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In December I jointly published an article with Ashlee Stetser ’15 titled “On the Path to Sustainable Development: An Assessment of Cambodia’s Draft Environmental Impact Assessment Law” in the Cambodia Law and Policy Journal.  The article can be found here.

As summarized in the article, the Kingdom of Cambodia has experienced remarkable economic growth ever since the early 1990’s when it finally emerged from decades of turmoil brought about by colonialism, the destruction of the Khmer Rouge era, intervention by Vietnam, and civil war.  On average, Cambodia’s GDP has grown at about 7% per year since 1992, placing it at the forefront of post-conflict societies in terms of economic growth.  While such growth has helped to raise living standards in Cambodia and provide greater opportunities to alleviate poverty, it has also wrought untold damage on Cambodia’s environment and rich natural resources.  Moreover, the rapid influx of foreign direct investment to the country, predominantly from China, has only increased the pressure on Cambodia’s environment and people.

Cambodia is trying to address these issues and put itself on a more sustainable development path, in part by completely overhauling its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) system and issuing a new EIA law.     Although Cambodia’s 1996 Law on Environmental Protection and Natural Resource Management and 1999 Sub-Decree on Environmental Impact Assessment Process contain EIA requirements, they are often completely ignored.  Indeed, from 1999 to 2003 essentially no projects in Cambodia conducted the required EIAs, and from 2004 to 2011 only 110 out of about 2,000 projects conducted EIAs.

Accordingly, many people in Cambodia recognize the need for a stronger EIA system.  In 2012 Cambodia’s Ministry of the Environment and the Vishnu Law Group, Cambodia’s leading public interest law firm, drafted a new EIA law.  Vishnu and the MOE have since worked together to distribute the draft widely and hold a series of public consultation meetings in order to raise awareness of the law and to gather and incorporate concerns and comments from a variety of stakeholders.  In doing so, Cambodia is potentially ‘raising the EIA bar’ in the Mekong region with regards to both the process of forming the law and the content of the law itself.  Of course, the law still must be finalized and presented to the National Assembly for adoption, which is currently expected to happen in late 2015 or early 2016.  The article assesses the fifth draft of the EIA law, which provides clarity on institutional authority and EIA process, includes strong public participation and information disclosure requirements, expands the universe of impacts that must be considered in an EIA, and provides for monitoring and enforceability, among other things.

If you’re interested in learning more, please have a read and let us know what you think.

 

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I have a new post up at the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institue Blog. The post is a critical examination of how we define and diagnose China’s – and the world’s – environmental governance challenges.

During China’s annual two sessions meeting in March, delegates gave low approval ratings to the Supreme People’s Court and the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Granted, China’s judicial system and its environmental governance regime leave much to be desired. But attributing such shortcomings to these two government bodies alone is derived from either a serious misunderstanding of China’s governance system or counterproductive finger pointing that obscures the root problems. More 

 

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The latest report from the “PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the European commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) show that per capita emissions in China increased by 9% in 2011 to reach 7.2 tonnes per person, only a fraction lower than the EU average of 7.5 tonnes.” More at the Guardian.

The report only measured emissions from fossil fuel use and energy production. Such things as international air travel were not included. But the picture that this report paints is a bleak one indeed.

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This post is from Heather Croshaw, a rising 3L at Vermont Law School (VLS) and currently interning at WWF in Hong Kong. The views expressed are her own and do not reflect those of WWF or VLS. 

This summer I decided to partake in an internship in Hong Kong at World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) to work in their Climate Change program.

I had a few days to explore the Hong Kong area before beginning work. Considering the amount of activities and sites in Hong Kong, I decided to do some of the real touristy ones first. One particularly popular activity sits directly outside WWF’s Central office, the Victoria Peak Tram, or just known as the Peak Tram.

The Peak Tram services millions of tourists each year, who clamor to witness the famous Hong Kong city view from the summit (well, almost the summit) of Victoria Peak. The tram climbs at a very steep incline, where the buildings look practically sideways. Not a fan of heights, I just kept looking up and not down!

Once the tram reached the top, the views were indeed impressive. The observation deck was especially wonderful for seeing the different sides of the island. While it was a warm day (28 or 29 C), a slight haze marred the picturesque cityscape. The smog was ruing the impressive view of the cityscape. Indeed, air pollution is a problem in Hong Kong SAR and the Pearl River Delta region.

After I left the observation tower, I wandered along to another viewing point where a bunch of tourists gathered. After taking in the view for a few minutes, a young woman asked for my attention. She asked me if I wanted to take a survey. I agreed. After I glanced at the survey, I realized that it was about air pollution and the city skyline. As an environmentalist, I understand more about air pollution than the average layperson- I’d like to think- especially on causes of air pollution, regulatory controls, policy options and legal duties to protect clean air and the right to health. I was feeling in my element.

The student held up 5 pictures of Hong Kong’s skyline and asked me to compare the picture to today’s view. It was definitely smoggy compared to 3 other pictures, but two other pictures were worse, which actually demonstrated how bad the air pollution can be in Hong Kong.

The survey asked questions about the causes of air pollution and possible health effects; rankings on what kinds of natural hazards are “worse” than others; whether people would be willing to change behavior (i.e. drive less); and how much money would people be willing to pay to clean the air. I found it hard to answer some questions, especially about ranking the natural disasters. Do I think Climate Change is the number one priority or today’s air pollution or water contamination? What about maintaining affordable electricity while implementing SOx, NOx, VOCs, PPMs and CO2 emission controls? How much would I be willing to pay to clean the air?

After I completed the survey, I briefly told her about my professional background, as a way to connect as people interested in protecting the environment. I had a nice discussion with the environmental science student from University of Hong Kong about her studies and what she hopes to do after school. She finishes her university degree in August. I wished her luck.

Based on background reading, I knew that air pollution was particularly problematic in China as well as in Hong Kong. What I didn’t know was that Hong Kong’s air pollution violated WHO standards.

In 2011, Hong Kong only had 59 clear days in which all 5 categories of air pollutants (NO2, PM10, SO2, O3 and PM2.5) satisfied the WHO short-term air quality guidelines (AQGs).

Before, Hong Kong could blame development and uncontrolled air pollution in China. When the wind blows from the mainland, pollution definitely settles into Hong Kong’s city area. Power plants, industry, buildings and motorized vehicles emit the majority of emissions causing the air pollution. However, Hong Kong cannot blame mainland China for all the air pollution, as Hong Kong’s motorized vehicles and power plants emit a significant amount of pollution. Thus, Hong Kong suffers both local and regional air pollution in the Pearl River Delta (not to mention water pollution as well).

So, how does Hong Kong fix the air pollution? They have an Air Pollution Ordinance, but the law has to go further. The policy-making arena has made some progress. In 2012, the Hong Kong Government finally updated their Air Quality Objectives for the first time since 1987, but actually offered little improvement.

Policy-makers face tough choices as they have to deal with the short term versus long term issues, while satisfying their constituents.

Protecting the environment does not have to be a hard choice though, which can be a difficult concept for some policymakers to understand.  Hong Kong faces similar policy decisions as in the U.S., where people claim that protecting the environment kills jobs and hurts economic growth.

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In March, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in cooperation with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences released a very quality book that brings together over 30 leading Chinese academics and environmentalists, who author 20 chapters on nearly every aspect of China’s environmental situation. The book, Green China: Chinese insights on environment and development, is available as a free download and will be of value to anyone trying to better understand China’s environmental challenges and governance.

Of particular interest to readers of this blog will be the chapter by Professors Wang Jin and Wang Mingyuan on environmental rule of law in China. The two professors provide a scathing critique of what ails China’s environmental law regime, from inadequate rule of law and insufficient protections for public participation to the legislative process.

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I’m sure that almost every country has someone like John Stossel – a self-righteous media personality who depicts the world in black and white, and whose appeal, to a section of the population, lies precisely in his over-simplified take on very complex matters. I’m usually able to keep such media at bay, but the title to Mr. Stossel’s latest editorial, “Keeping Nature Exactly As Is… Forever” in Reason Magazine was too hard to pass up.

Let’s start from the end of Stossel’s piece.

Most of us don’t think civilization is evil, but we worry about what environmentalists say. We don’t have the time to do complicated calculations about economic trade-offs. It’s easier to just recycle something, buy a Prius and donate to the Environmental Defense Fund.

Today, we put up with amazing intrusions in the name of environmentalism. A million petty regulations mandate surtaxes on gas, separation of garbage into multiple bins, special light bulbs, taxes on plastic bags and so on.

Yet these things are of so little ecological consequence that the Earth will never notice. For this, we must surrender our freedom?

And there it is: environmental protection versus freedom. That’s about as black and white as it gets.

Don’t concern yourself with the facts that inform us that if everyone did separate their trash or use energy saving bulbs we could save billions of dollars not digging new landfills and not building new power plants. The U.S. government’s Energy Star program saved Americans $16 billion in utility bills in 2007 alone. Not bad for a “petty regulation.”

If Stossel were persuaded by facts he might see the collective savings such individual actions have. I know Stossel is all about saving money, because that’s why he’s against “green schemes.” “The green schemes make energy cost more,” he says.

Of course, some who push “green jobs” want the price of energy to rise. Then we will live in smaller homes, drive less and burn fewer fossil fuels. But if the environmental lobby wants Americans to be poorer, it ought to come clean about that.

Gotta love his ability to boil it down for us, i.e., striving for conservation and efficiency means you’re poor.

Let’s apply Stossel’s logical reasoning to another issue near and dear to his heart, social welfare reform.

According to Stossel, individual actions don’t matter in light of the billions of tons of carbon and waste that must be dealt with to solve the problem. So why should any American care if one of their fellow citizens doesn’t have a job and relies on welfare? They’re just one person getting a few thousand dollars in taxpayer money. How is eliminating their welfare check going to solve America’s 15 trillion dollar debt problem? Right, John?

Stossel gets at least one thing right. Green energy and green jobs do not come cheap. Indeed, achieving a truly sustainable economy would require fundamental changes to the dominant notion of free-market Capitalism for both those on the left and the right.

But what Stossel fails to appreciate is that the cost of ignoring our responsibilities to future generations could very likely result in a less prosperous and more dangerous world. Indeed, he fails to understand that economic actions have externalities, and that the “tragedy of the commons” even exists.

Perhaps it is Stossel’s American-centric view that permits his misunderstanding. America’s geography blesses it with abundant natural resources and a relatively small population. But China lacks such advantages. China’s ecological limitations: water shortages, severely polluted water, soil pollution, and the collapse of costal fisheries – just to name a few – don’t allow it the luxury of entertaining rhetoric like Stossel’s.

Hundreds of thousands of Chinese die annually from deaths related to China’s water crisis. Air pollution in its cities, from coal plants and individually driven cars, make American visitors cringe when they first arrive. (Many of these Americans forget that without regulation in the U.S., their cities would look the same.)

Laudably, China has recently raised the price of gasoline and electricity to levels that are on average higher than those in the U.S., and began to ban incandescent light bulbs. Did the country that raised more people out of poverty than any other in history do this to make its people poor again? Probably not. Rather, it was because its growing demand for fossil fuels is making all fuels more expensive, and hopefully to encourage efficiency.

If Stossel thinks that environmentalists are making U.S. energy prices rise, his understanding of markets and world events is skewed beyond belief. I invite him to come to China, so that he might understand why global energy prices are rising.

China will struggle with leaving a dirty economic model behind, because it is always easier to preference short-term economic growth over investments in value creating conservation for the future. But at least China realizes that there are real physical constraints to its landfills and to its fossil fueled growth. If it doesn’t realize this, then American environmentalists should be the least of Stossel’s concerns.

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This post is from Nat Green, a second year law student at Vermont Law School and a joint research project student for 2011-2012 with VLS’ U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law.

On February 27, 2012, China’s National Development and Reform Commission announced a new plan to develop a national quota regime intended to encourage renewable energy development.  This system will require that electrical grid operators purchase electricity from renewable sources to fulfill quotas that vary according to region.  The planned regime, which bears resemblance to portfolio standards employed elsewhere in the world, signals a departure of sorts from China’s renewable energy policies.  While China’s renewable energy development has shown great success, the systems used to this point to encourage the development and integration of such sources continue to face significant challenges. Given the special focus of central government planners on wind generation, any shifts in renewables policy will manifest especially strongly in this sector.

In a sense, China’s wind power industry is a victim of its own success.  In 2010, installed wind capacity was estimated at 42 GW.  While this is still small compared with China’s hydropower capacity, it represents remarkably rapid growth given that the vast majority of this generation capacity has only been installed over the past decade.  Moreover, in the 12th Five Year Plan and associated policy circulars, the Chinese government projects that this growth will continue for decades, with the ultimate target calling for 17% of national electricity production being accounted for by wind generation.  However, this growth has come too quickly for existing grid operators to entirely accommodate the new industry’s particular needs.

While the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) has historically provided much of the capital for China’s wind power sector, China’s Renewable Energy Law (REL) provides the policy and financial backbone of the industry.  The REL established what essentially is a feed-in tariff, meaning that renewable energy developers are guaranteed a fixed rate of sale into existing electrical grids in order to provide a certain return on investment.  Unfortunately, the strong incentive that the REL provides developers is not mirrored by strong enforcement where grid operators are concerned.  The REL requires that grid companies connect renewable generators and that they purchase their electricity, but these requirements place significant burdens on grid operators given the limitations of existing technology.  As a result, enforcement of the grid-connection requirement is uneven.

Recently, The China Renewable Energy Society, a China-based NGO, estimated that generators wasted 10 billion kilowatt hours of wind-generated electricity at installations across China in 2011.  This comes as somewhat of a surprise.  In 2009, many international media outlets reported that as much as 30% of wind capacity went unconnected to electrical grids, and Chinese policy-makers appeared eager to solve this problem in part through strengthened central government oversight.

However, the wind sector’s massive growth in the past two years has simply outrun the grid’s ability to incorporate the new types of load and the new requirements of long-distance transport.  As a result, policy-makers intend to slow wind power growth to a manageable rate.  A Oct 31, 2011 article in the China Energy News, a newspaper put out by the People’s Press and focused on China’s national energy industries, predicted just such a cool-down phase.  In this piece, Han JunLiang, board chairman of the HuaRui Group (a major state-owned renewable energy developer), claimed that wind power in China had come to a “re-adjustment period,” where annual increases of 100-200% are simply not sustainable.

An article in the same publication, published in February 2012 by Wang Xiuqiang, connected this cool-down stage of development with the new need for a quota system.  The quota system, according to Wang, will require that markets incorporate a specific percentage of electricity from renewable sources, varying by region.  In the process, generators and grid operators will earn credits, which in turn they can trade on a domestic market.  According to Wang, this system will serve to better unite the interests of generators and grid operators through both market forces and the threat of greater penalties where grid operators fail to connect renewable sources.

China’s renewable energy quota system, now only in its early development, appears to offer a potential solution of some of the problems associated with enforcement of the REL.  Unfortunately, the technological difficulties associated with China’s wind-generation goals still exist.  New grid technologies and long-range high-voltage transport do not come cheap, and ultimately Chinese policy-makers may need to develop yet more market mechanisms simply to deal with the associated costs.

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