Sept. 18, 2019 by David Hunter

The World Bank Considers Stepping Back from Accountability

For nearly two years, the World Bank Board of Directors has fumbled what should be an easy decision to modernize its Inspection Panel, the primary institution that addresses the damage the Bank's lending can do to local communities. At issue is whether the Panel should be able to monitor the Bank's implementation of Management Action Plans developed and approved in light of Panel investigations. What to all outside observers would seem like an inherent part of closing any complaint – to ensure promised commitments were fulfilled – has been opposed by certain borrowers and Bank staff who believe they should not be held accountable for impacts on local communities in the first place.

Like other development financial institutions (DFIs), the World Bank's focus on large-scale projects leaves local communities bearing a disproportionate level of environmental and social risk. Too often, that risk turns into actual harm – harm that those who don't suffer it have persuaded themselves is absolutely necessary for the broader good. With the  goal of reducing this risk, 25 years ago, the Bank had the foresight and imagination to create the Inspection Panel, an experiment in giving a voice to those communities asked to bear the greatest burden for the …

May 5, 2017 by David Hunter

Due to the blinders of his fossil fuel dream team and the industry's myths denying climate change (#ExxonKnew), President Donald Trump seems once again on the verge of withdrawing from the Paris climate change accord. That's a fool's errand.

Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement would be a major blow to U.S. standing and leadership in the world. It would also slow our country's efforts to do our part in avoiding catastrophic climate change. So why is he even considering a trip down this dangerous road?

At the significant cost of further tarnishing the United States' image abroad, Trump gets to keep a political promise and make dubious noise about aiding the domestic coal industry. But like so many other Trump actions, its rhetorical impacts (both positive and negative) will be significant, but the practical impacts will be substantially muted by systemic checks …

Nov. 26, 2013 by David Hunter

Efforts to hold private companies responsible for their contribution to climate change just took a big step forward, thanks to researcher Rick Heede.  For the past eight years, Heede has painstakingly compiled the historical contribution of fossil fuel companies to today’s concentrations of greenhouse gases.  According to Heede’s study ”Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854–2010,” which was published in Climatic Change, just 90 enterprises have accounted for over sixty percent of total industrial carbon dioxide and methane emissions.  And just five private oil companies-- ChevronTexaco, ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and ConocoPhillips—have accounted for more than 12 percent of such emissions.

This data is a potential game-changer in how we think of responsibility for climate change.  The fossil fuel industry would like us to believe that we are all equally culpable every time we turn on an …

Dec. 4, 2012 by David Hunter

The World Bank has started a process that appears likely to weaken its environmental and social safeguard policies.  Although the Bank has repeatedly stated there will be no “dilution” of the policies, the Bank’s scoping paper released in October and its ongoing consultations clearly reveal a desire to replace clear standards with discretion and deference to its developing country borrowers.  The Bank, whose environmental and social safeguard policies have long provided important minimum standards for protecting communities affected by international development projects, now runs the risk of sacrificing its leadership role, disempowering affected communities, and forfeiting development effectiveness by once again financing projects that are human rights and environmental disasters. 

Of course the Bank doesn’t say in so many words that it wants to deregulate, but the goals of the policy review is now clear from their scoping paper.  It speaks of the desire to …

June 19, 2012 by David Hunter

This is not your father’s Earth Summit.  This week’s UN Conference on Sustainable Development is meant to assess how far we’ve come from the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (ambitiously named the Earth Summit).  And the 1992 Earth Summit was ambitious, featuring the largest gathering of world leaders in history as well as thousands of civil society and private sector participants whose presence heralded the emergence of a global environmental movement.  The original Earth Summit endorsed sustainable development as the conceptual framework for the future balancing of environment and development.  It also reshaped international environmental governance, completing binding treaties on climate change and the conservation of biodiversity; the Rio Declaration, with its overarching principles of sustainable development; a set of non-binding forest management principles; Agenda 21, a five-hundred page blueprint for achieving sustainable development; and establishing the UN Commission on Sustainable Development …

May 2, 2012 by David Hunter

On one level, President Obama’s Executive Order issued Tuesday, “Promoting International Regulatory Cooperation,” seems benign enough.  After all, who would be against international cooperation and a desire to “reduce, eliminate or prevent unnecessary differences in regulatory requirements”?  Moreover, the Order on its face does little more than set out priorities and procedures for enhancing international regulatory cooperation.

Unfortunately, this Order is a one-way regulatory ratchet that leads only to deregulatory changes in the United States that at best will provide no new protection to U.S. citizens or the environment.  The Order is motivated solely to eliminate “unnecessary” differences in regulatory requirements that “might impair the ability of American businesses to export and compete internationally.” 

The priority for regulators is clear. Scour our regulations and compare them to those of our trading partners—or better yet simply let the U.S. Chamber of Commerce lead you …

Feb. 27, 2012 by David Hunter

a(broad) perspective

Today’s post is first in a series on a recent CPR white paper, Reclaiming Global Environmental Leadership: Why the United States Should Ratify Ten Pending Environmental Treaties.  Each month, this series will discuss one of these ten treaties. 

Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels Adopted and Opened for Signature on June 19, 2001 Entered into Force on February 1, 2004 Number of Parties: 13 Signed by the United States, June 19, 2001 Sent to the Senate on September 26, 2008, and January 16, 2009

Albatrosses and petrels are oceanic birds with a unique natural history:  they typically breed on remote, barren islands and spend most of their time flying long distances over the ocean.  Some species may not return to land for many years after birth and then only briefly to reproduce.  This highly migratory natural history means that these birds …

Dec. 16, 2009 by David Hunter

Environmental negotiations have long set the standard for transparency and participation. The relationship between environmental organizations (of all kinds) and the negotiators has always been one tempered by a shared vision that the negotiations would succeed (in contrast to negotiations at the WTO or World Bank where “success” for many activists was often defined as the failure of the negotiations). The history of transparency and participation in environmental negotiations is taking a huge hit this week in Copenhagen—not because of a loss of a shared vision of success—but because the sheer scale of these negotiations has led to increasing security and a tightening noose around non-governmental participation.

It started on Monday morning. Literally thousands of participants arrived to pick up their registration badges and found instead large, slow-moving lines. In the end, some people stood in the cold for 10 hours and never got into …

Dec. 15, 2009 by David Hunter

Although virtually all of the attention regarding Copenhagen in the United States focuses on mitigation targets, in the developing world a primary focus of any environmental agreement is on the scale, sources and governance of any financial resources being made available. This is particularly true in Copenhagen, where the Global South has demanded upwards of a trillion dollars in development assistance over the next decades. That number is almost certainly out of reach, but with only a few days left of the negotiations none of the numbers are adding up, and there is little clarity over the scale, structure, or sources of climate financing.

Monday's distribution here of a new “facilitators draft” on financial resources (not publicly online, at least at the moment) did little to clarify the situation, punting most of the details to next year’s COP-16. The draft contemplates a new (as of …

Dec. 11, 2009 by David Hunter

As the first week of formal negotiations at the Copenhagen Climate Summit comes to a close, the United States and China are exchanging barbs and little progress is being made … but behind the scene many negotiators remain confident that at least some form of a political agreement can be reached that will move global climate governance significantly forward.

Beginning on Sunday I will join fellow CPR Member Victor Flatt (see his preview on offsets and adaptation) as a credentialed non-governmental observer at the Copenhagen negotiations. I and six of my students from the American University Washington College of Law will be supporting the work of the Center for International Environmental Law and the Climate Law Policy Project, as well as other organizations. We will be looking at issues relating to the future financial architecture for responding to climate change; the reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest …

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More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Sept. 18, 2019

The World Bank Considers Stepping Back from Accountability

May 5, 2017

Trump's Fossil Fuel Dream Team Faces Climate Change's Checks and Balances

Nov. 26, 2013

Making private companies pay their share for climate change: a new study could revive climate change litigation

Dec. 4, 2012

World Bank Risks Weakening Environmental and Social Standards

June 19, 2012

Meeting Low Expectations at Rio+20

May 2, 2012

Executive Order Embraces International Regulatory Race to the Bottom as Official Administration Policy

Feb. 27, 2012

Extending Protection to Wildlife: Why the United States Should Ratify the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels