Earthjustice President Search

Earthjustice’s President Trip van Noppen announced last November that he will be stepping down after a very successful 10 years at the helm.

There is now an ongoing search for a new President.  The position description is here:  https://earthjustice.org/about/jobs/36490/president

Professor Patrice Simms joins Earthjustice as a Vice President for Litigation

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This happened a couple of weeks ago, but still a great development.  My good friend Patrice Simms, law professor at Howard University Law School, is joining Earthjustice as a Vice President for Litigation.  Earthjustice is fortunate to get him (though he was already a member of the Board of Trustees and so has stepped down from that role).

Here’s the link to the Earthjustice press release:  http://earthjustice.org/news/press/2017/leading-environmental-attorney-and-legal-scholar-joins-earthjustice

In memory of Janet Reno, U.S. Attorney General 1993-2001

Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno passed away earlier today, age 78.  My years as a young Justice Department lawyer, from 1994-1998, were all under her watch, a time that I have many fond memories of.  (I served in the Environment and Natural Resources Division, under AAG Lois Schiffer then.)  Reno set an example of integrity and fairness for all DOJ attorneys, and I was proud to have been a part of DOJ then.

On my last day at the Justice Department (in June 1998), Reno was kind enough to spend a little time with me and my wife Tinling in a private meeting, both to chat and to learn a little about where my next job was going to take me — which happened to be the start of my academic career at Vermont Law School.  I still remember how friendly and warm she was, even though at the time I was just a young and insignificant staff lawyer.  The world is a little poorer without her.

Below is the official photo.  Unfortunately, our own photos of Tinling and I with Reno are somewhere in storage.

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Running the San Jose Half Marathon Today

img_1506I finished the San Jose Half Marathon in 2:23:51 today, more than 15 minutes faster than I had expected.  My running group included my good friend Professor Frank Wu (of Hastings College of Law) and Professor Carol Suzuki (of Univ. New Mexico Law School).  My friend Frank let me win, as a sign of respect for an elder — in fact, he let me win convincingly (by more than five minutes) so that it would like it was real.

At the finish line, I ran into my former student Parminder, who graduated last year.  Below are a few pictures of me at mile 9, with Parminder, with my spouse Tinling and daughter Gwen-Zoe, and an after-race lunch photo with Frank and Carol.  There will probably be a rematch in the coming months.

 

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.

 

 

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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.