Signing the Paris Agreement

As the Paris Agreement enters into force today, it is important to recognize both the significance of this event and the substantial work now required to implement its provisions. While much attention has been given to its goal of limiting the rise in global temperature to “well below 2°C” relative to pre-industrial times, and to pursue efforts to limit warming to a 1.5°C increase, the real significance of the Paris Agreement is that at least 190 countries and the European Union have pledged to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Marine debris, NOAA News

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a collection of marine debris swirling around the north Pacific Ocean, is estimated by some scientists to be roughly the same size as the state of Texas. While the Garbage Patch moniker can conjure images of a physical trash island, in reality, it is almost entirely made up of microplastics not always seen by the eye, turning the sea into a cloudy soup. Around 80% of the debris comes from land-based sources in North America and Asia.

Public participation and engagement are easy values to talk about generally, but are difficult to implement meaningfully. In Gulf restoration, the natural resource damage assessment (NRDA) process provides the federal government, states, and the public with an unprecedented opportunity to pursue the difficult actions that put these values into practice.

California coast, Ariel E Barry

The legislative process is complicated. Sea-level rise adaptation is complicated. Combine the two, and a tangled mess can result as the law sorts itself out.

Few laws on the books were written with sea-level rise (or climate change, generally) in mind. As a result, policymakers, lawyers, and property owners are left to their own devices to determine how it all fits together. This round hole-square peg legal setup often requires judicial adjudication to become workable and uniform.

At the national level, the regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act is a great example.

Eiffel Tower

Something extraordinary happened last week: the Paris Agreement on climate change became a reality. Fifty-five percent of the world’s countries, and countries responsible for 55% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, ratified the accord. The agreement will go into effect on November 4th, far faster than many observers predicted.

Factory smokestack

Earlier this year, more than a dozen federal agencies produced a new resource document that pulls together methods that they use to evaluate environmental justice (EJ) concerns when preparing environmental analysis of proposed actions under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

This new document, Promising Practices for EJ Methodologies in NEPA Reviews (the Promising Practices report), was the product of more than three years of work by a NEPA Committee established by the federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice.

 Legal Tools for Strengthening Marine Protected Area Enforcement

At the 2016 Our Ocean Conference, nearly 20 countries announced the creation of new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) or the expansion of existing ones. This is an important step in the right direction, but creating new MPAs will not make a significant difference if new and old MPAs are not effectively enforced. Through the release of its report, Legal Tools for Strengthening Marine Protected Area Enforcement: A Handbook for Developing Nations, the Environmental Law Institute’s (ELI’s) Ocean Program is playing its part to assist countries in ensuring that MPAs are effectively implemented and enforced, delivering positive conservation outcomes.

Gulf of Mexico

On August 23, 2016, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (Council) released its draft Comprehensive Plan Update. This plan “is intended to provide strategic guidance” to the Council in order to “improve Council decisions…” No projects or programs are proposed in the plan. The public has until October 7, 2016 to comment on the plan. If the plan is approved, it will “supersede[] the Initial Plan approved by the Council in August 2013.”

This post highlights some of the key features of the plan, including where it fits into Gulf restoration, what’s in the plan, and what questions remain.

Coastal flooding

Imagine a map of sea-level rise in the year 2100. You know the ones—they show many of the world’s major coastal cities inundated by blue shading. With the sea predicted to rise one to two meters over that time, those maps are showing the consequences. Billions of people and trillions of dollars will be flooded out.

However, those maps only tell part of the story. Most of the world will not passively await the blue shading to come over them. Instead, local and national governments will adapt to sea-level rise. Through a suite of adaptation strategies, they will try to reduce impacts when possible and manage retreat when required.

Environmental Law Institute

Originally posted on ACOEL's blog.

One of the interesting questions that emerged in the strategic planning process for the Environmental Law Institute is whether ELI could offer more support in the development and/or administration of supplemental environmental projects, or “SEPs”. 

Having played a role in the birthing of the original SEP framework in the early 1990s while at EPA, and through my own experience as a practitioner, I am convinced that penalty mitigation through the performance of SEPs can come as close to a win-win as is possible in the enforcement context.