lawyers after tobacco, asbestos and food,” wrote Christoph Schwarte, a lawyer for the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development and the study's author. “A credible case for a legal wrong can be made.”

Schwarte suggested climate-vulnerable countries could hold industrialized nations responsible for their emissions using the so-called “no harm rule.” That principle, well-established in international law, Schwarte wrote, holds a country is duty-bound to prevent, reduce and control the risk of environmental harm to other countries.

The publication comes as government officials from around the world gather in Tianjin, China for three days of negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. 

While litigation faces various substantive and procedural legal hurdles, it could become a bargaining chip in the negotiations, Schwarte noted.

“Developing country governments are understandably reluctant to challenge any of the big donor nations in an international court or tribunal,” Schwarte said in a statement. “But this may change once the impacts of climate change become even more visible and an adequate agreement remains wanting.”

The UN climate talks, underway since 1992, have made little progress toward a global treaty, with prospects for ambitious emission reductions unlikely in the near-term.

As a result billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will be released into the atmosphere, and many scientists warn global temperatures could rise by 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

Schwarzenegger Nixes Community Climate Change Bill.

A California effort to create a fund to help those most affected by climate change was vetoed last week by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The governor, in his veto message [pdf], said the state simply doesn't have the money.

Assembly Bill 1405 would have dedicated a portion of any revenues generated by the state's climate change law to mitigate health or environmental burdens in the state's “most impacted and disadvantaged” communities.

Advocates, noting that the effects of global warming are not felt equally, argued the fund would help shrink this so-called “climate gap.” Such communities, they said, tend to be urban areas dominated by minority and low-income residents and hard hit by air pollution.

Schwarzenegger countered that California regulators are already tasked under state law with lessening disproportionate impacts.

“They have kept this commitment in mind,” he wrote in his veto message. “Unfortunately, the bill proposes to spend money that does not currently exist and might not ever exist in a fund controlled by the state of California.”

New Lighting Leads the Way for a Dutch Tunnel

NISHOEK, Netherlands – Dutch engineers conducted an experiment this summer when they refurbished a small tunnel under an aqueduct here in the southwestern corner of the country.

Instead of typical lighting, where lights are placed periodically and thus, from the driver's perspective, tend to flicker while cars zoom underneath, the revamped tunnel features continuous strips of cool white, energy-saving LED lamps.

The result, Dutch officials say, is a safer tunnel where the lighting better mimics daylight conditions and offers far more detail and contrast to drivers. The LED lights also cut energy costs in half and maintenance costs by 90 percent versus traditional lamps over their projected 13-year lifespan.

The 327-meter Vlaketunnel in Zeeland was built in 1975 and carries the four-lane Highway A58 under the Zuid-Beveland, once one of the busiest shipping channels in Europe.

Authorities picked the LED lamps based on competitive bids that factored in renovation costs as well as maintenance and energy costs for the next 13 years to 15 years, said Ellen Visser, director of public roads and works for the Zeeland regional office of Rijkswaterstaat, the Dutch public works agency.

The Vlaketunnel is the first in the Netherlands to be renovated to new European Union safety standards; the Rijkswaterstaat estimates the country will need to spend €500 million over the next several years bringing other tunnels into compliance.

“This is an experiment, but we consider it a success,” Visser said. “So we will consider this for all other tunnels.”

But the technology, while successful here, needs more time to mature before it can compete everywhere, said Robert Boomer with Siemens, which took the lead on the lighting.

“From a contractor's point of view, it's not always cheaper,” he said. “It depends on the requirements. But in two years' time, it will be only LED.”

Editor's note: Douglas Fischer's trip to the Netherlands was paid for by the Dutch trade ministry.

Agriculture Can Benefit from Cap-and-Trade, Study Finds

The short-term costs to agriculture associated with a cap-and-trade climate policy is likely to be limited and can be offset in the long term by profits from carbon sequestration, according to a new analysis.

The study [pdf], conducted by the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, found farmers can reap credits for on-farm carbon sequestration without major land-use shifts. The majority of agricultural producers, the association said, could pocket money from cap-and-trade, particularly with high carbon prices.

To capitalize on this, however, farmers would need better education and extension programs to identify the carbon sequestration potential of their lands. Standards that facilitate measurement and certification of emissions offsets, as well as cost-sharing programs to offset some sequestration practices would also help, the association concluded. 

“Farmers are sensitive to production cost increases and can adjust to a certain degree to mitigate any negative impacts that affect production costs,” said Yong Jiang, a co-author of the study. “On the other hand, farmers may not be fully responsive to new policy-created market opportunities.”

Photos, from top: The International Court of Justice in the Hague, courtesy of the court. Chevron's El Segundo refinery in  California courtesy Pedro Szekely/flickr. Tractor plowing courtesy Amanda Slater/flickr is a nonprofit news service that covers climate change. This work by The Daily Climate is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.