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Friday, October 21, 2011
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Clearing the haze

By Guest Author, Angel Hsu, PhD candidate, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

The news late last month from China’s environment ministry that it plans to bring one of the country’s most destructive and widespread pollutants – tiny particulates widely known as PM 2.5 – into national air quality standards suggests that attitudes to pollutant data, once deemed too politically sensitive to gather, may be shifting. 

Air particulates with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less (hence “PM 2.5”) have serious health implications. Small enough to penetrate human lung tissue, they can cause asthma, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. In most parts of China, PM 2.5 has beenfound to account for more than half of air particulate pollution.  But despite these serious pollution levels and impacts, national air-quality standards in China have lacked requirements for monitoring PM 2.5, or specific reduction targets – until now.

Speaking at Seventh Environment and Development Forum on September 22, China’s pollution control secretary Zhao Hualin announced that the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) intends to revise its national ambient air quality standards to include PM 2.5 measurements. Recognising the contribution of PM 2.5 pollution to poor visibility and air quality, Zhaotold the audience, “We have now started to address the haze problem, which is precisely a PM 2.5 problem”. 

The idea is for China’s so-called “model cities” to pilot particulate measurement, themselves something of a shifting phenomenon. In late August, the MEP made revisions for the second time as to what criteria are necessary to qualify as a National Environmental Protection Model City – a title given to cities to reward special efforts in the green sphere – and PM 2.5 measurement is among the requirements. 

Under these new standards, only 11 cities now qualify as model cities, vastly fewer than the 77 reported to have carried the title before the changes. They are: Wujiang, Liaocheng, Qingpu District of Shanghai, Linyi, Dongguan, Xuzhou, Yinchuan, Yichang, Linan, Huai’an and Foshan. Three more have undergone review and are in the process of being designated as model cities, while the remaining locations previously considered model cities are under review. 

The strengthening of air quality metrics suggests that the political tides surrounding pollutant data may be changing. When the MEP released draft amendments to its Air Pollution Index (API) in late February of this year, the inclusion of PM 2.5 was notably absent, despite the addition of ozone and a number of other considerable improvements.  

The omission was criticised as a political maneouvre rather than a decision stemming from a lack of technical capacity in Chinese cities to measure the pollutant. Ma Jun, who directs the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, told the Global Times, “Government agencies feel the [inclusion of PM 2.5 in the] index may hurt the image of many cities that want to attract investment or that they may not be able to improve PM 2.5 pollution in a short time.”  

Secret US diplomatic cables, released by Wikileaks, further corroborated such suspicions, reporting research by local scientists that revealed PM 2.5 levels five to 10 times higher than World Health Organisation guidelines was deemed “too sensitive” for authorities and therefore not systematically measured in major Chinese cities. But just months after the release of draft API revisions and the diplomatic cables, secretary Zhao has claimed that measurement of PM 2.5 is “technically no longer a problem”. So, how big a step is this?

The first thing to make clear is that Zhao was most likely referring to the question of technical capability to measure PM 2.5, and questions remain as to whether political sensitivities around environmental data still exist. The memory of a failed attempt to quantify economic losses attributable to environmental harms is still fresh in the MEP’s memory. In 2007, the conclusions of China’s “Green GDP” project met stiff resistance from provincial leaders who feared yet another performance metric, and the results of the report were never officially released. The then-State Environmental Protection Agency and National Bureau of Statistics were left quibbling over data and methodology – a testament to how contentious attributing numbers to pollution can be.  

However, recent signs that China is embracing a more transparent approach to its environmental challenges are evident. In early June, the MEP released a franker assessment of China’s environment than seen previously in the latest annual State of the Environment Report. Vice-minister Li Ganjie stated that while some aspects of the environment showed modest improvement, “the overall environmental situation is still very grave and is facing many difficulties and challenges”. Only 3.6% of the 471 cities monitored in the most recent report garnered top ratings for clean air. 

Deborah Seligsohn, principal advisor to the World Resources Institute’s Climate and Energy Program, has also noted a dramatic shift in language since the 1990s when the annual reports claimed that China’s environmental situation was “basically good” or, later, “basically unchanged”. Not until the State Environmental Protection Agency achieved ministerial status in 2007 did the reports become more critical, describing the environment as “not inspiring”.

Including the politically sensitive PM 2.5 in air-quality standards signals a push for greater transparency in China’s environmental governance. Over the course of a few months the MEP has already taken significant strides to improve air quality measurements and standards. This will bring China’s policies closer to international best practices for air quality monitoring.  

Piloting measurement in model cities makes political sense as a way of easing China into eventual binding PM 2.5 targets for all provinces – a mandate that will likely be included in the 13th Five-Year Plan. By first signaling that PM 2.5 is an aspiration for “model cities”, the government is taking an important step toward lessening political stigma surrounding the pollutant: instead of being punished, cities will be rewarded.

PM 2.5’s inclusion is also indicative of a broader trend: China’s transition to a political culture that is more open about environmental conditions. Importantly, if it continues, this openness will allow greater public access to data and information, in turn spurring better results for the environment.

Angel Hsu is a doctoral student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and project director for the 2012 Environmental Performance Index.

This piece was originally posted on the China Dialogue website on October 19th.

Posted in: Environmental Performance MeasurementEnergy & Climate
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
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The Nuclear Power Endgame in Germany

By Guest Author, Erin Burns Gill, MEM '12, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

In the second event of the webinar series Climate Change Solutions: Frontline Perspectives from Around the Globe, the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy welcomed Mr.  R. Andreas Kraemer, Director of Ecologic Institute, Berlin, to the stage to address the nuclear power phase out in Germany.  Speaking both to our international online audience and a live audience in Berlin, Mr. Kraemer offered a fascinating discussion on the true causes and triggers of Germany’s decision to cease production of electricity from nuclear power plants by 2022.

Though general perception (particularly outside of Germany) points toward the tragic catastrophe at Fukushima earlier this spring as the trigger for the dramatic shift, in truth, the nuclear endgame has been in play for years.  Economics, rather than emotions, underlie the decision.

The decision to phase out nuclear is significant. No exception to the trend among many industrialized nations, Germany deployed nuclear power plants in the 1950s as a safe and reliable source of electricity, as well as a way to try to redeem nuclear technology after the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.  In 2010, nuclear provided 23 percent of Germany’s electricity.[1]  Phasing out this substantial industry will not be easy, but it does make sense.

The economics of nuclear are clear: Nuclear power is economically unsustainable without public subsidies. Private investment in the industry simply has not demonstrated willingness to pay for the associated risks.  At the same time, political and public dissatisfaction with nuclear has grown, matched by increasing support for renewable energy.

Mr. Kraemer explained how the successful deployment of renewable energy in Germany has shifted the way Germans envision electricity grids. Rather than maintaining a grid of large, centrally placed power plants, Germany seeks a smarter, more efficient grid fed by distributed generation supplemented by strategic and economical larger plants.  Widespread public support for renewable energy justified the creation of German policies that promote renewable energy. These policies ultimately jumpstarted Germany’s now self-sustaining renewable energy industries. In a climate constrained world, this robust and growing portfolio of renewable energy opens the door to phasing out nuclear.

A far cry from simply shutting down plants, the German government orchestrated a strategic, orderly phase-out of nuclear, working in collaboration with the nuclear industries to smooth the transition for the industry and the public. Essentially, the phase-out strategy allows nuclear plants to continue running through the end of their useful life, but there will be no investment in extending plant life and certainly no new nuclear.

Can the US catch up with Germany? Mr. Kraemer says “yes!” The US has plenty of energy from the sun and wind – more “energy potential,” in fact, than Germany. What’s missing is political will and, to some extent, maturity of the renewable energy industries. We need to learn from Germany’s experience. Looking at the economics (in which nuclear power has no self-sustaining business case) and the environmental and social risks associated with the technology, Mr. Kraemer’s proposition is that the United States (as well as the European Union and other global countries) should admit that our investment in nuclear power was a mistake and begin to phase it out in an orderly way.

You can hear Mr. Kraemer’s full discussion on the nuclear power endgame in Germany here.



[1]
Federal Statistical Office, Germany. “17% of Germany’s electricity consumption was met by renewable energy in 2010” Press release No. 144, April 11, 2011.

Posted in: Energy & Climate
Monday, October 17, 2011
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Why Environmentalists Can’t Ignore Development Economics, and Two Books to Get Us Started

By Guest Author, Ainsley Lloyd, MEM '12, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

Picture rural Ghana: Orange-brown yam fields with hand-piled dirtmounds stretch for miles in any direction, a silent testament to the fact that half the country’s population makes its living from agriculture. The farmers wait for rain; the yams need it – but for all of its life-giving properties, it complicates life when it comes, carving deep gullies into dirt roads and bringing anopheles mosquitoes and their bellyfuls of the malaria parasite, which kills nearly one million people annually.

The developing world is tightly intertwined with the environment. Indeed, the U.N. calls ecosystems “the GDP of the poor,” because of the dependence this portion of society has on the environment. Now consider just how many people this portion represents: more than half of the earth’s population earns less than $3,000 per year. 

With paved roads, financial metropoles and first-world medical care it’s easy to forget how visceral our connection to the environment is. But our task as environmentalists--understanding the complex relations between humans and the environment--cannot be accomplished without a close look at the developing world.


Though academic articles within the discipline can be daunting, two excellent, accessible books covering development economics research have been released this year. Written in a narrative style, Karlan and Appel’s More than Good Intentions and Banerjee and Duflo’s Poor Economics summarize key developments in the past decade. The authors are all involved in two cutting-edge development research organizations: Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). IPA and J-PAL have pioneered the use of randomized controlled trials, methodology borrowed from medical trials that has brought the rigor of hard science to development research.

Important reading for all environmentalists.

Posted in: Energy & Climate
Monday, October 10, 2011
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The Klamath River: How the 100-Year Old Crisis is Finally Coming to an End

By Guest Author, Laura Johnson, MESc '13, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

In a recent Yale Environment 360 video, photographer Pete McBride navigates the Colorado River from its source in the Rocky Mountains to its historic mouth in Mexico. It’s a sobering account. The Colorado River, Pete says, has become a “dry river cemetery.”

Over 20 dams were installed along the Colorado River to divert water for industrial, agricultural, and urban life. These ever-increasing demands exceed the river’s capacity, and droughts are spreading throughout the basin. Similar water management problems exist worldwide, but another example close to home is California’s Klamath River. Officials recently announced that four of the major dams along the Klamath will be removed in the coming years – and the situation there may offer some hope for the Colorado.

In 1909, developers installed the first of four major dams on the Klamath River as part of the PacifiCorp Klamath River Hydroelectric Project. The installation of these hydroelectric dams had a number of negative effects: Coho salmon and steelhead trout populations throughout the Klamath River Basin declined, migratory salmon were kept from reaching spawning grounds up river, and algal blooms developed behind the dams, creating an additional source of stress for fish populations.

Stakeholders – including Indian tribes, the US Department of Interior, farmers, environmental groups, and private citizens – called for improved management strategies and, in 2003, the National Research Council (NRC) released a set of recommendations for overhauling the Klamath River, including a call for dam removal. The NRC based its decisions on data and risk analyses, and provided stakeholders the indicators they needed to analyze potential effects of various water management strategies.

The inclusion of indicator data allowed stakeholders to come to an eventual agreement on how to best manage the Klamath River’s water resources; the various groups signed the Klamath Restoration Agreement and Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement in 2010 and are waiting approval from Congress. The dam-removal project is expected to begin in 2020, allowing PacifiCorp time to raise money for the project without increasing power rates to its customers.

The Klamath River Restoration Agreement offers a successful example of social learning through adaptive management and stakeholder involvement – and it underscores the importance of metrics and data in environmental decisionmaking.

For more information on the Klamath River restoration visit http://klamathrestoration.org/

Posted in: Environmental Performance MeasurementEnergy & Climate
Thursday, October 06, 2011
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Key Steps on Global Warming Agreed in Cancun… Now What?

By Guest Author, Jonathan Smith, Yale Law School, J.D. '12; Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, M.E.M. '12

The binding international greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets of the Kyoto Protocol are set to expire next year, but global greenhouse gas emissions show no signs of halting themselves.  All eyes are focused on this December’s Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa to see how, if at all, the emissions reduction targets of Kyoto will be extended past 2012. The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy invited NRDC’s International Climate Policy Director, Jake Schmidt, to talk about recent developments in international climate negotiations, and what we can expect from Durban, as part of the Center’s new Climate Change Solutions: Frontline Perspectives from Around the Globe webinar series.

Jake’s presentation, entitled Key Steps on Global Warming Agreed in Cancun… Now What? (recording available here) focused on the major unresolved issues from last year’s conference in Cancun that are likely to be discussed and negotiated at Durban, including the transparency of each country’s emissions data, accountability of each country’s emissions reduction targets, and new funding pathways such as the Green Climate Fund. But of course, the elephant in the room is the conclusion of the Kyoto Protocol obligation period. With Kyoto as the ostensible driver of national greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitments the world over, significant changes to, or non-continuation of, Kyoto has the potential to throw a wrench in the best-laid plans of politicians, negotiators, and activists.

But, as Jake highlighted, many countries have recently been taking decisive emissions reduction action seemingly without direct relation to obligations under Kyoto. For example, neither of the top two emitting countries, China and the United States, has binding reduction targets under Kyoto, but both are nevertheless taking political action to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions. China is a party to Kyoto but not listed as an Annex I country, and thus has no binding emissions targets. Yet its most recent Five-Year Plan has made emissions reduction promises formed at the Copenhagen conference into binding domestic law, and Chinese investment in clean energy technologies continues to rise. The United States, which has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, is nevertheless also following through with policies to reduce emissions such as higher fuel efficiency standards and revising emission standards for power plants. The U.S.’s energy-related CO2 emissions have decreased since 2005, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that just with the policies of today, emissions will stay below 2005 levels until at least 2035.

Globally, clean energy investments increased 30% from 2009 to 2010, and 2010 was the first year that nearly half of new energy capacity was non-fossil in nature. It is statistics like these, and proactive national emissions reduction actions like those above, that provide glimmers of hope for climate policy post-Kyoto. As Jake notes, the question is no longer if countries will take action, but rather how much action will they take?

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Friday, September 02, 2011
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Green Kitchens in Cambodia: Can Cookstoves Fuel an Economy?

By Guest Author, Jasmine Hyman, PhD candidate, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

Siem Reap, home of the Angkor Watt temples, is among Cambodia's poorest provinces [1]. Four out of ten villages lack access to clean drinking water; literacy rates are among the lowest in the country; 53 percent of all children are malnourished, and average incomes hover just above $1.80 USD per day [2]. The tourism industry here brings in over $640 million USD per year, yet foreign revenue streams do not ensure (and may indeed extract from) local development -- though the draw of external revenue streams is understandably attractive for Least Developed Countries such as Cambodia. 

But a different form of foreign investment has dramatically changed Arun and Mlis Keo's [3] economic outlook. The couple, who farms just 20 kilometers from the Angkor Watt heritage site, acquired a biodigester through the National Biodigester Program (NBP) run by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of the Cambodian Royal Kingdom (MAFF) and the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV-Cambodia). The biodigester, which converts livestock dung to biogas, fuels their cooking and household lighting needs and has decreased their energy bill by $14.39 per month -- while saving them one and a half hours per day in fuelwood collection. The slurry waste from the biodigestion process substitutes for chemical fertilizer, generating an extra annual savings of $52 per year.

The Keo family represents just one of 8,000 Cambodian rural homes, spanning nine provinces, that have qualified for a flat $150 subsidy and soft private loans to invest an average of $472 into a household-scale biodigester. Considering that the average annual Khmer income is $412, the NBP's popularity (and zero loan-default rate) deserves investigating [4].

When talking about the biodigester, the Keos do not mention the environmental or health benefits of the project. The best part of owning a biodigester is the convenience, Mlis Keo said. She no longer needs to collect firewood or buy charcoal, and cooking rice on a gas stove is much easier than building and maintaining a fire.   

But reductions in household soot and atmospheric methane from the livestock waste are certainly points of interest for NBP, which is trying to convert those benefits to carbon credits for international sale.  

Carbon finance -- foreign investment in greenhouse-gas-reducing projects in developing countries that generate, in turn, carbon credits that developed countries may buy and use for their own climate commitments -- has been a source of controversy in international headlines and academic debate since the Kyoto Protocol launched a global carbon market in 2005. Proponents point to an estimated $141.9 billion market value in 2010 [5] while critics underscore imbalanced regional investment patterns [6] and uncertainty regarding the final destination of the revenue streams.

While much has been said on the shortcomings of carbon finance, the market's local successes are poorly understood and may, in fact, be hindered by current market rules. Further, while the future of the Kyoto Protocol is uncertain, international enthusiasm for carbon-financed cookstove programs is on the rise with the launch of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. But how can carbon finance truly benefit the poor? And are current requirements for defining a carbon offset project relevant for development objectives? 

These are just a few of the issues driving my research. Through funding by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and pilot support from the Yale Institute of Biospheric Studies, I am collaborating with the Nexus Alliance of small-scale project developers to trace benefit flows and to identify principles for success when designing pro-poor cookstove and kitchen interventions.   

Jasmine Hyman, M.Sc. (LSE), B.A. (Columbia) is completing a doctorate at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, where she holds a doctoral fellowship from the National Science Foundation. Her research seeks to identify design principles for global climate finance schemes that promote equitable development and social justice. 


[1] Kosa, Chea and Mara, Yos (2006), "Children's Empowerment through Education Services (CHES) Project in Siem Reap Province," in Winrock International (ed.), (Phnom Penh).

[2] Doherty, Ben (2010), "Angkor Butterfly Hunters Tell of Poverty Amid Tourist Wealth," The Guardian.

[3] Names have been changed.

[4] van Mansvelt, Rogier (2011) "Biodigester User Survey 2009-2011," for NBP, Phnom Penh

[5] Capoor, Karan and Ambrosi, Philippe (2010), "State and Trends of the Carbon Market 2010," (Washington DC: The World Bank).

[6] UNEP RISOE, CDM in Charts, Accessed July 2011.

Posted in: Innovation & EnvironmentEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
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China’s 12th Five-Year Plan Lays Out Ambitious Blueprint, but Data Challenges Remain

By Guest Author, Angel Hsu, PhD candidate, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

In March, China released its 12th Five-Year Plan – a blueprint outlining the key economic and development targets for the country over the next few years.  Unlike previous Plans, climate change and energy are featured prominently, and a strong emphasis is placed on a slower, more sustainable growth trajectory.[1]  Not only is the 12th Five-Year Plan the first to mention climate change, but it adopts as part of national, binding law the climate pledges China first made at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCCC) Copenhagen climate summit in December 2009.  Binding targets for a range of other environment and energy issues are also included in the Plan, including important air and water quality pollutants that were previously absent.

Part of the country’s ability to achieve these targets will be in its capacity to measure and track progress toward its goals.  The Chinese government has pledged implementation of “well-equipped and statistical and monitoring systems” and “index evaluation systems”[2] in the 12th Five Year Plan, indicating an increasing awareness of the importance of data, information and robust infrastructure to ensure targets are met.  However, while there are signs of China’s move toward a more “data-driven” approach to decision-making in the formulation of the latest Plan, political sensitivities around pollution information still persist, meaning China may still confront challenges when trying to improve environmental conditions.

The 12th Five-Year Plan comes at a time of growing recognition from the Chinese government regarding the importance of information for environmental decision-making. In 2010 the Chinese government completed its first national census of pollution, requiring more than $100 million U.S. dollars, 570,000 staff and nearly two years to complete.[3]  The survey mapped more than 6 million sources of residential, industrial, and notably agricultural pollution, which had been previously absent from measures of water contamination.  The survey found that previous measures of water pollution – specifically chemical oxygen demand – had neglected to include non-point agricultural sources of pollution, from fertilizer and pesticide effluent as well as landfill leakage.[4] Including these non-point sources of discharge meant that prior measures of water pollution had been missing over half of the baseline data for chemical oxygen demand – from 13.8 million tons in 2007 to 30.3 million.  At the time, Chinese officials noted that the targets would not be revised based on the new data, while still touting China’s success in meeting COD reduction targets in the 11th Five-Year Plan. However, the findings from the survey did lead to the adoption of a binding reduction target for a critical water pollutant – ammonia nitrogen – and continued reduction goals for Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) in the 12th Five-Year Plan. The adoption of these new water pollution targets were largely due in part to the survey results, which allowed for the government to set new targets and refine previous ones based on this new information. 

While this example speaks to the progress China is making in terms of measurement and performance tracking, political sensitivities surrounding other environmental data still prove to be barriers to policy changes.  Earlier this year, the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) released draft proposals to amend its Air Pollution Index (API) [5] to an Air Quality Index (AQI) that more closely resembles the U.S. version [6]. While the proposed amendments include significant improvements – such as including ozone measurements, improved calculation methodologies, and standardizing color-coding schemes – PM 2.5 [7] is notably absent.Experts, such as Ma Jun, Director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), a Beijing-based NGO, and former Yale World Fellow, have suggested that leaving out PM 2.5 is due to political rather than technical concerns. “Government agencies feel the index may hurt the image of many cities that want to attract investment or that they may not be able to improve PM 2.5 pollution in a short time,” Ma told the Global Times. U.S. diplomatic cables have also revealed that lack of measurement of PM 2.5 and other dangerous air pollutants could be due to fear of political consequences.

So while we can see evidence that China is embracing improved data-based decision-making, the results are mixed because political vulnerability toward environmental pollution is still a serious concern amongst Chinese leadership who fear citizen unrest and social instability.  What China must realize are the benefits from knowing risks and exposures to environmental harms and pollutants, which is not possible without measurement.  Failing to incorporate critical pollutants in national environmental policies only pushes serious concerns under the rug, in a type of “act now, apologize later” mentality that in many cases have led to dire political ramifications for Chinese government officials when harmful pollution disasters surface [8].

Therefore, while the 12th Five-Year Plan makes important inroads in establishing more comprehensive environment and energy-related targets, equal progress needs to be made in terms of data transparency and a shift toward a government culture that doesn’t fear data and numbers.Only then can the Chinese leadership expect to formulate sound policies and robust systems to drive environmental results.


[2] Premier Wen’s Work Report, the NDRC Draft Plan for National Economic and Social Development, and the Ministry of Finance Budget Report can all be found online: http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2011/03/05/china-npc-2011-reports-full-text/.

[3] Xinhua News Agency. 2010. China issues first national census of pollution sources. February 10. http://english.mep.gov.cn/News_service/media_news/201002/t20100210_185653.htm.

[4] Ansfield, J. and K. Bradsher. 2010. China Report Shows More Pollution in Waterways. The NY Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/10/world/asia/10pollute.html.

[6] Hsu, A. 2011. China amends air quality measures but misses key pollutant – PM 2.5. http://hsu.me/2011/03/china-amends-air-quality-measures-but-misses-key-pollutant-pm-2-5/.

[7] PM 2.5 refers to air particulates with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less; known to have serious health implications such as asthma, lung cancer, and cardiovascular disease, due to their ability to penetrate human lungs.

[8] Si, Meng. 2011. On Yunnan’s Chromium Trail. China Dialogue. http://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/4493.

Posted in: Environmental Performance MeasurementEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Thursday, August 18, 2011
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World’s First Electric Highway

By testpersona

British-based electricity firm Ecotricity will complete the world's first electric highway by September of this year by installing twelve electric charging stations between London and Edinburgh.  The first of its kind, the aim is to bring the all-electric vehicle out of the city and make longer distance (not just commuter) traveling possible.

Though still a market in its infancy, it's estimated that the UK needs to have 1.7 million electric vehicles on the road by 2020 in order to meet its carbon reduction targets. At today's roughly 2,000 electric vehicles on the road, there's a long way to go to meet that target - but without eliminating the perpetual cycle of consumers not buying electric vehicles due to the lack of charging stations, and charging stations not being built due to lack of electric vehicles and demand – electric vehicle numbers will always remain low.
 
With top ranges of just 100 miles for newer electric vehicles, and an average charging time of 20 minutes to top up and a whole hour to fully charge the battery, critics argue that charging times are simply too long at this point to present a viable option for longer motorway journeys.  Put in context, that would mean stopping just over three times, for an hour each time to complete the 400 mile journey from London to Edinburgh.
 
While it's critical to get a charging network in place, without faster charging time and improved battery range, electric vehicles may still be confined to city living.
Posted in: Innovation & EnvironmentEnergy & Climate
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
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Limiting SO2 and NOx crossing state borders

By Guest Author, Yaron Schwartz, Research Assistant, Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released this past Friday the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), a new and potentially powerful regulation that limits the amount of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) that can cross state borders. CSAPR is a response to the environmental dilemma created by airborne pollutants that can disperse widely and across state boundaries, a dilemma that particularly afflicts the eastern half of the United States (for instance, sulfur dioxide emissions from a Pennsylvania power plant creating acid rain in New York’s Adirondacks). Under CSAPR, 27 states will be required by 2014 to cut their SO2 emissions to 2.4 million tons per year and their NOx emissions to 1.2 million tons per year, down from 8.8 million tons and 2.6 million tons in 2005. 

 Map

CSAPR’s public health and environment benefits could be vast. The EPA announced that they expect the rule to prevent 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 19,000 cases of acute bronchitis, 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and 1.8 million sick days a year beginning in 2014.  The EPA also estimated that CSAPR’s benefits will overwhelmingly outweigh its costs.  The following graphic tells the story well. 
 

For more information about the EPA’s new rule on cross-state pollution, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/airtransport/.

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
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American Electric Power v. Connecticut

By Guest Author, Yaron Schwartz, Research Assistant, Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy

In a creative effort to curb carbon emissions, six states, along with New York City and several land trusts, decided to pursue a different policy tactic than previous environmental campaigns. Rather than lobbying for Congressional legislation, this coalition sued five major electric utilities and the Tennessee Valley Authority in 2004, claiming that their emissions constituted a public nuisance and, therefore, should be regulated by the courts under federal common law. The case eventually reached the Supreme Court, bringing national attention to this environmental campaign and issue.

This week, however, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the defendants in American Electric Power v. Connecticut. The Court stated that it was the responsibility of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as charged under the Clean Air Act to regulate US carbon emissions, not that of the courts. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued, "Congress set up the EPA to promulgate standards for emissions, and the relief you're seeking seems to me to set up a district judge, who does not have the resources, the expertise, as a kind of super EPA."

While undoubtedly a setback for those who desire real reductions in U.S. carbon emissions, this case may still have a silver lining. By highlighting the responsibility of the EPA to set standards for carbon emissions, the Court has placed renewed pressure on the EPA to take meaningful action on climate change. The Court’s decision has also clarified the stakes for all concerned. As long as Congress refuses to address climate change through new legislative solutions, the EPA will remain the only national policymaking body in the United States with the ability to tackle the problem.  Efforts to impede or constrain EPA’s regulatory authority under the Clean Air Act now seem doubly dangerous.

Read the Court’s official decision in American Electric Power v. Connecticut.

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Friday, May 06, 2011
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Could Synthetic Trees Play a Role in Combatting Climate Change?

By testpersona
Columbia University develops new synthetic tree to remove carbon dioxide from the air. Researchers claim it has the possibility of reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by up to 12%.  Check out this video posted on Environmental Leader.
 
Posted in: Energy & Climate
Thursday, April 07, 2011
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The Basics of Shale Gas

By Josh Galperin, Associate Director

 

Want to understand the basics of shale gas? Then the U.S. Energy Information Administration has the primer for you. Key facts include:

  • U.S. shale gas plays could provide approximately 110 years of use in the United States at 2009 rates of consumption.
  • Shale gas (or natural gas extracted from shale resources) made up 14% of total U.S. natural gas supply in 2009.  The EIA estimates that this share could increase to 45% by 2035.
  • Natural gas is a predominantly domestic energy resource -- 87% consumed in the United States in 2009 was also produced in the United States.

There's much more, including links to other relevant EIA reports and some helpful visuals. This is an excellent starting point for further research.   

Posted in: Energy & Climate
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
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Natural Gas and RGGI’s CO2 Emissions Drop: The Overlooked Story

By Josh Galperin, Associate Director

 

According to a recent estimate, CO2 emissions in the RGGI region experienced a significant decrease from 2005 to 2009 -- approximately 33%. What's been overlooked is the key role natural gas played in that drop. Here's the relevant chart:

No doubt there are several important factors driving the emissions drop -- the recession, the weather, increased energy efficiency, and increased renewables capacity, among them. But what's worth underscoring is the 31.2% coming from fuel switching. That's all from natural gas -- specifically, generally decreasing natural gas prices that were lower than petroleum prices after 2006 and much closer to coal prices by 2009. Per another excellent chart:

This trend could be very important for our climate future. It suggests natural gas might actually be the viable transition fuel that's been heavily promised. Though of course much more research and analysis needs to be done on that front before a firm conclusion can be drawn. Nevertheless, natural gas prices are now something very much worth watching in the coming years.    

Posted in: Energy & Climate
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Cleantech Group Announces Second Highest Quarter Ever in Clean Tech Investment

By testpersona

The Cleantech Group released preliminary results yesterday from their 2011 first quarter report.  The major finding: a total of $2.57 billion in clean technology venture investment across 159 companies. While the total number of deals were down, actual dollar investments increased by 52% compared to the previous quarter.  The top investment areas were:

SOLAR - $641 million in 26 deals
TRANSPORTATION - $311 million in 8 deals
MATERIALS - $296 million in 9 deals
BIOFUELS - $148 million in 13 deals

The report also found a huge increase in investment in North America, while the UK saw a sharp drop from the previous quarter.  After the US, Canada raised the most clean tech investment dollars, followed by India.

Posted in: Innovation & EnvironmentEnergy & Climate
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
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Climate Change Triage: The Northeast and Sea Level Rise

By Josh Galperin, Associate Director

Sobering look at sea level rise in the Northeast and the hard choices it puts before us.  Do taxpayers pay to defend coastline with expensive sea walls in what looks to be a losing battle?  Do emotionally-invested homeowners on the coast retreat now while their property may be at its optimal value?  What can we save from the sea's rise, if anything?  How will we as a society triage the many victims of this climate change harm?      

I detect no real sense that policy makers have a good handle on how to resolve, or even approach, these kinds of terrible choices.  Unfortunately, going forward blindly is also a choice, and one that usually doesn't end too well.

Posted in: Environmental Attitudes & BehaviorEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate

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