Pace environmental law experts add to momentum with education of officials to address climate change

One wouldn’t necessarily expect a small former Soviet country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia to lead the way in addressing climate change, but that’s exactly what Georgia aspires to do. It’s already off to a strong start, with the national and municipal governments committed to increase reliance on renewable energy sources, transitioning to electric and hybrid vehicles, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Now Georgia is getting a critical piece of green intellectual capital from Pace environmental law experts: training for senior and mid-level government employees who deal with climate change issues in their work and will play roles in fostering and sustaining the necessary changes. A Georgian university will also be getting the first course ever on environmental law, with a focus on climate change. These education initiatives have come together rapidly. A grant awarded in November is helping fund a two-day course for officials on Climate Change Law, as well as supporting a one-semester course at Ilia State University on “Foundations of International Environmental Law and Climate Change.” This course for government leaders will take place in Georgia the week of May 16 and the university course starts in September.

Both involve noted environmental faculty members at Pace University Law School, who are working with a Pace LLM alumna and two experts at Georgia’s Ilia State University.

The grant

Professor Nicholas A. Robinson, founder of the Pace environmental law program, and Pace Law School alumna Ekaterine Otarashvili ‘09, who now works as a consultant with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, received funding for the course as part of CRDF Global’s 2010 Climate Change Curriculum Development Competition. CRDF Global is a nonprofit organization established in 1995 by the National Science Foundation that works to promote international scientific and technical collaboration.

Professor Robinson, Professor James Van Nostrand, executive director of the Pace Energy and Climate Center, Otarashvili, and the Georgian climate change experts have formed a working group that will develop the course on climate change for senior- and mid-level Georgian state employees who deal with related issues in their work. Professors Robinson and Van Nostrand will travel to Georgia the week of May 16 to teach the two-day course.

The course will cover:

  • Basics of international climate change law
  • National action plans to address climate change
  • Laws to eliminate or reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • How to supply non-fossil fuel energy
  • Coping with unavoidable consequences of climate change, such as sea level rise and more aggressive storms
  • Environmentally displaced persons

This working group will also develop the course for Ilia State University, one of the country’s foremost academic institutions, and will prepare staff members at Ilia’s Center of Environmental Education to replicate the short course for government officials as needed in the future.

National Security

The Georgian government, which in the past hardly thought about climate change, has taken great strides recently.

Otarashvili explained, “Just a couple of years ago, there was very little understanding of climate change among the general public or the government. Now, many Georgians realize that energy self-sufficiency—achieved through development of alternative and renewable energy sources—is directly linked to our national security. The need for more climate-minded development is becoming a priority for Georgia.”

Professor Robinson added, “It is impressive that Georgia has prioritized the development of a national climate action plan. Building on Georgia’s rich hydropower base, the course will define the legal pathways to national green energy self-sufficiency. We will also cooperate with Ilia State University to launch future courses to build Georgia’s capacity to implement this objective.”

Robinson continued, “Pace expects other nations—especially those in central Europe and other former Soviet states—to study what is done in Georgia and emulate it.”

Both Professors Robinson and Van Nostrand will serve pro bono publico on the project. The grant will cover their travel and other expenses.

Robinson, who will serve as principal investigator for the project, led the Asian Development Bank’s program in the 1990s to introduce environmental legal education into 70 law schools in 16 Asian and Pacific nations. Last year, he published one of the world’s first texts on climate change law: “Climate Change Law: Mitigation & Adaption” (West Publishing Co. 2010).

Prior to joining the Pace Energy and Climate Center as executive director, Van Nostrand enjoyed a successful career as a partner in the Environmental and Natural Resources practice group of a large Northwest-based law firm, Perkins Coie LLP. He has deep experience in all aspects of the regulatory process affecting electric and natural gas utilities, including resource acquisition, renewable energy, the design and implementation of energy efficiency and conservation programs, enactment of renewable portfolio standards, and integrated resource planning.

Pace recently launched the world’s first Master’s Degree program in Climate Change Law. On its White Plains, NY, campus, it also offers JD programs; Master’s Degree programs in Land Use and Sustainable Development, as well as Comparative Legal Studies; and a Doctor of Laws in Environmental Law.

Facts about Georgia

In a speech at the 16th Conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Cancun, Mexico on December 8, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said, “Although Georgia is a small country, we believe we can have a large impact, especially in our region, which has suffered from environmental degradation, as well as oppression and instability… Our overarching goal in Georgia is to show that lowering our consumption of fossil fuels can help us increase growth—and do so in a sustainable way.”

  • Georgia strives to establish a friendly investment environment for renewable energy sources, especially hydropower and solar.
  • Already, more than 80 percent of the electricity produced in Georgia comes from renewable sources, and Georgia now exports renewable energy to its neighbors. The Georgian government aims to establish Georgia as the renewable energy exporter to Europe.
  • In November, Georgia’s government made an unprecedented commitment to replace its entire fleet of state-owned cars with electric or hybrid vehicles within four years.
  • In April, the mayor of Georgia’s capital city Tbilisi signed the European Union’s “Covenant of Mayors” initiative, making Tbilisi the first city in the Caucasus to join the covenant. The covenant initiative, which was launched in 2008, consists of a formal commitment by City Councils to go beyond the EU objectives of 20 percent reduction of carbon dioxide emissions through energy efficiency and renewable energy actions.