Key Threshold Crossed for Paris Climate Agreement

logo-cop21-2Per the UN, 31 countries ratified or accepted the  Paris Climate Agreement today, September 21.  That means that with the previous ratifications/acceptances, the Paris Agreement has now 60 parties, crossing the 55 party threshold that is necessary for the agreement to enter into force, i.e. become legally effective. Since today’s ratifications/acceptances included some large countries who are significant GHG emitters, such as Brazil, it also means that the agreement now covers 47.76% of the world’s GHG emissions (per the Paris agreement tracker of ratifications).  That puts the agreement within striking distance of reaching 55% coverage of worldwide GHG emission, the second critical threshold for entry-into-force.

If this second threshold is met before the next President enters office, it could make the Paris Agreement’s legally effective before that time.  With the Agreement legally in effect, it would become significantly more difficult for any subsequent President opposed to the Agreement to withdraw immediately from it (as GOP Presidential candidate Trump has previously suggested he might do).  Per Article 28, a three year waiting period would then apply.  [Edit:  As it was kindly pointed out by Steve Wolfson and others, Article 28.3 provides that withdrawal from the underlying UN Framework Convention on Climate Change automatically also withdraws a party from the Paris Agreement. (“Any Party that withdraws from the Convention shall be considered as also having withdrawn from this Agreement.”)  The Convention only has 1 year waiting period for withdrawal.  Hence, using the Convention’s  withdrawal process could allow a country to withdraw from the Paris Agreement within 1 year, rather than 3 years.]

However, for the agreement to be effect on January 20, 2017, when the next President is inaugurated, that second, 55% threshold would have to be crossed (by additional countries depositing ratifications/acceptances) by December 22, 2016.  That is due to the 30 day delay for entry-into-force imposed by Article 21.  Hence, December 22, 2016 will be the day to watch for this contingency.

In Memory of Sun Yat-sen University Law Professor Cai Yanmin

caiyanminI am deeply saddened to share that Sun Yat-sen University Law Professor Cai Yanmin passed away on Monday in Guangzhou, China.  Professor Cai was truly a trail-blazer in her efforts to establish clinical legal education in Chinese law schools as well as her contributions as part of the legal clinic at SYSU to help migrant workers fight for their rights. She  served as Deputy Vice Dean of SYSU Law School in the early 2000s, as a member of the Guangdong Provincial People’s Congress, and as a member of the World Fellows Program at Yale University.  But in my mind, one of her most important contributions was to build bridges between American and Chinese legal academics, lawyers, and anybody else interested in promoting the rule of law.

I knew her as a warm and kind person with a keen intellect and generous spirit.  When I first met her, while I was still a member of the Vermont Law School faculty, she was Deputy Vice Dean of Sun Yat-sen University and interested in advancing the environmental law program at SYSU.  It was through her instrumental role and support that Vermont Law School was able to partner with SYSU Law School, later creating a long-running program (the US-China Partnership for Environmental Law), funded by USAID and the State Department, to provide  environmental law training and capacity-building in China.  Jinjing Liu, a friend and former colleague who worked with me on the VLS-SYSU Partnership, was a student of Professor Cai.  .

Here is a link to the SYSU Announcment.   Below is a pictures of me with her and her husband when I visited Sun Yat-sen University in 2003. I will dearly miss her.




Five Haikus in Honor of the Santa Clara Law School Environmental Law Society Contribution toward the California Coastal Cleanup Day

I had a wonderful Saturday morning with my daughter Gwen-Zoe and the Santa Clara Law School Environmental Law Society students at the Natural Bridges State Beach for the California Coastal Clean-up Day (September 17). In the picture above are Shelby Rogers, Devin, Jessica Atwood, Jojo Choi with dog Bobo, and Gwen-Zoe and me.  Unfortunately, I have not gotten the group picture with all the participants yet, but the turn- out was great! Some 25-30 students from the ELS, my torts course, and friends.  I will post that group picture when it becomes available to me.  By my estimate, we must have collected more than 50 pounds of trash.

Here are 5 haikus I wrote in honor of the terrific effort by the next generation of Santa Clara lawyers toward helping to fix the environment, as well as that of the following generation of my daughter

Natural Bridges Beach
Coastal Clean-up Day
Students pick much trash

Daughter Gwen helped out
Garbage found is plentiful
Use less packaging

Many strange objects
Bong on the beach? Rocking chair!
Yard sale potential?

Check nearby places
Finding homeless encampments
Unknown waste galore

Garbage on the cliffs
Devin is a daredevil


**** Update – group picture, but I think a few students are still missing


Position: Southern Environmental Law Center, Attorney (Deadline: unknown, Atlanta, GA)


Attorney: Atlanta, GA Office

The Southern Environmental Law Center is seeking an experienced attorney for its Atlanta, Georgia office. This is an excellent opportunity to join an organization that is successfully addressing some of the most important and challenging environmental issues facing the Southeast and the nation.

About SELC: With offices across the region (Charlottesville, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; Atlanta, GA; Asheville, NC; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Richmond, VA; Birmingham, AL; and Nashville, TN), SELC uses law and policy expertise to protect the South’s natural resources—its land, air, water, coast and wetlands—and to preserve our rural countryside and community character.  Although our regional focus is the Southeast, much of our work is national in scope and impact.

SELC works collaboratively with over 150 national, state, and local groups to enhance their efficacy and achieve our common conservation goals. Our legal and policy staff comprises some of the nation’s leading experts in their respective fields, and over its 30-year history, SELC has earned a reputation as one of the most effective environmental organizations in the country.  We currently have a staff of 130, including 68 attorneys. Additional information regarding our work and staff is available at

About the position: SELC’s work is focused in five program areas: energy and healthy air, transportation and land use, clean water, coast and wetlands, and forest protection.  The attorney will have significant responsibility for work in one or more of these program areas in Georgia and possibly Alabama. Work will consist of litigation in state and federal courts and advocacy in state and federal administrative proceedings, with some policy analysis and development in various settings at the local, state and federal levels.

SELC prides itself on collegiality, teamwork, and mutual respect among its staff and board.  We seek to bring these same values to our work in partnership with organizations, communities, and people of all backgrounds that share our mission to protect the environment and special places of the South.  The region has a rich natural diversity and an equally rich cultural diversity.  To better fulfill its mission, SELC is committed to broadening the diversity of its staff.  We believe this will strengthen our organization and our effectiveness in responding to the many environmental challenges affecting the South and its people.

Qualifications: We are seeking an experienced attorney with strong advocacy skills, a strong work ethic, and a sense of initiative.  The ideal candidate will be a skilled lawyer with eight years or more of litigation experience, excellent academic credentials, a background in environmental law and policy, strong communication and interpersonal skills, a demonstrated ability to work well in a collegial setting, and a strong personal commitment to SELC’s mission.

Compensation: SELC offers salaries competitive with leading national environmental non-profits, and an excellent benefits package.

To Apply: If you have these qualifications and are seeking one of the most interesting, challenging, and rewarding environmental advocacy positions available, please send your letter of interest, resume, law school transcript (with date of birth and social security number redacted), and a list of three professional references in one email to Sally Barbano at PLEASE INCLUDE “ATLANTA ATTORNEY APPLICATION” IN THE SUBJECT LINE.

SELC is an equal opportunity employer and strongly encourages applications from persons of all backgrounds.


September 2016.

Position: Sierra Club, Beyond Coal Campaign – Staff Attorney (Deadline: unknown, Oakland, CA or Washington,

Job Title: Staff Attorney-Beyond Coal

Department: Conservation

Reports To: Senior Managing Attorney

Context: As part of national Club legal team, the Staff Attorney litigates environmental cases related to the Beyond Coal campaign; helps implement strategic legal campaigns; helps build the in‑house litigation component of the Law Program; and coordinates all aspects of the Sierra Club’s legal work.

Scope: The Staff Attorney litigates key Sierra Club cases, helps implement national strategic litigation campaigns, and helps build the Sierra Club’s in‑house litigation component of its Law Program.  As part of a team of attorneys, the Staff Attorney is involved with ongoing in‑house legal duties, including evaluation and supervision of the Club’s litigation docket, strategic planning with a range of Sierra Club leaders, fundraising, media work, and general supervision of the Law Program. The position involves daily contact with Sierra Club volunteer activists, staff, and attorneys throughout the nation.

Job Activities:

  1. Prosecutes key Club lawsuits, under the supervision of senior staff attorneys; assumes increasing litigation responsibilities including discovery management, witness handling, principal brief writing and oral argument.
  2. Implements strategic, programmatic legal campaigns to support the Club’s Beyond Coal and other campaigns objectives; helps coordinate and supervise the litigation work of strategic legal campaigns; assumes primary responsibility for relationships with staff and volunteer leaders.
  3. Helps evaluate proposed litigation to advise national volunteer and staff leadership on the scope of Sierra Club participation in legal actions.
  4. Helps supervise and administer ongoing Club litigation so that Club can properly maintain and coordinate its climate- related docket; assumes primary responsibility for trouble shooting individual lawsuits.
  5. Helps develop and plan programmatic litigation campaigns to support the Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign objectives; assumes primary role in drafting legal components of strategic plans and reports.
  6. Analyzes legal cases and trends for Club management and membership.
  7. Serves as legal resource for Club membership; helps chapters and groups with their local energy related legal programs and objectives.
  8. Helps fundraise for the Environmental Law Program; establishes and cultivates individual donor relationships.
  9. Develops training, informational, educational, and fundraising materials for Environmental Law Program.
  10. Performs miscellaneous duties as directed.

Knowledge & Skills:

  • J.D. degree and license to practice law, experience in the environmental or energy law fields preferred.
  • Excellent writing and analytic skills.
  • Strong interpersonal and consensus‑building skills.
  • Strong planning and management skills
  • Solid knowledge base of energy law or environmental law.

The Sierra Club offers competitive salary package commensurate with skills and experience plus excellent benefits that include medical, dental, and vision coverage, and a retirement savings 401(k) plan. This is a category 3 exempt position.

Sierra Club is an Equal Opportunity Employer committed to a diverse workforce.

Summer Internship/Fellowship: Southern Environmental Law Center, Summer Diversity and Inclusion Fellowship (Deadline: Sept. 15, 2016, Location in various SELC offices in NC, GA, AL, TN)

This seems like a plum fellowship with a second-largest public interest environmental law firm in the country.  Note the $10K award that seems to be awarded at successful completion of fellowship.


The Southern Environmental Law Center is accepting applications for its 2017 Summer Diversity and Inclusion Fellowship. This is a new position to SELC and provides the opportunity to be an integral part of a team working on a full range of issues of particular importance to the South – clean air, clean and adequate water, energy, forests, coasts and communities – in addition to working with our Diversity Coordinator to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace.  It is a 10 week assignment.

The Fellow can expect to do research and writing on litigation or other environmental advocacy in a substantive area as well as on diversity in the workplace. Research may include federal and state environmental statutes and regulations, procedural and evidentiary issues as well as legal and non-legal research on diversity. In addition to research and writing, the Fellow will also participate in strategy sessions, document review, client meetings, site visits, and other aspects of case or project management. At the end of the fellowship, the Fellow will give an oral presentation on a substantive environmental issue and receive extensive feedback.

The Fellow may also observe depositions, hearings, meetings on environmental policy with government officials and leaders of other environmental groups. We hold periodic seminars or lunch and learn sessions to introduce the Fellow to a wide range of environmental issues and projects. Other special events and outings, including a summer hike or canoe trip, are held each summer.

About SELC:

With offices across the region (core offices in Charlottesville, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; Atlanta, GA; and satellite offices in Asheville, NC; Charleston, SC; Birmingham, AL; Washington, DC; Richmond, VA; and Nashville, TN), SELC uses law and policy expertise to protect the South’s natural resources and to preserve our rural countryside and community character. Although our regional focus is the Southeast, much of our work is national in scope and impact. Our legal and policy staff comprises some of the nation’s leading experts in their respective fields, and over its 30 year history, SELC has earned a reputation as one of the most effective environmental organizations in the country.  We currently have a staff of over 100.

Criteria for Consideration:

  • Demonstrated commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion
  • Demonstrated leadership ability
  • Interest in environmental or non-profit career
  • Community service work
  • Academic achievement


  • Must be a second-year law student attending and in good standing at an American Bar Association accredited law school
  • Must have a strong undergraduate and law school record
  • Must possess excellent writing skills


The selected Fellow will receive $500 per week from SELC for the ten-week summer fellowship. SELC does not reduce this amount if the fellow receives additional outside funding. The Fellow will be guaranteed an interview for future associate attorney positions that become available within three years of completion of the fellowship.


The Diversity and Inclusion Fellow will receive a nonrenewable award of $10,000* for his/her community service, academic achievement, and demonstrated diversity work. The $10,000 award is contingent upon accepting and successfully completing the summer fellowship.

*$10,000 less applicable payroll and withholding taxes

To Apply:

Applications should include a cover letter emphasizing your interest in this fellowship, resume, writing sample, transcript or grade report (with date of birth and social security number redacted) and a reference list. The cover letter should include office preference(s) (Chapel Hill, Charlottesville, Atlanta, Charleston, Asheville, Birmingham or Nashville) and should specify whether you would also like to be considered for our Summer Clerkship. Applications are due by September 15, 2016. Applications received between September 16 and October 15 will be considered for our Summer Clerkship. Submit applications to:

Brienne McKay
Southern Environmental Law Center
601 West Rosemary St., Suite 220
Chapel Hill, NC 27516

SELC is an Equal Opportunity Employer and is continually seeking to diversify its staff. We strongly encourage applications from persons of all backgrounds.


US and China ratify Paris Climate Agreement

Crb5YS4WIAARlmHThe big announcement today was the ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement by the U.S. and China.  (Strictly speaking, the US instrument is an instrument of acceptance.  Image of acceptance instrument is from White House website.)  Specifically, while at the G-20 meeting in Hangzhou, China, President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping delivered their countries’ respective instruments of ratification to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who is the official depositary for the agreement.  (Washington Post article 9/3/2016.)  The secretariat of the Paris Agreement has already updated the ratification status of the Paris Agreement to include the US and China, showing now 26 countries as parties and representing a total of 39.06% of global GHG emissions.

Under article 21 of the Paris Agreement, this agreement enters into force (and thus becomes legally effective) “on the thirtieth day after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 per cent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.”   Thus, there is still a little bit to go before entry into force.  Ironically, almost all of the progress toward the 55% global GHG emission threshold for entry-into-force came from China and US joining of the treaty.  The previous 24 countries were almost all small states,  many of them tiny island nations, the largest countries being Norway and Peru.  The Washington Post article has a nice set of numbers of GHG emissions by some key countries.

As the Post article also mentions, effective implementation of the agreement is going to be heavily dependent on the outcome of the U.S. elections, since it is not likely that Trump will support U.S. membership.  On the other hand, the legal obligations attached to the Paris Agreement are fairly minimal, and there are no apparent legal consequences that non-compliance would have.

However, here is a thing that the Post article  got wrong and another issue that leaves some uncertainty for the agreement’s prospects.  Even though article 28 of the Paris prohibits withdrawal from the agreement during the first three years of the agreement and requires a year’s notice before a withdrawal can become effective, that does not mean that a country would have to stay in the agreement for the first 4 years.  If a country gave notice of withdrawal after 2 years, the withdrawal would become effective after the 3 year mandatory membership period would have ended.

The other issue that the Post article leaves unclear is what happens if Trump does win the election, but the Paris Agreement has not entered into force by January 20, 2017, when the next President takes office.  In that case, the 3-year-mandatory membership period would not have been triggered, since the agreement would not be in force, yet.  It seems likely that under international law a country would still be able to withdraw its instrument of ratification/approval and hence avoid treaty membership once the agreement were to enter into force.  Of course, such a situation will hopefully not occur.

And so, without thinking about all the things that could still go wrong with the Paris Agreement, today is a good day for those care about the fight against climate change.