March 02, 2020

Views from the Chair

Karen A. Mignone

On January 15 and 16 our Section, with the International Bar Association, cosponsored the second Environmental Summit of the Americas, held in Mexico City. The Summit was a sold-out event that attracted 56 lawyers from 14 countries, including excellent representation from our Section. We were honored to hear opening comments from ABA President Judy Perry Martinez, who during her term has highlighted the legal profession’s contributions to addressing climate change. Our Section, led by Amy Edwards, has advised President Martinez on these issues, particularly with information about the Climate Change Resolution adopted by the ABA last August. President Martinez underscored the importance of addressing climate change from a human rights perspective, especially for the most vulnerable populations, and advocating for sustainable development and economic opportunities as part of the mitigation measures undertaken around the globe. She emphasized the importance of lawyers as whole, and of the American Bar Association in particular, playing a leading role in developing constructive approaches to addressing climate change. Hector Herrera Ordonez, the president of the Barra Mexicana, and Daniel del Rio, the treasurer of the International Bar Association, were also in attendance and provided remarks.

It certainly was an honor for our Section to spend some time with President Martinez as well as Mexican Bar President Herrera and Treasurer del Rio, and to discuss issues of climate change and the status of environmental laws and regulations in general. There is no question that our Section is looked to as a source for balanced information on a variety of topics, not just climate change, and President Martinez emphasized this both in her remarks and in conversations with those in attendance. Importantly, there were countless learning opportunities to appreciate how Latin American nations of all sizes are leading on clean energy initiatives, the circular economy, combatting plastics pollution, and natural resource protection in ways that outpace the United States, as well as understanding more aggressive and risk-taking approaches these countries are deploying to address domestic and regional issues.

Our first keynote address was presented by Dr. José Sarukhán Kermez, Coordinador Nacional, Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad, Mexico City, with his colleague Alejandra Rabasa. They spoke on the importance of biodiversity and its link to cultural diversity. They emphasized the importance of using scientific data focused on the protection of biodiversity to craft responses to climate change. Mexico, in particular, needs to find sustainable methods to feed its people without destroying valuable habitat or forests. They also discussed how Mexico is in the early stages of developing environmental jurisprudence. Courts in Mexico are seeking specific scientific knowledge in the form of scientific advisors to help it fashion remedies in environmental cases.

Dr. Marco Antonio Heredia Fragoso of the Instituto Nacional de Ecologia y Cambio Climatico presented the second keynote address. Dr. Heredia acknowledged that while Mexico is not a substantial greenhouse gas emitter, it is highly vulnerable to the effects of global climate disruption. As a country, Mexico is proactively addressing climate change through a series of initiatives that are projected to save the country $20 billion over the next few decades. Mexico is electing to be proactive, focusing on a carbon trading market intended to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over the next 10 years, rather than being reactive later, and at greater expense.

Finally, past Section chair Seth Davis arranged for an informational presentation on the World Justice Project for Summit participants. The project’s Latin American activities, a joint effort with the Inter-American Development Bank, were of great interest to Summit attendees. Sarah Long of the World Justice Project explained the project’s purpose and reach. Maria Vizeu-Pinheiro of the Inter-American Development Bank spoke about the project’s efforts in Latin America. The goal is to involve lawyers from more countries in working to achieve the project’s goals. This presentation was a good first step.

The success of the Summit was due in large part to the work of the planning committee headed by Jonathan Kahn and Roger Martella with colleagues from the IBA and the Mexico City bar.  They collectively developed a program that was both interesting and timely. And lest you think this was only a substantive exercise, the program left significant time for the lawyers to get to know each other and forge new friendships and collaborations. For example, we committed as a group to follow up on some of the suggestions on circular economy and to share best practices more broadly. We hope that this foundation will provide a basis upon which we can grow greater ties to the Mexican Bar Association and to other lawyers and bar associations throughout Central and South America.

Karen A. Mignone

Karen A. Mignone is the director of Sustainability for Qualus. She is the chair of the Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources.