Tuesday, February 26, 2013

China's Carbon Tax: What does it mean for Kyoto Protocol's Emissions Trading System?

According latest newsreports and blogs, China is considering imposing a carbon tax. A Washington Post blog provides an overview of the tax and its implications here. If China succeeds in imposing the carbon tax, it will be an important first step to achieve emissions reduction in one of the world's largest emitting nations. The question is what the implication of this action will be for the successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol?

President Obama in his State of the Union address appeared to lean towards a cap and trade regime, given his reference to the McCain-Lieberman Bill. This preference means that the United States government may pursue a cap and trade option over a carbon tax. Whether one is better than the other is an ongoing debate.

The critical issue is how, if at all, the difference in the choice pursued by these countries will affect a future international climate treaty. On a positive note, steps taken by the two major emitters and economic powers could lead to much needed consensus on international action. However, it could also mean that the two major emitters may differ on the future of the Kyoto Protocol emissions trading system.

On the one hand, a change to the central architecture of the Kyoto Protocol could spell further disagreement and probably the disintergration of the Kyoto Protocol. On the other hand, it could usher a welcome change to the architecture of the Kyoto Protocol, which has presented several challenges since its inception. It may perhaps help begin a dialogue for an alternative and much more flexible framework for achieving emissions reduction.


February 26, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Call for Proposals: University of San Diego Climate & Energy Law Symposium

"California in the Spotlight: Successes and Challenges in Climate Change Law"

Proposals due:  Monday, March 25, 2013 

On Friday, November 8, 2013, the University of San Diego School of Law will host its Fifth Annual Climate & Energy Law Symposium.  With this Call for Proposals, you are invited to submit the title and abstract of an article that you would be able to present at the Symposium and publish in the fifth volume of the San Diego Journal of Climate & Energy Law.  If your proposal is selected, all your expenses to attend the Symposium would be paid, and your completed article would be due to the Journal’s editors by Monday, December 16, 2013. The agendas and webcasts of past symposia are available here.

The theme of our 2013 Climate & Energy Law Symposium is “California in the Spotlight: Successes and Challenges in Climate Change Law.”  Among U.S. states, California has pursued the most comprehensive and ambitious approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  California’s approach is multi-sectoral, with laws designed to transform not just electricity generation but also transportation, industry, and land use.  Also, California has embraced regulatory innovation through a robust combination of market and non-market based regulatory instruments.

At the University of San Diego’s Fifth Annual Climate & Energy Law Symposium, academic and policy experts will analyze and assess three core aspects of California’s approach to climate change mitigation.  First, California has implemented an economy-wide cap-and-trade program.  How well does cap and trade work?  What are its weaknesses and strengths in comparison to alternative emissions reduction policies?  Should it be a regulatory instrument of choice for other states and countries?  Second, California is aggressively pursuing emissions reductions in the transportation sector.  What is the outlook for zero emission vehicles and the policies to promote them?  Should the state’s low-carbon fuel standard survive judicial scrutiny?  What prospects remain for a national low-carbon fuel standard?  Third, California remains a leader in promoting low-carbon electricity, particularly solar electricity.  How have the state’s utilities complied with the Renewable Portfolio Standard requiring that they source 33% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020?  What are the arguments for and against national policies that mandate such goals?  What other state, national, and international policies should be implemented to promote low-carbon electricity?

All article proposals related to these broad issues in climate change mitigation are welcome.  It is not necessary for an article to focus specifically on California law and policy.  If you are interested in participating, please submit the following to Joshua Dennis, editor-in-chief of the San Diego Journal of Climate & Energy Law, at jdennis@sandiego.edu:

(1)    The proposed title of your article and a one- to three-paragraph abstract;

(2)    A link to or copy of your CV; and 

(3)    Confirmation that you would be available to attend the Symposium on Friday, November 8, 2013, and that you can commit to submitting a complete draft of your associated article for publication to the San Diego Journal of Climate & Energy Law by Monday, December 16, 2013.

Proposals should be submitted by Monday, March 25, 2013.  We look forward to hearing from you!

The University of San Diego Climate & Energy Law Symposium is co-hosted by the Energy Policy Initiatives Center (EPIC) and the San Diego Journal of Climate & Energy Law.  For information about past Symposia, please visit:

First Annual Climate & Energy Law Symposium (2009): Federal Preemption or State Prerogative: California in the Face of National Climate Policy

Second Annual Climate & Energy Law Symposium (2010): Next-Generation Regulation: Instrument Choice in Climate Law

Third Annual Climate & Energy Law Symposium (2011): Advancing a Clean Energy Future

Fourth Annual Climate & Energy Law Symposium (2012): Law in a Distributed Energy Future


- Lesley McAllister

February 26, 2013 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Perspectives on Crisis, Resilience and the Reformation of the International Law on Sustainable Development

Sustainability is a concept or goal to guide decision making at the intersection among the social and economic components of the human system and the environment.

Unlike sustainability, resilience is an inherent property of a system.  It is the degree to which a system maintains the same structure and function in the face of change or a perturbation.

Unlike sustainability, resilience as a general concept is value neutral.  A system may be highly resilient either because it is quite adaptable (latitude) or quite resistant to change (resistance). 

Thus, an overgrazed field taken over by invasive weeds may be resistant to returning to its original state when livestock are removed – it is therefore resilient but not necessarily something we label as good. 

A brutal military dictatorship may be highly resistant to change -- it is therefore resilient but not necessarily something we label as good. 

Thus it is common to talk about resilience in the context of societal goals such as sustainability or the maintenance of ecosystem function.  What resilience brings to the discussion is a deeper understanding of how to adjust our actions in a complex system to achieve these goals.

In my former life as a scientist, it was always what happens at the boundaries of two systems that interested me – in science it was the boundary between physical systems, now it is the boundary between schools of thought – it is what led me to interdisciplinary research.

In physical chemistry I studied the laws of thermodynamics applicable to ideal systems and I loved their simplicity and predictive capability.  But as a researcher in geochemistry, I studied a system in which the temperatures had been warm enough to cause mineral composition to change when seawater and rock interacted, but too slowly to reach equilibrium.  You might predict that the results would plot on a continuum from the original state to the new equilibrium state.  You would be wrong.  The same discrete intermediate stage occurred over and over again.

We see this in other complex systems.  Consider a river – on the one hand you can study and model fluid flow, on the other hand you can describe the properties of the river bed.  But put them together and you have a boundary condition.  The entire behavior of the new system is defined by how the water and stream bed interact.  And that interaction is not random chaos.  Rivers persist in certain forms that are empirically predictable.

Understand quantum physics and thermodynamics and you will never predict life.  Evolution is our current way of understanding the change of one life form to another, yet despite our search for a continuum in the fossil record, there appear to be discrete steps.  One aspect of resilience scholarship is the recognition that systems are self-organizing.  Thus a system that crosses a threshold, will reorganize in another discrete state.  It may or may not be a state that we value.

The danger of goals like sustainability without integration with a concept like resilience that relates to both the properties and processes within the relevant system is that the failure to account for complexity may lead to system collapse.  For example: Consider what are referred to as the 4 R’s of sustainability: re-duce, re-use, re-cycle, -re-claim.  While they sound good, optimization of resource exploitation through ever increasing efficiency can move the system precariously close to a threshold.  Thus a social-ecological system relying on a water source that is developed to the maximum level of efficiency is highly susceptible to collapse in the face of disaster and crisis such as increasing prolonged drought resulting from climate change.

My own work is premised on the hypothesis that by consideration of governance through the lens of resilience we can define certain criteria that facilitate adaptability and legitimacy and are transferrable to multiple systems at multiple scales.  I will briefly describe three projects:

1.         On the problem of disaster and crisis or simply, change:  we are looking at a simple process of mapping the scale at which particular ecosystem services function in comparison to scale of governance in the context of river basins, then identifying potential thresholds that may be reached due to external environmental and social drivers such as climate change, nutrient cycles, population, the economy, and institutions.  Preliminary work shows at least 2 outcomes:

  • When we replace a service provided by the ecosystem with an engineered service, we tend to move up a scale in both the governance and the physical system.  This is because we tend to engineer complexity out of the system – replacing the function of the floodplain with dams and levees for example.
  • This reduces our ability to adapt in the face of external drivers

2.         On the problem of – just because science says it is the right thing to do, does not mean society will do it. For this I have been looking at the work of scholars more adept than I on the concept of legitimacy which considers: how persuasive are the decisions made by our leaders – are their actions justified (normative) and do we perceive them as justified (popular).  I use legitimacy specifically in the context of the actions of administrative agencies.  One of the outcomes is that by looking at decision-making through the lens of resilience, process matters – it is not enough to use good science.  My work looks at the use of local knowledge and capacity building to facilitate local deliberation and innovation; the use of negotiated time frames for adjustment to allow stability while enhancing flexibility; the use of goal setting and monitoring to enhance accountability; and the use of networks to bridge between scales and entities with fragmented jurisdictional authority.

3.         Finally, a project in the funding proposal stage would bring together legal and resilience scholars, political scientists and ecologists to integrate the work from the first two projects into a set of criteria for adaptive governance to achieve social-ecological resilience.


I am enough of a student of the history of science that I don’t believe resilience is the end point of that understanding, but it gives us a way to better align our behavior in the social system with how changes are occurring in the ecological system and to begin to make at least empirical sense out of the feedbacks between the two – generally the precursor to great leaps in thought.  All we are doing then is setting things up for the next generation to make that leap to the theories to describe the complex behavior at the boundary between social and ecological systems.

Comments of Professor Barbara Cosens from a panel on Crisis, Resilience and the Reformation of the International Law on Sustainable Development at the Canadian Council on International Law Conference, Ottawa, Nov. 2012

February 26, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)