Saturday, 17 February 2018

Charging Ahead: How Australia Is Innovating Battery Technology

The Conversation

Since sodium is abundant, battery technology that uses it side-steps many of the issues associated with lithium batteries. Paul Jones/UOW, Author provided
Lithium-ion remains the most widespread battery technology in use today, thanks to the fact that products that use it are both portable and rechargeable. It powers everything from your smartphone to the “world’s biggest battery” in South Australia.
Demand for batteries is expected to accelerate in coming decades with the increase in deployment of electric vehicles and the need to store energy generated from renewable sources, such as solar photovoltaic panels. But rising concerns about mining practices and shortages in raw materials for lithium-ion batteries – as well as safety issues – have led to a search for alternative technologies.
Many of these technologies aren’t being developed to replace lithium-ion batteries in portable devices, rather they’re looking to take the pressure off by providing alternatives for large-scale, stationary energy storage.
Australian companies and universities are leading the way in developing innovative solutions, but the path to commercial success has its challenges.

Australian alternatives

Flow batteries
In flow batteries the cathode and anode are liquids, rather than solid as in other batteries. The advantage of this is that the stored energy is directly related to the amount of liquid. That means if more energy is needed, bigger tanks can be easily fitted to the system. Also, flow batteries can be completely discharged without damage – a major advantage over other technologies.
ASX-listed battery technology company Redflow has been developing zinc-bromine flow batteries for residential and commercial energy storage. Meanwhile, VSUN Energy is developing a vanadium-based flow battery for large-scale energy storage systems.
Flow batteries have been receiving considerable attention and investment due to their inherent technical and safety advantages. A recent survey of 500 energy professionals saw 46% of respondents predict flow battery technology will soon become the dominant utility-scale battery energy storage method.
Redflow ZBM2 zinc-bromine flow battery cell. From Redflow

Lead-acid batteries were invented in 1859 and have been the backbone of energy storage applications ever since. One major disadvantage of traditional lead-acid batteries is the faster they are discharged, the less energy they can supply. Additionally, the lifetime of lead-acid batteries significantly decreases the lower they are discharged.
Energy storage company Ecoult has been formed around CSIRO-developed Ultrabattery technology – the combination of a lead-acid battery and a carbon ultracapacitor. One key advantage of this technology is that it is highly sustainable – essentially all components in the battery are recyclable. Ultrabatteries also address the issue of rate-dependent energy capacity, taking advantage of the ultracapacitor characteristics to allow high discharge (and charge) rates.
These batteries are showing excellent performance in grid-scale applications. Ecoult has also recently received funding to expand to South Asia and beyond.
Ecoult Ultrabatteries photographed during installation on site. From
Repurposed storage solutions
Rechargeable batteries are considered to have reached their “end of life” when they can only be charged to 80% of their initial capacity. This makes sense for portable applications – a Tesla Model S would have a range of 341 km compared to the original 426 km. However, these batteries can still be used where reduced capacity is acceptable.
Startup Relectrify has developed a battery management system that allows end of life electric vehicle batteries to be used in residential energy storage. This provides a solution to mounting concerns about the disposal of lithium-ion batteries, and reports that less than 5% of lithium-ion batteries in Europe are being recycled. Relectrify has recently secured a A$1.5m investment in the company.
Relectrify’s smart battery management system. From Relectrify
Thermal energy storage
Energy can be stored in many forms – including as electrochemical, gravitational, and thermal energy. Thermal energy storage can be a highly efficient process, particularly when the sun is the energy source.
Renewable energy technology company Vast Solar has developed a thermal energy storage solution based on concentrated solar power (CSP). This technology gained attention in Australia with the announcement of the world’s largest CSP facility to be built in Port Augusta. CSP combines both energy generation and storage technologies to provide a complete and efficient solution.
1414 degrees is developing a technology for large-scale applications that stores energy as heat in molten silicon. This technology has the potential to demonstrate very high energy densities and efficiencies in applications where both heat and electricity are required. For example, in manufacturing facilities and shopping centres.

Research and development

Sodium-ion batteries
At the University of Wollongong I’m part of the team heading the Smart Sodium Storage Solution (S4) Project. It’s a A$10.5 million project to develop sodium-ion batteries for renewable energy storage. This ARENA-funded project builds upon previous research undertaken at the University of Wollongong and involves three key battery manufacturing companies in China.

Researchers at the University of Wollongong believe they have found revolutionary a way to store renewable energy using sodium. Jonathan Knott explains.

We’ve selected the sodium-ion chemistry for the S4 project because it sidesteps many of the raw materials issues associated with lithium-ion batteries. One of the main materials we use to manufacture our batteries is sodium chloride – better known as “table salt” – which is not only abundant, but also cheap.
We’ll be demonstrating the sodium-ion batteries in a residential application at University of Wollongong’s Illawarra Flame House and in an industrial application at Sydney Water’s Bondi Sewage Pumping Station.
Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach – the location for the demonstration of sodium-ion batteries. Paul Jones/UOW
Gel-based zinc-bromine batteries
Gelion, a spin-off company from the University of Sydney, is developing gel-based zinc-bromine batteries – similar to the Redflow battery technology. They are designed for use in residential and commercial applications.
The Gelion technology is claimed to have performance comparable with lithium-ion batteries, and the company has attracted significant funding to develop its product. Gelion is still in the early stages of commercialisation, however plans are in place for large-scale manufacturing by 2019.

Challenges facing alternatives
While this paints a picture of a vibrant landscape of exciting new technologies, the path to commercialisation is challenging.
Not only does the product have to be designed and developed, but so does the manufacturing process, production facility and entire supply chain – which can cause issues bringing a product to market. Lithium-ion batteries have a 25 year headstart in these areas. Combine that with the consumer familiarity with lithium-ion, and it’s difficult for alternative technologies to gain traction.
One way of mitigating these issues is to piggyback on established manufacturing and supply chain processes. That’s what we’re doing with the S4 Project: leveraging the manufacturing processes and production techniques developed for lithium-ion batteries to produce sodium-ion batteries. Similarly, Ecoult is drawing upon decades of lead-acid battery manufacturing expertise to produce its Ultrabattery product.
Some challenges, however, are intrinsic to the particular technology.
For example, Relectrify does not have control over the quality or history of the cells it uses for their energy storage – making it difficult to produce a consistent product. Likewise, 1414 degrees have engineering challenges working with very high temperatures.
Forecasts by academics, government officials, investors and tech billionaires all point to an explosion in the future demand for energy storage. While lithium-ion batteries will continue to play a large part, it is likely these innovative Australian technologies will become critical in ensuring energy demands are met.


TV Networks Did A Really Crap Job Reporting On Climate Change Last Year

Huffington PostBy Nick Visser

"The networks undercovered or ignored the ways that climate change had real-life impacts on people."
Brendan McDermid / Reuters 
Many of America’s leading television networks did a poor job of covering climate change last year, even as the newly minted Trump administration worked to unravel regulations meant to tackle the phenomenon and the U.S. was pummeled by a series of record-breaking natural disasters, according to a new report.
The group Media Matters for America analyzed climate change coverage on major broadcasters’ nightly news programs and Sunday morning political shows ― including those on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News and PBS ― over the course of 2017. While a total of 260 minutes were devoted to climate change during the year, almost all of that coverage (79 percent) related to actions taken by the Trump administration rather than explanatory reports about the phenomenon or the way it affects humans or extreme weather.
Often networks used talking points furthered by climate change deniers (including President Donald Trump) without refuting such claims or clarifying that an overwhelming majority of scientists believe that climate change is happening and that humans are the primary cause. Trump has notably called global warming a hoax manufactured by the Chinese.
“Broadcast TV news neglected many critical climate change stories in 2017 while devoting most of its climate coverage to President Donald Trump,” Media Matters said in its report. “The networks undercovered or ignored the ways that climate change had real-life impacts on people, the economy, national security, and the year’s extreme weather events ― a major oversight in a year when weather disasters killed hundreds of Americans, displaced hundreds of thousands more, and cost the economy in excess of $300 billion.”
Media Matters For America 
Some major White House decisions related to climate change did make the news, however, including Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the landmark Paris climate deal last June. Every major network except Fox News ran at least a dozen segments on the decision, and PBS NewsHour mentioned it 23 times.
But other major environmental decisions garnered little, if any, coverage. The Environmental Protection Agency’s decisions to roll back the sweeping Clean Power Plan was reflected in only 26 segments in the entire year. And Trump’s approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines wasn’t covered by any of the major networks.
Media Matters For America             
Regardless of the coverage, climate change and its related effects remained a major news story throughout 2017, which was one of the hottest years ever recorded. The year set a new record for insurance losses due to natural disasters, spurred by an overactive hurricane season that caused upwards of $300 billion in damages. Scientists have attributed the rains from at least one of the storms, Hurricane Harvey, to climate change, although linking a single occurrence of extreme weather to the phenomenon is difficult.
Researchers have long said, however, that a warmer world will increase the prevalence of extreme weather events, including record-breaking heat, rainfall and drought.
Despite this, Trump didn’t mention climate change once in his State of the Union address last month, and even Democrats refrained from broaching the topic during their rebuttal. The White House also proposed a massive $4.4 trillion budget on Monday that included large increases in military spending but a 23 percent reduction in the budget for the EPA, the agency tasked with implementing environmental protection measures.


'A National Disgrace': Australia's Extinction Crisis Is Unfolding In Plain Sight

The Guardian

More than 1,800 plant and animal species and ecological communities are at risk of extinction right now
‘As a society, we should be caring more for our nature, and we’re not,’ says Prof John Woinarski. The Christmas Island pipistrelle, pictured, is now extinct. Photograph: Lindy Lumsden 
 Global warming wiped out the Bramble Cay melomys – the first mammalian extinction in the world to be caused by climate change – but a straightforward plan that could have rescued the little rodent was thwarted by red tape and political indifference.
“It could have been saved. That’s the most important part,” says John Woinarski, a professor of conservation biology who was on the threatened species scientific committee that approved a 2008 national recovery plan for the species, endemic to a tiny island in the Torres Strait.
Extinction is entirely avoidable. We can turn the trend around but it needs meaningful government intervention
James Trezise, ACF policy analyst
The fate of the melomys is symptomatic of the failures in Australia’s management of threatened species, which has seen the country lose more than 50 animal and 60 plant species in the past 200 years and record the highest rate of mammalian extinction in the world over that period.
The mammal at the centre of this story was an uncharismatic rodent in a remote part of the country. The key factor for the species’ extinction was almost certainly ocean inundation of the low-lying cay, but recovery efforts were insufficient and hampered by disagreement within government agencies over approaches – in this case captive breeding. And while it was clear urgent action should be taken – and that action was likely to be successful, straightforward and inexpensive – the plan was implemented too late. While the researchers hypothesised the melomys or a close relative might occur in Papua New Guinea, Australia’s only mammal endemic to the Great Barrier Reef has been declared extinct.
In the past decade alone, the country has lost two mammal species – the Christmas Island pipistrelle as well as the Bramble Cay melomys – and one reptile, the Christmas Island forest skink.
More than 1,800 plant and animal species and ecological communities (woodlands, forests and wetlands are examples of ecological communities) are currently at risk of extinction, a number that is increasing but which is also likely to be an underestimate of how many are truly vulnerable.
“We should have learnt the lessons,” Woinarski says of Australia’s failure to arrest its rate of species decline.
“As a society, we should be caring more for our nature, and we’re not. The legal protections we’ve got and the funding mechanisms are simply insufficient, as is the extent to which we care.”
There is another feature of the Bramble Cay melomys that is typical of many species in peril across the country.
‘It could have been saved. That’s the most important part,’ says Woinarski of the Bramble Cay melomys, declared extinct in 2016 due to climate change. Photograph: Ian Bell 
It is likely most Australians were not even aware of the animal’s existence.
For scientists, conservationists, researchers and those in the broader environment community, the challenge of securing stronger protection and more funding for Australia’s threatened flora and fauna is made tougher by the fact that much of the population does not realise that the wildlife the country prides itself on is in trouble.
The federal government’s most recent State of the Environment report concluded that Australia’s biodiversity had declined further since 2011 and new approaches were needed to address this downward trajectory for many species.
We need to connect Australians with their wildlife again
Darren Grover, head of living ecosystems for WWF Australia
The same report found there had been no decrease in the main pressures faced by native plants and animals, namely habitat loss and degradation, climate change, land use practices and invasive plant and animal species.
Guardian Australia interviewed scientists, researchers, conservationists and policy analysts whose work across threatened species research and protection spans decades.
They described the situation confronting Australia’s threatened plants and animals as a “national disgrace” and the systems that are supposed to protect them as “broken”.
Interviews were requested with both federal environment and energy minister Josh Frydenberg and the government’s new threatened species commissioner, Dr Sally Box, and both were declined.
Euan Ritchie, an associate professor in wildlife ecology and conservation at Deakin University, says the plight of Australia’s threatened species is an “environmental crisis”, with more and more species edging closer to extinction “despite our capacity to prevent such a tragedy from occurring”.
“What’s occurring is akin to allowing the art of Namitjira, Olley, Preston, Nolan, Whiteley and others to disappear from our most treasured museums, through neglect, and much of society being unaware or responding with a collective shrug of shoulders,” he says.
James Trezise, policy analyst at the Australian Conservation Foundation, says Australia has an extinction crisis and governments are failing to implement the reforms and investment necessary to turn the situation around.
“Extinction is entirely avoidable. We can turn the trend around but it needs meaningful government intervention. From a conservation standpoint we know what needs to happen, but it seems there isn’t the political will to get us there,” he says.
According to the Department of Environment and Energy, Australia is home to more than one million species and 85%of the country’s flora, 84% of its mammals, 45% of its birds and 89% of inshore, temperate-zone fish are found nowhere else on earth.
The conservation community says Australia has an obligation to protect these unique species but, despite this, the country is having trouble reversing the trends of the past 150 years. Among mammals alone, Australia is losing one to two species per decade.
By comparison, the continental United States, whose Endangered Species Act imposes tougher enforcement of threatened species protection and recovery, has lost only one mammal species since colonisation – the sea mink.
The experts who spoke to Guardian point to a range of complex and intertwined issues affecting the decline of threatened species in Australia, which have occurred under governments on both sides of the political aisle over many years and will be explored throughout the series.
Among them are: massive rates of land clearing, urbanisation, weakening of protections under the EPBC Act, cuts to environment budgets, poor monitoring of species, poor coordination between federal and state governments, a lack of legislation compelling governments to actually fund recovery actions for listed species once they’ve been identified, and a lack of accountability measures to ensure actions that are being taken are working or assess what processes have failed when a species goes extinct.
I think the whole system is completely broken
Prof Lesley Hughes, Macquarie University
“I think the whole system is completely broken,” says Prof Lesley Hughes from the department of biological sciences at Macquarie University.
“The fact that our threatened species lists continue to grow and very few if any species have ever come off those lists due to conservation action is evidence that what is being done thus far is not effective.”
Humane Society International Australia participates in an annual federal nomination process to list new threatened species as either vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered under the EPBC Act.
For an animal, plant or ecological community to qualify for assessment by the government’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee, it must first make a priority list that is drafted by the committee and signed off by the minister.
The HSI Australia head of campaigns, Nicola Beynon, says this process of requiring a priority listing from the government before the final scientific assessment stage could enable “politically difficult nominations to be de-prioritised.”
“The priority list is necessitated by a lack of resources; it sees threatened species drip-fed for protection rather than a concerted effort into ensuring that everything that deserves protections is receiving it,” she says.
“There’s so many little things in the system that all add up to failure.”
In the past, species listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered under the EPBC Act required the drafting of what is known as a recovery plan for their management.
But changes to the Act in 2006 made the making of recovery plans optional and at the discretion of the minister. The changes also introduced an alternative document known as a conservation advice, which a minister only has to consider – as opposed to being bound to specific actions or protections for a species – when making approvals under the EPBC Act.
This was seen in 2015 when approval of Adani’s Carmichael coalmine in Queensland was overturned because the then environment minister Greg Hunt failed to consider the conservation advices for the yakka skink and ornamental snake.
The mine was re-approved two months later after the minister went back and considered the advice for both species and signed off on the development.
Dr Bruce Lindsay, a lawyer with Environmental Justice Australia, says “part of the issue we’ve got is the environment laws within the EPBC Act have really become more about facilitating development than protecting threatened species.”
Adani’s approval was overturned in 2015 because Greg Hunt failed to consider conservation advices for the yakka skink, pictured, and ornamental snake. Photograph: Shawn Scott 
“It’s about development with conditions. The purpose of the laws is not really about arresting and reversing the decline of threatened species,” he says.
Since the Coalition took power in 2013, it has taken steps to invest in the eradication of predators such as feral cats and has established a threatened species commissioner to raise the profile of threatened species. Its threatened species prospectus includes commitments to improve the trajectories of 20 mammals, 20 birds and 30 plants by 2020, but this is a small portion of the mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, plants and other species that have threatened species listings, and the process by which the mammals and birds were selected has been a source of conjecture.
“With 503 animal and 1,308 plant species listed as nationally threatened, there is a big task ahead,” Frydenberg has said.
“The Coalition government, however, is strongly committed to threatened species protection and recovery – that’s why we appointed Australia’s first threatened species commissioner. We also launched Australia’s first threatened species strategy and have mobilised $255m for more than 1,200 projects with threatened species outcomes.”
But scientists say these measures will be insufficient as long as factors such as vegetation destruction remain unaddressed and that Australia is flying in the dark on a whole range of other management and monitoring concerns for threatened species.
“Habitat loss and modification remains the elephant in the room in terms of the total number of threatened species it affects, and because the loss of vegetation can compound other serious threats, for example by making it easier for feral cats and foxes to find and kill native animals” Prof Ritchie says.
In a recent paper on Australia’s three known vertebrate extinctions of the past decade, Woinarski and fellow scientists Stephen Garnett, Sarah Legge and David Lindenmayer recommended Australian governments establish an inquest after any extinction to better understand the factors that led to it and to reduce the likelihood that they will occur again – similar to what coronial inquiries do in unexplained deaths of humans.
Darren Grover, head of living ecosystems for WWF Australia, says another part of the challenge is simply making Australians understand what is at stake.
He says the current plight of threatened species is made more difficult by the fact that many of the plants and animals under threat are species Australians “have never heard of, they’ve never been to where the animal lives and it doesn’t affect them in any way”.
“But what we will see starting to happen in the next couple of years, if we can’t turn things around, is that it will be things that people know,” he says.
“We need to connect Australians with their wildlife again.”


Friday, 16 February 2018

U.S. Climate Change Litigation In The Age Of Trump: Year One

 - Dena Adler

Donald Trump claims to have delivered on deregulation in his first year as President.
While independent reporting questions the veracity of his assertions, climate change is one arena where the Trump Administration’s regulatory rollbacks have been both visible and real.
The Administration has delayed and initiated the reversal of rules that:
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions from stationary and mobile sources;
  • sought to expedite fossil fuel development, including in previously protected areas;
  • delayed or reversed energy efficiency standards;
  • undermined consideration of climate change in environmental review, and
  • hindered adaptation to the impacts of climate change.
In total, the Sabin Center’s U.S. Climate Deregulation Tracker identifies a total of 64 actions taken by the executive branch in 2017 to deregulate climate change.
These actions correspond to at least two dozen climate-related protections.
However, the Trump Administration’s efforts have met with constant resistance, with those committed to climate protections bringing legal challenges to many, if not most, of the rollbacks.
U.S. Climate Change Litigation in the Age of Trump, a new working paper from Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, seeks to give shape to the current moment in climate change litigation.
It categorizes and reviews dozens of climate change cases filed during 2017 to understand how litigation countered—and at times courted—the influx of climate change deregulation during the first year of the Trump Administration.
The analysis focuses specifically on 82 “climate change cases,” defined as cases that raise climate change as an issue of fact or law.
To explain the effects of climate change litigation in 2017, this paper sorted cases into five categories:
  1. Defending Obama Administration Climate Change Policies & Decisions;
  2. Demanding Transparency & Scientific Integrity from the Trump Administration;
  3. Integrating Consideration of Climate Change into Environmental Review & Permitting;
  4. Advancing or Enforcing Additional Climate Protections through the Courts; and
  5. Deregulating Climate Change, Undermining Climate Protections, or Targeting Climate Protection Supporters.
The working paper sorts 2017’s climate change cases into five categories. LARGE IMAGE

The first four categories are “pro” climate protection cases, where, if their plaintiffs or petitioners are successful, they will uphold or advance climate change protections.
The fifth category contains “con” cases—if their filing party or parties are successful, these cases will undermine climate protection or support climate policy deregulation.
Sixty of the reviewed cases were pro climate protection and twenty-two were con.
The pro cases outweigh the con cases roughly 3:1 (73 percent to 27 percent).
To understand how federal climate change litigation is shaping national climate policy in the absence of federal leadership, U.S. Climate Change Litigation in the Age of Trump looks across and within these litigation categories to further examine:
  1. who are the litigants; 
  2. what laws are they utilizing; and 
  3. how far have these cases progressed in year one of the Trump Administration.
See the Executive Summary and Full Report for the results.


Trump’s Top Spy Just Contradicted The White House’s Line On Climate Change

VoxUmair Irfan

The director of national intelligence warned Congress that climate change could cause “upheaval” this year.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on February 13 Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images 
The top US intelligence official warned Congress this week about the threat of “abrupt” climate change, contradicting the Trump administration’s efforts to drive climate out of national security discussions.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, whose office oversees 17 intelligence agencies including the CIA and the NSA, submitted written testimony this week to the Senate Intelligence Committee. In addition to warnings about Russian interference in the upcoming midterm election and the militarization of space, he identified climate change as a significant concern.
“The impacts of the long-term trends toward a warming climate, more air pollution, biodiversity loss, and water scarcity are likely to fuel economic and social discontent — and possibly upheaval — through 2018,” Coats wrote.
He noted that the past 115 years were the warmest in modern civilization and that the past few years were the warmest on record. And there’s a possibility of a sudden shift in the global climate once it reaches a tipping point, he said.
Coats also observed that worsening air pollution is causing unrest in countries like India, water scarcity is driving tensions between nations, and ecosystems threatened by rising temperatures could jeopardize “critical human systems.”
This assessment follows testimony from Defense Secretary James Mattis, who earlier this month told lawmakers that climate change is an integral part of military planning.
“This is a normal part of what the military does, and under any strategy, it is part and parcel,” he told the House Armed Services Committee.
Over at the White House, well, it’s a different story. Trump himself mocked global warming on Twitter in December. And his administration officials regularly dismiss well-established climate science and are removing climate change from policy discussions, particularly around national security.
In an interview on February 6 with a Las Vegas television station, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said that rising global temperatures are “not necessarily a bad thing” and that “humans have flourished’’ as the planet has warmed.
And the White House completely omitted climate change as a security concern from the National Security Strategy report released last December, bringing it up only to note that climate change policies in other countries could hurt the fossil fuel industry.
However, Coats’s remarks show that the practical realities of climate change are impossible to ignore for those who have to contend with its real-world consequences. And as temperatures rise, Trump, his Cabinet, and the entire national security apparatus will increasingly have to contend with rising seas, more intense weather, and the devastation that ensues.


Scientists Just Issued a Grim New Warning on Climate Change: 'We Are Not Prepared'

TimeJustin Worland

The Legal Reasons Why President Trump Won't Take A Stand On Climate Change

New research shows that countries around the world are falling short of greenhouse gas goals in the Paris climate deal, and the consequences will likely be unprecedented extreme weather.
Published in the journal Science Advances this week, the study found that the likelihood of extreme heat, dryness and precipitation will increase across as much of 90% of North America, Europe and East Asia if countries do not accelerate their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“We are not prepared for today’s climate, let alone for another degree of global warming,” says study author Noah Diffenbaugh, a Stanford University professor of earth system science.
The 2015 Paris Agreement, which President Donald Trump has promised to exit when the U.S. is eligible to do so, aims to keep temperature rise below 3.6°Fahrenheit by 2100 with an ideal target of 2.7° Fahrenheit. Though the differences seem minor, the study shows the difference between those targets would lead to dramatic increases in the likelihood of record warm or wet days, according to the study.
Under the agreement, countries from across the globe offered their own individually determined pledges to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, but those collective commitments still allow temperatures to rise 5.8° Fahrenheit, according to data from the United Nations Environment Program. Some countries do not seem eager to meet their commitments at all.
Scientists say the clock is ticking if countries aim to actually reduce emissions in a way that’s consistent with the Paris Agreement’s targets. In some cases, greenhouse gases emitted today will stay in the atmosphere decades.


Thursday, 15 February 2018

International Court Ruling: A Safe Climate Is A Human Right

Climate Liability News - Ucilia Wang

Opposition to a trans-oceanic canal in Nicaragua has resulted in an international court ruling that environmental protection is a human right. Photo credit: Jorge Mejia Peralta via Flickr
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has issued a landmark opinion that equates environmental protection with human rights, a conclusion that could force countries in Latin American and beyond to tackle climate change more aggressively.
The advisory opinion represents the first time the Inter-American Court has recognized a fundamental right to a healthy environment, a concept that may seem abstract but could impact interpretations of existing laws and improve environmental protection.
That concept isn’t new, but it hasn’t been widely applied by courts. The opinion comes at a time when a number of climate lawsuits have been filed around the world to try to establish the same or similar legal principles and pressure fossil fuel companies and governments to cut emissions.
“We think this decision will be used as a tool to strengthen ongoing litigation on human rights and the impact of climate change nationally and internationally,” said Astrid Puentes, co-director of AIDA, an advocacy group that filed an amicus curiae brief in this case.
The court was created in 1979 to enforce the American Convention on Human Rights, which has been ratified by most of the countries in Central and South America. The court hears cases brought by those governments or the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Its decision has immediate implications for a recent case in Colombia. A lower court on Monday ruled against a group of 25 youths who petitioned last month to require the government to stop deforestation. The plaintiffs cited their constitutional rights to life and a healthy environment in their filing.
The youths planned to appeal, said Camila Bustos, a researcher with Dejusticia, the nonprofit advocacy group that filed the petition.
“We were glad that the (Inter-American) Court has set such an important precedent on environmental rights. It strengthens our arguments, and we will definitely cite it in the next step of the lawsuit,” Bustos said.
While the court’s opinions have legal impact, they can also influence decisions made elsewhere, especially given that human rights protection is considered a global issue that’s addressed through a number of international agreements and legal systems, such as the International Court of Justice in the Hague, said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, a public interest law firm in Washington, D.C. that also filed an amicus curiae brief.
The seven judges of the Inter-American court took particular care to mention climate change in their opinion. They cited the Paris Climate Agreement, in which nearly 200 countries committed to cutting emissions and capping global warming to within 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial levels.
The opinion is considered advisory because it isn’t a ruling about a legal dispute. It’s an answer to a question from Colombia, which wanted to know how human rights law applies to large-scale infrastructure projects in the Caribbean. The court reached its conclusion last November but didn’t publish it until last week.
Colombia posed the question after it was upset with decisions by the International Court of Justice over an ongoing territorial dispute with Nicaragua. Nicaragua plans to boost oil drilling off its coast and build a $50 billion canal that aims to rival the Panama Canal to increase maritime trade and generate revenue for the country.
Colombia did not mention Nicaragua in their petition and asked instead that the review cover the Caribbean. But the judges went far beyond that and came up with a list of do’s and dont’s about the role of the governments in protecting the environment and human rights.
One of the findings in particular surprised and delighted environmental advocates: it says a government is responsible for addressing the impact of an environmental disaster even if it stretches beyond the borders. The court also said governments need to be transparent and share information with each other and the public.
“The court recognizes that the obligations to protect human rights don’t stop at a country’s borders,” Muffett said. “This opinion demonstrates the deep integration between environmental protection and the responsibility of the government to protect human rights.”
Courts in a handful of countries, such as Ireland,  the Netherlands and Pakistan, have acknowledged that connection. More climate lawsuits are underway in other countries, including Norway and the United States, to try to push for that recognition as a human or constitutional right.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is set to decide whether to allow  Juliana v. United States to proceed to trial. The case, filed by 21 people in their teens and early 20s, contends that the U.S. government is failing to protect their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property because it continues to champion energy policies that subsidize and promote fossil fuels.
Colombia’s Constitutional Court gave its take in 2016 when it struck down provisions of federal laws that allowed exemptions for mining and oil and gas drilling in high-altitude areas with fragile ecosystems. The court ruled that the provisions violated the public’s right to clean water because these areas provided as much as 70 percent of the country’s drinking water and were capable of capturing more carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere than a rainforest of comparable size.


Lethal Heating is a citizens' initiative