Dave Markell Joins Sabin Center as Visiting Scholar

Posted on September 30th, 2015 by Jessica Wentz

dmarkellWe are pleased to announce that Dave Markell, the Steven M. Goldstein Professor at Florida State University School of Law, is joining the Sabin Center as our second David Sive Visiting Scholar. (Dan Selmi from Loyola Law School – Los Angeles was with us last spring, as our inaugural Visiting Scholar.) Dave will spend the month of October at the Center, while on research leave from his position in Tallahassee. A prolific and highly regarded scholar, Dave will work on identifying opportunities to promote adaptation and resilience that the State of Florida and its local governments might consider, including possible law reform. The project dovetails nicely with our own work developing adaptation plans for three Florida municipalities, in partnership with the consulting firm Dewberry Inc. We are looking forward to having Dave with us, and to working with him over the coming month.

As a reminder: The Visiting Scholar position is accepts applications on a rolling basis from legal scholars, practitioners and government officials in environmental, energy and natural resources law interested in joining us for a sabbatical semester, summer or other short-term visit. Further details are available here.

John C. Cruden on Environmental Law and the U.S. Department of Justice

Posted on September 29th, 2015 by Jessica Wentz

crudenJohn C. Cruden, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, will give the first David Sive Memorial Lecture on Environmental Law at Columbia Law School on Thursday, October 22, 2015, 7:00 p.m.  His topic will be “The Arc of Environmental Law and the U.S. Department of Justice.”

Cruden was confirmed as the principal environmental lawyer for the United States government by the U.S. Senate on December 16, 2014.  From 1991 he was chief of the Justice Department’s Environmental Enforcement Section, and then, from 1995 to 2011, was career deputy assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division.  He has also served as president of the Environmental Law Institute; chairman of the American Bar Association’s Section of Environment, Energy and Natural Resources; president of the District of Columbia Bar; and chief legislative counsel of the Army.

David Sive, who graduated from Columbia Law School in 1948, was considered one of the fathers of environmental law. He argued many of the most important early cases in the field and helped found several leading groups in the field.  After he passed away in 2014 at the age of 91, the law firm he co-founded, Sive Paget & Riesel, established the David Sive Memorial Fund, which is supporting (among other activities) this annual lecture series.

Introductory remarks will be given by Daniel Riesel of Sive, Paget & Riesel, and Michael B. Gerrard, Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice and Director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. Before the lecture there will be a wine and cheese reception at 6:15 pm.​

The event is open to the public but registration is required; please register here. Further information is available here.

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unfccclogo_1Since the first draft negotiating text was released last spring, the inclusion of a “climate change displacement coordination facility” in the anticipated Paris agreement has been on the table. Recently, in the wake of the migrant crisis in the Middle East and Europe, the prospect has gained some momentum. Yet, there has been very little public discussion about what this facility would entail and how it would operate.

Today, the Sabin Center is publishing a briefing note to highlight some of the functions that the displacement coordination facility could fulfill, as well as some key questions for negotiators in the lead-up to COP-21 and subsequent talks. The note is not intended to be a proposal for how the facility should operate, nor do the functions highlighted below necessarily reflect what is politically or economically feasible. Rather, the note is intended to outline a broad array of considerations for decision-makers as they contemplate whether and how to proceed with the displacement coordination facility.

Some of the potential functions discussed in the report include:

1 – The facility could serve as a funding mechanism for activities aimed at preventing or managing climate change-induced displacement and migration.

2 – The facility could provide technical assistance to international organizations and domestic governments to help them prevent, prepare for, and mange migration and displacement in this context. For example, the facility could compile information on the number and geographic distribution of migrants and displaced persons, and could coordinate with national governments and other entities to facilitate the safe resettlement of such persons.

3 – The facility could establish guidelines and standards for addressing climate change-induced displacement and migration. These could range from overarching normative principles, similar to the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, to specific technical standards for the classification and treatment of displaced persons. The facility could also make recommendations on national obligations related to the provision of financial support and relocation opportunities for displaced persons.

4 – The facility could coordinate and monitor the provision of humanitarian assistance and logistical support for displaced persons and migrants.

As part of our continuing work on this issue, the Sabin Center welcomes input from other stakeholders on any potential functions and critical questions that are not identified in this briefing note, as well as recommendations on how the facility should be designed and operated. To provide your input, please contact Jessica Wentz (jwentz@law.columbia.edu) and Michael Burger (mburger@law.columbia.edu), with “climate displacement coordination facility” in the subject of your email.

Lahore High Court Orders Pakistan to Act on Climate Change

Posted on September 26th, 2015 by Jessica Wentz

Ashgar Leghari, a farmer from Pakistan, sued the national government for failure to carry out the 2012 National Climate Policy and Framework. The Lahore High Court ruled on September 4 that “Climate Change is a defining challenge of our time and has led to dramatic alterations in our planet’s climate system. For Pakistan, these climatic variations have primarily resulted in heavy floods and droughts, raising serious concerns regarding water and food security. On a legal and constitutional plane this is clarion call for the protection of fundamental rights of the citizens of Pakistan, in particular, the vulnerable and weak segments of the society who are unable to approach this Court.”

The court cited the right to life and the right to human dignity, “constitutional principles of democracy, equality, social, economic and political justice… the international principles of sustainable development, precautionary principle, environmental impact assessment, inter and intra-generational equity, and public trust doctrine.”  The court found that “the delay and lethargy of the State in implementing the Framework offend the fundamental rights of the citizens.”

The court therefore directed several government ministries to each nominate “a climate change focal person” to help ensure the implementation of the Framework, and to present a list of action points by December 31, 2015. The court also created a Climate Change Commission with representatives of key ministries, NGOs, and technical experts.

On September 14 the court issued a supplemental decision naming 21 individuals to the Commission and vesting it with various powers.

The decisions are linked from this summary from the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW).

​Leghari v. Federation of Pakistan now joins Urgenda Foundation v. State of the Netherlands as an important judicial decision directing a national government to take action on climate change based on fundamental legal principles.

rsz_carbon-major-image1Justin Gundlach
Climate Law Fellow

Greenpeace Southeast Asia and the Philippine Reconstruction Movement filed a Petition with the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights (CHR or Commission) on September 22, 2015 on behalf of 13 organizations and 20 individuals. The Petition makes several allegations and requests. At its core is a claim that 50 of the “Carbon Majors”—a list of state- and investor-owned companies that include Chevron, ExxonMobil, Rio Tinto, Lukoil, Massey Coal—have knowingly contributed to the root causes of anthropogenic climate change and ocean acidification, and have thereby violated the human rights of Filipinos suffering harms traceable to, inter alia, sea level rise and changes to ocean chemistry and temperature. The Petition named only investor-owned companies; of those it named, 10 maintain corporate branches in the Philippines; those 10 include the top 4 emitters according to the Petition.

The Petition is novel both for basing its legal claims on human rights principles and for alleging facts that assign responsibility for a specific fraction of 250 years of GHG emissions to particular entities.

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Meeting China’s Climate Goals: An Expert Discussion

Posted on September 24th, 2015 by Jessica Wentz

Meeting China's Climate GoalsEarlier this week, the Sabin Center and the Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP) co-hosted a panel discussion on Meeting China’s Climate Goals. The event was convened to discuss how China can shift its economy away from coal-fired power generation, improve energy efficiency, and increase the share of low carbon energy sources in its economy, and how the US and China can work together to promote their shared climate objectives. A video of the event and copies of the speakers’ presentations are available here.

An Overview of Chinese Emissions, Targets, and Policies

David Sandalow, the Inaugural Fellow at CGEP, commenced the discussion with an overview of China’s GHG emission trajectories and targets, the policies that have been introduced to achieve those targets, and recent developments in China-U.S. diplomacy. While China’s GHG emissions have skyrocketed in the past decade, surpassing the U.S. to become the largest global emitter, this has coincided with an equally dramatic increase in the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and one of the most successful poverty reduction programs on the planet. As of 2012, China’s GHG emissions totaled approximately 11 gigatons (GT), which is nearly equal to the combined emissions of the US and the European Union (EU). However, China’s per capita GHG emissions (6.7 tons) are still much lower than the US (17 tons) and similar to the EU (7.1 tons). China’s cumulative emissions are also much lower than those of the U.S. and other developed countries.

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Jessica Wentz
Associate Director and Postdoctoral Fellow

Although it has become more common for agencies in preparing environmental impact statements (EISs) to acknowledge the impacts of climate change on a project and its affected environment, it is still quite rare for agencies to accurately incorporate this knowledge into final decisions about the project design, selection of alternatives, or mitigation measures. Only 15% of the EISs indicated that these considerations influenced final decisions about how to proceed with the project.

This is a key finding of a survey of how climate change impacts and adaptation considerations were addressed in federal EISs published between 2012 and 2014. The survey included 117 EISs for proposals involving electric generation and transmission, energy development and mining, transportation, water management, urban planning, and public infrastructure projects.[1]

The survey was conducted by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law in conjunction with a report it published last month recommending that agencies use existing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) procedures to assess the risks of climate change in the context of proposed infrastructure and building projects.

The survey found substantial variation in the scope and depth of the analysis of climate change impacts, both within and across different project categories. Whereas 92% of EISs in the electric generation category included some discussion of how climate change may impact the project or its surrounding environment, only 25% of transportation sector EISs discussed this topic (and only 2% of the EISs indicated that the analysis of climate change impacts had any bearing on final decisions about the location or design of transportation infrastructure). The full results of the survey are summarized in the table, after the jump.

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Sabin Center Events during Climate Week NYC

Posted on September 18th, 2015 by Jessica Wentz

Next week is the seventh annual Climate Week NYC. A variety of events, activities, and high-profile meetings will be convened to advance action on climate change mitigation and adaptation. The Sabin Center is pleased to announce that we will be sponsoring or participating in four different events next week, all of which are open to the public:

Meeting China’s Climate Goals – On Monday, September 21, the Center on Global Energy Policy and the Sabin Center will host a discussion on the opportunities and challenges that China faces in meeting its climate goals. Panelists will discuss how China can shift its economy away from coal-fired power generation, improve energy efficiency, and increase the share of low carbon energy sources in its economy, and how the U.S. and China can work together to promote their shared climate goals. The event will take place from 12:30 – 2:00 pm in the Columbia University Faculty House, 2nd Floor. Please RSVP here.

Merchants of Doubt Screening with Dr. Naomi Oreskes – On the evening of Monday, September 21, the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund and the Sabin Center will host a screening of the acclaimed documentary film, Merchants of Doubt, which lifts the curtain on secretive pundits-for-hire who manufacture confusion about the science of established public threats ranging from tobacco to climate change. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with Naomi Oreskes, the author of the book upon which the film was based. The event will take place from 7:00 – 9:00 pm in Columbia Law School, Jerome Greene Hall, Room 103. Please RSVP here.

Webinar: Current Hot Topics in Climate Change Law – On Thursday, September 24, the American Bar Association is hosting a webinar to discuss hot topics in climate change law, such as the expected litigation on the President’s Clean Power Plan, the UN climate conference in December, emerging standards for disclosure of climate change issues in environmental impact statements, and securities disclosure and the growing movement for fossil fuel divestment. Professor Michael Gerrard, faculty director of the Sabin Center, will be speaking along with Jody Freeman, the director of the Environmental Law Program at Harvard Law School. The webinar will take place from 1:00 – 2:30 pm ET. You can register here.

New York City – Building Energy Benchmarking Law: Acting on the Results – On the evening of Thursday, September 24, the Environmental Law Committee of the NYC Bar, the Sallan Foundation, the New York League of Conservation Voters, and the Sabin Center are co-sponsoring an expert panel to assess the results of NYC’s landmark Local Law 84, the Building Energy Benchmarking Mandate, which started collecting energy use data in 2010. The event will take place from 6:30 – 8:30 pm at the NYC Bar Association, 42 West 44th Street, New York. Please RSVP here.

Sabin Center now accepting applications for Climate Law Fellowship

Posted on September 16th, 2015 by Jessica Wentz

The Sabin Center for Climate Change Law is now accepting applications for a two-year fellowship, to commence in the fall of 2016.  The salary will be $60,000/year plus benefits.  Applicants must have received a J.D. or LL.M. degree within three years prior to the beginning of the Fellowship. Strong academic qualifications and a background in environmental or energy law and policy will be expected. The Fellow will work on a wide variety of research and writing projects concerning climate change mitigation and adaptation; will contribute to advocacy-oriented programs and projects; will help organize conferences, seminars, and collaborative publications; and will supervise volunteer law students, graduate students and undergraduate students throughout the course of the year.

The Fellowship will be for the year period from September 2016 through August 2018. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until February 1, 2016.

Applicants should submit a cover letter, C.V. and law school transcript to michael.burger@law.columbia.edu (no calls, please).

To view this announcement on our website, please click here.

Justin Gundlach joins Sabin Center as new Climate Law Fellow

Posted on September 14th, 2015 by Jessica Wentz

Gundlach large photoWe are excited to announce that Justin Gundlach joined the Sabin Center last week as our 2015-2017 Climate Law Fellow. Justin’s work at the Sabin Center will focus on climate change adaptation — that is, on how existing legal and regulatory tools can help push governments and private sector actors to consider effects of climate change when making decisions and investments. In addition, Justin will continue working on topics relating to energy use and the regulation of the electric grid, about which he has written extensively (visit his bio for list of publications).

Before starting at the Center, Justin worked as a staff attorney and clinical teaching fellow at the environmental section of Georgetown law school’s Institute for Public Representation. In that role, he litigated in state and federal courts and filed amicus briefs with the Supreme Court in cases dealing with the Clean Air Act. That fellowship followed several years of private practice, which in turn followed an internship in the Energy & Climate Change Section of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Justin received an LL.M. from Georgetown with distinction in 2015 and a J.D., cum laude, from NYU School of Law in 2010. He is licensed to practice law in New York. You can reach him jmg2308@columbia.edu.


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