Liability issues related to new anti-climate change initiatives

By , Guest blogger

Yesterday, I listened to an interesting lecture on the economics of carbon capture and sequestration at my UCLA Institute of the Environment. As world electricity demand continues to rise, developing nations will use coal fired power plants to supply a big share of this demand. Under "business as usual", this will increase greenhouse gas emissions to levels that Jim Hansen would say are quite scary.

If Carbon Capture and sequestration (CCS) could safely work, then this would be a way for the developing countries to achieve a "win-win" of access to electricity without the resulting greenhouse gases.

Listening to the talk, CCS raises a host of legal liability issues and spatial economics issues. A whole infrastructure of collecting the coal gas and injecting it into pipes will be needed and these pipes will then have to go somewhere for injection under the ground.

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Will for profit insurance companies be willing to write insurance contracts for these unknown hard to quantify risks? If not, then government will need to step in and thus the taxpayers will bear the risk of this as yet unproven technology.

Similar issues arise with geo-engineering. If China unilaterally engages in some geo-engineering experiment and this affects the United States through affecting our air quality or climate conditions, is there an international court where we could sue them?

It would interest me whether lawyers are optimistic concerning whether legal institutions evolve fast enough to stay a step ahead in a world where technological progress (i.e human cloning etc) is moving fast and opening up potentially tricky new contentious issues.

I know that young lawyers are worried today about their job prospects at the leading firms but this discussion has me thinking that there will be plenty of demand for their services in the future.

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