BC Expert: China & Carbon Emissions
Wirth's specialty is public international law and international environmental law, areas he has worked and practiced in for more than two decades. He is a former senior attorney and co-Director of the International Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), where he worked on environmental reform of the World Bank and regional development banks, the “greenhouse” effect, Soviet and eastern European environmental issues, stratospheric ozone depletion, and exports of hazardous substances. As attorney-adviser for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs for the State Department, Wirth’s principal responsibility covered all international environmental issues, including exports of hazardous substances and technologies, acid rain, and stratospheric ozone depletion. He has served as an advisor to the Environmental Protection Agency and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
“China has indicated three times in the past year that it intends to take meaningful action to address climate change and limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other climate-disrupting gases. China's announcement that coal use is considerably higher than previously reported calls the integrity of its undertakings into serious doubt.
"Unfortunately, all these goals by China are non-binding, and not legally enforceable. China can now say those were just high-flown sentiments, but not binding commitments governed by international law, which is most unfortunate.
“The numerical reduction contribution of the United States to the Paris negotiations is also non-binding. That means a future U.S. President can come in after taking office and in the same manner say, ‘Well, I changed my mind.’ The U.S. 'contribution' -- which is not a ‘commitment' -- won't necessarily have staying power over time.
"Binding international obligations carry legal force and at least in theory are enforceable. These goals identified by both the U.S. and China are nice sentiments, but aren’t binding under international law.
“As demonstrated by this recent revelation of China's higher-than-anticipated coal use, for the future of the entire planet to rest on flimsy non-promises is a very disturbing way of doing business.”
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