International Update Volume all, Issue 5
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<p>Last Wednesday, Agua Caliente, an indigenous community in Guatemala, brought a case regarding land rights to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Located in the El Estor municipality, the community is one of sixteen Maya Q’eqchi’ communities in the area. The case calls for the Guatemalan government to give the community titles to their land and sovereignty to determine how their lands are used, including in regard to natural resource extraction.

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<p>On February 4, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal ruled against four challenges by First Nations groups against the controversial expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.

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<p>On February 8, the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales dismissed an appeal by pipeline developers of the Rocky Hill open-cut coal mine against an earlier planning rejection. The court found that construction and operation of the mine would result in greenhouse gas emissions that would contribute to climate change, and thus rejected its construction. This case marks the first time an Australian court has heard expert evidence on the need to stay within a global carbon budget in the context of a proposed coal mine.

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<p>Rwanda has signed a $400 million deal to produce bottled methane gas from Lake Kivu, which lies in the volcanic region of Rwanda's border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and is known for emitting dense clouds of methane. The project will suck gas from the lake's deep floor and bottle it for use as fuel, which, in turn, should help prevent toxic gas from bubbling to the surface. The bottled methane is intended to help cut local reliance on wood and charcoal, the fuels most households and tea factories use in the East African nation.

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<p>Brazil's leading research institute, Fiocruz, is warning of a potential health crisis from the failure of a dam in the state of Minas Gerais, which released muddy mining waste and killed at least 134 people. The reservoir breach leached roughly 12 million cubic meters of reddish-brown mud, threatening to contaminate 48 municipalities and affecting up to 1.3 million residents. The institute is concerned that contamination of the ecosystem and nearby Paraopeba River could lead to the spread of diseases like dengue and yellow fever in communities surrounding the reservoir.

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<p>Plastic waste is building up in the wilderness of the Norwegian Arctic. Researchers are particularly concerned about huge concentrations of microplastic fragments in sea ice. Norwegian fishermen are worried that their fish stocks may lose their reputation for being untouched by pollution. A report from the Norwegian Polar Institute to the recent Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø says there's a great need for more research into the extent of possible harm from plastic.

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<p>Animals that live in trees in the tropics are likely to be better at crossing mountains and dealing with climate change compared to ground-dwelling animals. A new study has found that the temperature within a tropical forest varies considerably, with tree canopies experiencing wider extremes of heating and cooling compared to the ground or soil. Canopy animals likely have the physiology that allow them to move across mountains freely, unaffected by the climate, and may be more resilient against climate change.

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<p>The Inter-American Court on Human Rights, in a landmark decision, concluded that a healthy environment is an autonomous right, “fundamental to the existence of humanity.” The decision was the result of Colombia’s consultation on the scope of States’ obligations to protect human rights from damages to the marine environment in the Greater Caribbean region.

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<p>In response to increasing incidents of heavy smog, China has vowed to further accelerate its move away from coal, committing to reduce coal consumption an additional 30% in 2017 (compared to its original plan for 2017). The new plan will bring Beijing’s coal use to fewer than 7 million metric tons by next January. In addition, the government plans to have zero coal use in six districts by the end of the year, and Beijing plans to remove 300,000 fuel-inefficient vehicles from use this year in order to promote more fuel-efficient cars and improve fuel standards.

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<p>In an effort to prevent another Volkswagen-like tailpipe emissions scandal, the European Union has announced that it will take legal action against member governments that have failed to police vehicle emissions testing. One core problem is that national regulators who inspect domestically made cars sometimes certify cars that do not meet standards. Another is that only the producing country can issue a recall, even though the vehicles can be sold throughout the EU.

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<p>In 2010, a mud spill full of toxic sludge from an alumina reservoir overran three towns, polluted waterways, and killed ten in what is recognized as one of Hungary’s worst environmental disasters. In 2016, a court in the town of Veszprem acquitted MAL Corp, the aluminum smelting company that owned the reservoir, ruling that the company’s executives had not been criminally negligent. Prosecutors claimed the court had drawn false conclusions.

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<p>Colombia banned mining and oil companies from extracting resources from the Andes. This decision follows a lawsuit against the Colombian National Development Plan, which allowed for extractive activities in the moorlands. When the National Development Plan passed, more than 71,000 people joined campaigns to protest the law. The recent court decision cancels 473 preexisting mining titles for the moorlands. In effect, this means that even the mining companies that have environmental licenses and their paperwork in order will not be able to conduct mining explorations.

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<p>India halted potash imports and postponed negotiations around next year’s imports until June 2016 due to weak demand caused by drought. Potash is a crop nutrient that is used to fertilize farmland. This is India’s first halting of potash imports in years and comes alongside decreased demand from China and Brazil as well. India’s major suppliers of potash include Uralkali, Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, and Arab PotashCo. Even with this decision, India has 1.1 million tons in potash inventory, which highlights the crisis that India’s farm sector is experiencing.

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<p>India halted potash imports and postponed negotiations around next year’s imports until June 2016 due to weak demand caused by drought. Potash is a crop nutrient that is used to fertilize farmland. This is India’s first halting of potash imports in years and comes alongside decreased demand from China and Brazil as well. India’s major suppliers of potash include Uralkali, Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, and Arab PotashCo. Even with this decision, India has 1.1 million tons in potash inventory, which highlights the crisis that India’s farm sector is experiencing.

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<p>India halted potash imports and postponed negotiations around next year’s imports until June 2016 due to weak demand caused by drought. Potash is a crop nutrient that is used to fertilize farmland. This is India’s first halting of potash imports in years and comes alongside decreased demand from China and Brazil as well. India’s major suppliers of potash include Uralkali, Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, and Arab PotashCo. Even with this decision, India has 1.1 million tons in potash inventory, which highlights the crisis that India’s farm sector is experiencing.

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<p>AGL Energy Company pled guilty to 11 counts of breaking political donation disclosure laws. The prosecution followed a probe by anti-coal and gas activists, who prompted the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) to investigate AGL’s failure to provide full disclosure on donations made to New South Wales Labor and Liberal parties. The findings of the EDO showed that, since 2008, AGL has failed to disclose as much as $51,500 in reportable donations. During this period of time, AGL sought to drill 110 seam gas wells.

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<p>Norway's Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG) recently announced that it removed 114 companies from its portfolio in 2014 due to environmental and climate change concerns. The list included 32 coal mining companies along with tar sands operations, cement manufacturers, and gold mines.

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<p>Parties reached a settlement agreement worth $235 million in compensation for victims of one of Australia's deadly 2009 wildfires. Defendants included Victoria government agencies and utility companies, with AusNet Electricity Services agreeing to the largest sum of $204.5 million. The settlement marks the end of a series of lawsuits stemming from fires that ravaged rural Victoria on February 7, 2009, in what has become known as "Black Saturday." Total compensation now amounts to approximately $627 million.

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<p>Zimbabwe is facing a funding crisis for programs and projects intended to mitigate disasters caused by climate change. The Ministry of Environment, Water, and Climate is facing a budget cut of $41 million compared to last year, bringing the ministry's 2015 budget down to $52 million. Recent floods, which have killed 20 people so far this year, highlight deficiencies in funding for the nation's meteorological department, for example. Reduction in domestic funding, as well as slow access to international financing, have contributed to the crises.

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<p>Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, home to some of the world’s largest populations of rhinoceros and tigers, may be in jeopardy due to government plans for a railroad that would cut the park in half and eight new feeder roads that would run through the area. In addition to rhinos and tigers, Chitwan—a UNESCO World Heritage site—has a number of threatened species, including four-horned antelope, sloth bears, Asiatic elephants, and the critically endangered gharial.

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<p>A plan to better distribute renewable energy throughout Germany has been met with significant resistance. While nearly 25% of Germany’s energy came from renewable sources in 2013, the production of green energy is highly uneven—the North is soon to produce more wind energy than it needs, while the South is still heavily dependent on nuclear power. The proposed energy highway, which would run from Wilster in Schleswig-Holstein to Grafenrheinfeld in Bavaria, would help resolve this imbalance. In the South, however, a protest movement has sprung up in response to the plan.

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<p>Last Thursday, several Caribbean nations committed to start replacing diesel generators with renewable energy sources. The countries signed the agreement at a meeting hosted by the Carbon War Room, an organization cofounded by British billionaire Richard Branson to fight climate change. Historically, Caribbean islands have had very high electricity costs and have relied heavily on diesel generators for power. As a result, the islands have a significant opportunity to pursue green energy, according to Lynn Tabernacki, managing director of renewable energy programs at the U.S.

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<p>A pledge by one of the world's largest paper companies to cease cutting down natural forests in Indonesia may be a sign of industry change, according to commentary from the World Resources Institute. Asia Pulp &amp; Paper agreed earlier this month to change its practices and demand the same from its suppliers, a plan lauded by environmental NGOs.

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<p>The European Union's plan to break up contaminated ships in developing countries may be illegal, according to the EU's own lawyers. The plan to overturn a ban on the practice would exempt ships from the Basel Convention, a treaty requiring wealthy nations to dispose of their own hazardous materials without adding to the pollution of poorer countries. The Shipbreaking Platform, a coalition of environmental and human rights groups, said the move may set a precedent in international law, and other NGOs expressed concern over the measure.

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<p>The Japanese government said that it is concerned about its likelihood of obtaining a fair hearing from a case brought against it by Australia, saying that "serious anomalies" have arisen from the admission of New Zealand as an intervenor in the case on Australia's side. Australia has taken Japan to the International Court of Justice over its Antarctic whaling hunt, saying that its so-called scientific whaling breaches a moratorium on commercial whaling.

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<p>The Japanese government said that it is concerned about its likelihood of obtaining a fair hearing from a case brought against it by Australia, saying that "serious anomalies" have arisen from the admission of New Zealand as an intervenor in the case on Australia's side. Australia has taken Japan to the International Court of Justice over its Antarctic whaling hunt, saying that its so-called scientific whaling breaches a moratorium on commercial whaling.

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<p>The Japanese government said that it is concerned about its likelihood of obtaining a fair hearing from a case brought against it by Australia, saying that "serious anomalies" have arisen from the admission of New Zealand as an intervenor in the case on Australia's side. Australia has taken Japan to the International Court of Justice over its Antarctic whaling hunt, saying that its so-called scientific whaling breaches a moratorium on commercial whaling.

<p>The United Kingdom announced plans last week to reduce solar energy subsidies starting July 1 after an installation boom nearly exhausted its budget last year. "Costs are coming down, and we’re determined that the tariff comes down with it," Energy Minister Greg Barker said. "This is a very ambitious scheme and good news for the industry." Installations have increased significantly since the subsidies were announced in April 2010, and last year Britain installed three percent of the world's new solar panels.

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<p>On Thursday, a Conservative Alberta legislator called for a bill that would block foreign funding of the Canadian environmental movement. MP Brian Jean hinted that aboriginal chiefs may have received payments to oppose major projects, such as the Northern Gateway pipeline, while asking for details on research showing U.S. trusts had given $300 million to environmental groups in Canada.

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<p>In the face of blizzards that have pushed the power grid to its limit and a cold snap that has killed 400, Denmark has made progress on <span> the EU's Energy Efficiency Directive</span> a priority during its presidency. While Denmark argues efficiency would bring jobs and help reduce reliance on imported fuel, the EU is on track to meet only half of its non-binding target to increase efficiency by 20 percent by 2020.

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<p>After hearing that the European Union (EU) was set to fall halfway short of its 20% energy efficiency savings by 2020 goal, leaders of the 27 member states overhauled its energy strategy to develop one that may set it on track for 25% carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions cuts by 2020. <span>Currently, the EU as a whole is set to achieve a savings of only 8.9%, less than half its goal, while Germany, Hungary, and Poland will likely fall short by over a third.

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<p>In remarks published last week, Vice Premier Li Keqiang stressed how critical energy concerns are to China's economic and foreign policy goals and suggested that China must develop a "polluters pay" system of tax reform. Li spoke to a group of scientists and government officials in December, but the state media did not publish his remarks until last Friday.

<p>Britain's proposed sale of 15% of its publicly owned forest has been delayed while the government attempts to protect public access and biodiversity.