“Behavioral International Law”

Opinio Juris is hosting a discussion of the “behavioral” approach to international law, beginning with a post by Tomer Broude. As he begins to describe it,

the behavioral research agenda aims to explore the characteristics of real decision-making processes of different types of actors, under different circumstances.

This approach might be useful for some of my International Law students who are currently working on drafts of their research papers (hopefully!).

Course Notes – IL & GEP: Equity and climate change governance

My students in both classes have been focusing on climate change governance this week. One of the key themes that emerges is the question of equity. Does fairness matter here? (A question I won’t directly address because it is a take-home exam question!). What are the politics of equity and how does that translate into legal texts? As one student posted on my International Law blog:

I would argue that the concept of equity and how to measure it is the underlying issue.

A great source on these issues is Parks and Roberts’ 2008 article, “Inequality and the global climate regime.” Inequality, they note, is relevant to the interests of states who vary in their production of emissions and their vulnerability to climate change, and their capabilities for action on climate change issues (decision-making power in international regimes, for instance).

What are the prospects for collaboration on climate change given such inequalities? As one of my students noted, there are mechanisms for side payments to developing countries, to make participation in these agreements more attractive:

One of the many obstacles to international environmental protection is the economic interests of poorer nations.  In working to eliminate CFCs, the international community managed to solve this problem by creating a fund to help developing nations

Another student, considering the Montreal Protocol and its side payments to developing countries, seems to wonder whether the reasons for treaty ratification should matter to us:

What would the compliance rate have been had the Protocol not provided for these incentives or provided assistance for developing countries? While some states signed the treaty out of real concern for the environment, it seems most states only did so for financial reasons and to avoid conflict.

One of my students makes an even bolder and (perhaps) more controversial claim about the rights of the current generation in developing countries:

The environment is important and I believe that the international community should take action to protect it.  However ensuring the welfare of people alive today is far more important than ensuring the welfare of the world’s future population.

The problem of inequality has been–and will continue to be for some time–THE main issue is negotiations about climate change and economic governance (where my IL class will turn their attention to next).

Course Notes – IL: The Precautionary Principle

A couple of my students have engaged in a discussion on our course blog regarding the precautionary principle.

One student noted some of the potential advantages to principle:

In the U.S. (considering the increase in political chatter about domestic oil drilling) perhaps some of the uncertainties about byproducts from drilling fluids, fracking fluids, and accident/spill oil and their health effect on local populations and food stocks could be used to mitigate some of the “Drill baby, drill!” legislation being put forth by policymakers who are in the pocket of big oil?

Another student notes a potential disadvantaget:

At what point is there enough research to predict or think that something may pose a risk or may harm the environment?

Indeed, there are broad range of usages of the concept, something Manson does a decent job sorting out in his article “Formulating the precautionary principle”.

I shared in class the findings of Wiener and Rogers, who compare the use of the principle in the US and Europe. They find that part of the reason for our differences is our different legal systems, including the degree of protections for corporations from lawsuits, access to the courts for potential litigants, and relationships between regulatory bodies and corporations. Ultimately, the precautionary principle is about risk management, and it seems reasonable to assume that different political and legal systems have evolved different means to assess and address risks. For a defense of the precautionary principle see Sandin et al. in the Journal of Risk Research. For some of the challenges see, for instance: Bristow 2003, Peterson 2007. These all probably are not the best sources but are decent places to start.

My own take is that it is easy to take the precautionary principle to an unreasonable absolutist place. There are also problems in terms of the selective application of the principle. Consider the issue of food risks. We may be quick to apply the principle to the introduction of new foods such as those which are “genetically modified”. But there are many foods that we currently consume that have both known and unknown risks. Even coffee, which I drink gallons of every week, has plenty of scientific evidence against (and for!) it.

Course Notes – GEP: Big Dams!

China’s Three Gorges Dam may be a huge mistake, reports Business Insider. Criticisms of the project are by no means new, but the most recent statements that 100,000 people may still need to be moved in response to landslide risks around the dam have brought its downsides back into focus.

Meanwhile, China continues to be involved in major dam projects around the world. One such project is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a project which is creating major conflict between Ethiopia and Egypt. The Economist recently called it the “jewel” of Ethiopia’s hydropower strategy, expected to generate 5250MW of energy when finished increasing electricity production in Ethiopia fivefold. This is more than twice Ghana’s current electricity production from hydropower. Here is Egypt’s Minister of Water, Mohamed Nasr El Din Allam, interviewed just recently:

In short, it would lead to political, economic and social instability. Millions of people would go hungry. There would be water shortages everywhere. It’s huge (The National).

While Ethiopia is funding much of the project by issuing its own bonds, approximately $1.8 billion in turbines and electrical equipment are reportedly being financed by Chinese banks (The Economist).
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Earth Day: lessons from a penguin

I found this via a Facebook post from my friend, Anna Schmidt. This is from Darryl Cunningham’s blog and book. Follow the link for the full story: http://darryl-cunningham.blogspot.com/search?q=Climate+change

 

Course Notes – GEP: Game Theory

This is something at least some of my students will appreciate given our attention to game theory this term. Here is a PD game, with communication. Which just goes to show that communication doesn’t always make cooperation easy! Thanks to Nathan Palmer for sharing!

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GEP Course Notes: Oil in Africa

Drilling Africa’s Arctic | Thought Leader.

The Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest Unesco World Heritage Site, is situated along the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Uganda.

It contains more species of mammals, reptiles and birds than any other protected area on the continent. It has an exceptional diversity of landscapes stretching from the glaciers of the Ruwenzori mountains, to indigenous rainforests, savannas, rivers, and lakes. It’s also one of the last places in Africa where mountain gorillas still survive.

Apparently a number of oil companies want to explore for oil here. Don’t know enough about this, but I knew it might interest some of you.

Africa Notes: Gay Rights and the Alien Tort Statute

Do African politicians have a reason to support gay rights?
A recent conversation with some colleagues and the discovery of a post about “Gay Relief” on Ramblings of a Procastinator in Accra got me thinking again about the politics of homosexuality in Africa. In the blog post, Abena Serwaa writes:

Contrary to what most people believe, African leaders love gay people. In recent times, the African politician has come to realise that no single issue can galvanize and unite the citizenry across the usual divides than calls for gay rights.

As she mentions, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s call for African leaders to respect gay rights has not had its intended effects. Ghana’s President had this to say:

Ghanaian society frowns on homosexuality, if the people’s interest is that we do not legalize homosexuality, I don’t see how any responsible leader can decide to go against the wishes of his people.

And recent Nobel Prize Winner Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf also vowed to veto any bill legalizing homosexuality. Her Press Secretary said this:

Liberians should hold this government by her word. This President will not sign into law anything called same sex marriage. This government opposes gay rights. In fact, government will not compromise its religious belief for any (foreign) aid. We have listened to the vast majority of our people who have spoken on this issue and kicked against it, so this government has the will of the people and believes in the dreams and aspirations of the people and I can assure you that President Sirleaf will not sign that bill.

Of course, Africa is not the only part of the world that struggles to accept gay rights as Brian Whitaker notes, there is an “ongoing battle for gay rights in the Arab world.” And how can we expect this to happen any easier there than it does here in the US? Jimmy Carter, one of our most famous human rights campaigners, has just now come around to supporting gay civil marriages. And I think everyone knows how Santorum has felt about gay rights for some time.

The question becomes: what will it take to incentivize politicians in Africa (and elsewhere) to promote gay rights? No, I don’t yet have the answer.

Can Americans be sued for pursuing anti-gay agendas in Africa?
Indeed, just recently a Ugandan gay rights group, Sexual Minorities Uganda, has filed suit against American evangelist Scott Lively using the Alien Tort Statute (ATS; a statute I have written about here). As reported by the New York Times:

The lawsuit maintains that beginning in 2002, Mr. Lively conspired with religious and political leaders in Uganda to whip up anti-gay hysteria with warnings that gay people would sodomize African children and corrupt their culture.

The Supreme Court is currently hearing a different ATS case which may impact whether other cases such as this get heard. But this could be an interesting way to hold our own extremists accountable.

GEP Course Notes: Conservation in Africa, the Elephant

African elephants have been a major subject recently. News reports state that…

At least half the elephant population in Cameroon’s Bouba N’Djida reserve have been slaughtered because the west African nation sent too few security forces to tackle poachers.
(Reuters)

Over at Africa Unchained, Julie Owono notes that there is a major capacity problem for Cameroonian authorities. But clearly another major problem is that there is global–and in particular Chinese–demand for ivory. Last summer, Deborah Brautigam blogged about how “When China and Africa Dance, the Elephants Get Trampled”, citing an article in Vanity Fair. But today, over at the New York Times, Bettina Wassener, sees this demand traced to Cameroon’s recent elephant massacre (“China’s Hunger for Ivory…”).

But not all of the news is pessimistic. Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have agreed to establish the “world’s largest wildlife conservation area”, to be known as the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA).

GEP Course Notes: Developing Countries and Climate Change

Bad News First:

Kiribati’s President is trying to save his people by buying land in Fiji: “Rising Sea Levels Are Forcing this Entire Island Nation to Move to Another Island.”

Now the Good News:

Columbia’s Earth Institute Blog is reporting that Ethiopia has developed a new online climate service that can provide much needed data for climate change planning.