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On the Environment

Wednesday, July 08, 2015
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Remaking the Paris 2105 Climate Change Agreement to Ensure Broader Engagement

By Daniel C. Esty

For two decades, the global response to climate change has centered on a top-down, national-government-led framework based on a series of emissions reduction targets and timetables. But this international treaty architecture has produced neither the action orientation nor the on-the-ground results needed to address the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Raising the trajectory of the 2015 Climate Change Agreement demands fresh thinking and an action agenda that goes beyond the efforts of the past two decades. A truly ambitious outcome needs a new bottom-up structure that emphasizes the engagement of a broader set of actors in climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts —and celebrates the real progress that mayors, governors, CEOs, and other civil society leaders are already achieving in this regard.

The December “Conference of the Parties” (COP 21) can launch this “broader engagement” approach with a new policy framework that formalizes the diversity of ongoing efforts and programs that are helping to protect and restore the climate system.  Such a re-engineered Climate Change Agreement architecture will require expanded legal and policy options that link and institutionalize the contributions of cities, states/provinces, civil society, companies, and other non-nation-state actors to climate change action.

Under the auspices of the Yale Climate Change Dialogue, a diverse group of thought-leaders from around the world have framed a set of options and opportunities for delivering a meaningful new Agreement in December.  This “broader engagement” strategy aims to energize the global response to climate change and shift the “psychology” of the negotiations in three important ways:

First, it seeks to highlight in the Paris Agreement the successful actions and commitments of non-nation-state actors – demonstrating that success can be achieved at broad-scale and low-cost.  Given the limited day-to-day role that Presidents and Prime Ministers play in shaping the carbon footprints of their societies, climate change success will require moving beyond the 20th Century focus on nation-state-driven targets and timetables to emphasize a broader base of action. The Yale Climate Change Dialogue approach would thus provide a mechanism – in any one of several forms -- to allow Mayors, Governors, corporate executives and other leaders in a position to address greenhouse gas emissions to signal their endorsement of the goals of the 2015 Agreement and to formalize their own climate change commitments.

Second, it encourages and tracks non-nation-state contributions to emissions control through innovative metrics. An “all-hands-on-deck” approach to future climate change action could establish a simple reporting structure within the 2015 Paris Agreement. Such a structure should encourage commitments from non-nation-state actors, provide an easy-to-follow set of metrics, and promote action by all who are positioned to contribute to the global response to climate change.  It should provide ways to track and verify contributions over time.

Third, it promotes broader engagement in clean energy finance through strategies designed to use limited public funds to leverage private capital.  The scale of traditional public financing is simply too small to achieve the ramped-up commitment to energy efficiency and renewable power that is required.  The Paris Agreement thus needs to build on the funding efforts to date, such as the Green Climate Fund, and find ways to de-risk the flow of private capital into climate change investments and establish new policy tools (e.g., green banks, green bonds, etc.) that can channel increased flows of private capital to clean energy projects.

Together, these three components of the “broader engagement” strategy can invigorate the global response to climate change, support the “Agenda of Solutions” that the 2015 Paris Agreement needs to advance, and build post-Paris momentum for broad-gauge action on climate change on a range of scales.


Daniel C. Esty is the Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University. One of the world’s leading experts on corporate environmental strategy, he helped negotiate the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change as an official with the US Environmental Protection Agency. From 2011 to early 2014, Professor Esty served as Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. His recent prizewinning book, Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage, argues that pollution control and natural resource management have become critical elements of marketplace success and explains how leading-edge companies have folded environmental thinking into their core business strategies.

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Monday, June 01, 2015
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The Politics of Fracking Campaigns

By Guest Author, Véronique Bourg-Meyer, FES 2016

If you have been paying attention to the news this past week, and have an interest in domestic energy policy, you will probably have heard: In Texas, municipal fracking bans are now prohibited. On May 18, 2015, Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed into law House Bill 40, which his office says will ensure that Texas landowners are protected against “the heavy hand of local regulation.” While not entirely surprising, HB 40 is a strange message to Texas residents. It is an incursion of the state government into local affairs, an overreach that Gov. Abbot is generally all too quick to condemn when the federal government inserts itself into Texan affairs, even when it results from an established congressional mandate.

HB 40 is the Texas legislature's response to the town of Denton imposing a ban on hydraulic fracturing within city limits last year. 

Local bans on fracking have been effective in other parts of the country. In New York for example, several towns have sought to exclude fracking with land use ordinances. This local approach was not only validated by New York’s highest court in 2014, but also played an important role in the campaign that led to the announcement of a statewide fracking ban in December.

Local bans were, however, far from the only strategy that environmental groups and resident activists employed during their seven-year campaign. Some groups pushed for a statewide ban, others for very stringent regulations. Ultimately, cooperation, determination, and maybe a bit of luck transformed the campaign into a powerful grassroots movement. In a paper written for a class on understanding environmental campaigns and policymaking at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, I explored the strategies and tactics deployed by campaigners that made the campaign a success. You can read the paper here to understand more of the politics around this effort. Happy reading.

Note: Since I wrote my paper in April, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation issued the final Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, which can be found here. The Findings Statement under New York's State Environmental Quality Review Act remains to be issued. 

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Friday, May 29, 2015
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Fracking News: Texas Bans Bans

By Josh Galperin, Associate Director

Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently signed a law that prohibits local governments from banning hydraulic fracturing within their borders. The new law also limits the ability of local governments to regulate other aspects of fracking, such as drilling location. This new policy is not a complete surprise. In fall 2014, voters in Denton, Texas approved a city-wide ban on hydraulic fracturing. The first such ban in Texas, it caused a storm of criticism and new attention to the role of local governments in managing fracking.

While not surprising, the newly enacted state-wide ban on bans is a major departure from Texas tradition.For over a century Texas has been a strong home-rule state and through its history of oil and gas exploration and extraction, Texas has given its local jurisdictions broad authority to manage the local impacts of industries operating within their borders.

There are many factors at play in the new Texas law, questions of home rule, economic interests, energy independence, and more, but one thing is clear: When municipalities like Denton decide to ban fracking they put themselves on the radar of state legislatures that may have other ideas and, therefore, towns may ultimately undermine their own authority.

I have been collaborating with colleagues at Pace Law School’s Land Use Law Center on a project to address this very paradox. The problem is that there are uniquely local impacts from hydraulic fracturing. While the federal government and state governments effectively govern certain aspects of hydraulic fracturing, other aspects — such as road use, visual blight, strain on local government services, and preservation of recreational space — are left ungoverned without local involvement. In other words, without active local governments, there is a fracking governance gap. Local jurisdictions may decide to do nothing, they may decide to establish a robust set of measures to address fracking, or they may ban the process all together. We argue that local governments should take the middle road, developing strong regulatory and non-regulatory programs, rather than instituting full bans. Bans are unsustainable because they encourage state governments to withdraw local authority, thereby creating an even larger governance gap than originally existed. This is exactly what happened in Texas.

We will soon release a series of case studies demonstrating how local governments can effectively manage fracking (one case study comes from the city of Arlington, Texas and it will be interesting to see if the new Texas law impacts Arlington’s successful programs). We are also developing an interactive website that will allow users to explore the various impacts that local governments might address as well as examples of methods for addressing those impacts. A report will accompany the website. In the meantime, you can review our white paper here. This paper outlines the issues surrounding local fracking governance and offers a preliminary assessment of strong local measures that are both politically and legally defensible.

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Friday, April 24, 2015
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Trying Not to Fall Through the Fracking Governance Gap

By Josh Galperin, Associate Director

Over the past year I have been working on a project to define the local impacts of hydraulic fracturing and to develop frameworks for governing these impacts at the local level. The premise of this project is simple: federal and state law do not, and are not meant to, address uniquely local impacts from the hydraulic fracturing "boom." Along with my collaborators, John Nolon and Jessica Bacher from the Land Use Law Center at Pace Law School, and a brilliant team of students from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Yale Law School, we have identified dozens of these local impacts, including traffic and road degradation, noise and visual blight, stress on public services, and loss of farmland or recreational space. A new study published today in Science is a reminder that some of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing scale from local to national in scope and that the criticality of local governance does not undercut the importance of cooperative governance with federal and state policymakers. 

The new study from Brady Allred and co-authors is titled "Ecosystem services lost to oil and gas in North America." The researchers used satellite date to look at "net primary production" or NPP, which is the amount of carbon that plants take in during photosynthesis less the amount they lose in respiration. Understanding NPP is a step towards understanding other ecosystem functions such as food production, biodiversity, and habitat. The authors overlapped satellite data from the years 2000-2012, comparing the changes in NPP with annual density of oil and gas activity in order to estimate annual loss of NPP relative to the build out of hydraulic fracturing infrastructure. They estimate that in central North America alone, oil and gas development has reduced NPP by roughly 4.5 teragrams of carbon. For context they note that "The total amount lost in rangelands is the equivalent to five million animal unit months (AUM; the amount of forage required for one animal for one month), which is more than half the annual available grazing on public lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The amount of biomass lost in croplands is the equivalent of 120.2 million bushels of wheat, ~6% of the wheat produced in 2013 within the region and 13% of wheat exported by the United States." They further report that the total land area covered by oil and gas infrastructure such as well pads, roads, and storage facilities from 2000 to 2012 is approximately 3 million hectares, "the equivalent land area of three Yellowstone National Parks".

These are obviously substantial numbers and add more rigor to the ongoing debate around "fracking." They likewise point to a “scaling gap” that exists in land governance. As the author’s correctly note, the land use aspects of oil and gas decisionmaking happen almost entirely at the local or state level. This seems natural because the loss of a few acres of farmland or fragmentation of local habitats is ostensibly a local concern. Indeed they are a local concern, but at a certain scale—perhaps the scale we now see—these particular local impacts become national impacts.

This new research, therefore, reinforces that argument that no single jurisdiction should have exclusive authority over the process of governing hydraulic fracturing operations. Politicians in some states, for example, are trying to wrest control of all fracking governance from local jurisdictions, which will undermine efforts to address uniquely local impacts. But an appropriate division of authority between state and local management does not solve the larger problem: with cumulative, continental-scale ecosystem impacts, federal leadership is essential, but there is no federal law that recognizes the complexity of ecosystems and authorizes appropriate federal oversight. It is Congress’ responsibility to remedy this, and needless to say, that is not in the cards. In order to have some hope for avoiding more significant large-scale impacts, and in the absence of federal leadership, local governments must have the authority to consider land, habitat, biodiversity, and other features that can fall through a “governance gap.”  

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Monday, March 30, 2015
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Gathering Voices, Emboldening Change, Harnessing Momentum:

By Guest Author, Helen Li, Yale Law School '17

On February 28, 2015, students, faculty, community leaders, businesspeople, and government officials alike gathered at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies for the 5th annual New Directions in Environmental Law Conference: Harnessing Momentum.

Harnessing Momentum brought together environmental thought-leaders from across the country for a day of dialogue and a show of solidarity. Convened against the backdrop of the People’s Climate March, the U.S.-China Climate Change and Clean Energy Commitment, and the upcoming COP 21 negotiations in Paris, conference participants discussed ways to channel energy to make 21stCentury environmental solutions a reality. Panels and workshops examined innovative solutions and promises to exact real, lasting change, from local communities to national arenas to the international stage.

Mayor Toni Harp delivered the opening address, exploring how the city of New Haven has dedicated itself to a sustainable future and acknowledging the magnitude of work that still needs to be done. U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D – RI) delivered the keynote address, presenting his solutions and strategies in the national government. There is still optimism. There is still hope. There is still momentum to generate policies that will propel the United States to the vanguard of environmental progress.


Panel discussions explored environmental communications—how to reach and engage new communities and how to most effectively catalyze action on environmental policy—and the U.S.-China Commitment—how to hold true to our commitment of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Workshops covered a wide range of topics, from climate change issues in Indian Country to environmental justice in overburdened communities.

Throughout the conference, participants engaged in lively dialogue on the most important issues of the day. The event created networks of engaged citizenry and connected them to journalists, professors, organizers, and policymakers. Though New Directions in Environmental Law was only a daylong event, its impact will extend long past February 28th.

For more on the conference, please visit http://www.law.yale.edu/news/2015envirolawconference.htm

Posted in: Environmental Attitudes & BehaviorInnovation & EnvironmentEnvironmental Performance MeasurementEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Monday, March 09, 2015
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Conversation with Natalia Greene about the Rights of Nature in Ecuador

By Guest Author, Melissa Arias, F&ES '15

As part of a major restructuring of the country’s legal framework, in 2008 Ecuador adopted a new Constitution by means of a national referendum. The 2008 Constitution – the country’s 20th – had a special component that made it different from any other constitution worldwide: it was the first Constitution to grant essential rights to Nature. Under Article 71 of the 2008 Constitution, “Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes.” Under this framework, Nature becomes a subject of rights and “any person will be able to demand the recognition of the rights of nature before public organisms.”

Seven years have passed since Ecuador adopted the 2008 Constitution and yet the actual implementation of the Rights of Nature in Ecuador continues to be widely debated. In an effort to clarify the current status of the Rights of Nature in Ecuador, the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy (YCELP) invited Natalia Greene to its webinar series on “Democratizing Environmental Protection”, held on February 6th 2015.

Natalia Green is an Ecuadorian environmental leader who played a monumental role in the adoption of the Rights of Nature in Ecuador’s National Constitution. Along with a group of Ecuadorian environmental activists and representatives from the civil society, Natalia voiced the plea for legally recognizing the protection of nature. Her efforts were rewarded when the Ecuadorian Government accepted the request, as part of a larger movement towards progressivism as embodied in the theoretical framework of the “citizen’s revolution.”

Natalia began her webinar presentation by describing the reasons why Ecuador was the first country to declare the Rights of Nature on its Constitution. As Natalia indicated, one of the main explanationsis the country’s outstanding biodiversity. In terms of number of species of both fauna and flora per hectare, Ecuador is considered one of the most biodiverse countries worldwide. And yet, most of this biodiversity is severely threatened by the expansion of human presence in natural areas. More specifically, one of the major threats to the country’s biodiversity is the construction of roads that give access to oil and mineral reserves located in the heart of the country’s Amazon. In particular, Natalia referred to the case of Yasuní National Park and Biosphere Reserve, an area that became globally recognized for its biodiversity and for the debate that originated around the conflicting interests of conservation and oil extraction inside the protected area.

Later in her presentation, Natalia described what the Rights of Nature represent, as indicated by the Ecuadorian Constitution, and how they fit into the country’s “Wellbeing Development Model”. This Model, advocated by the Ecuadorian Government, includes Nature as a transversal component of its development apparatus. For example, the Model is meant to guide the country’s development away from its heavy reliance on fossil fuels and natural resources and towards an economy that flourishes on the basis of knowledge, cultural richness and biodiversity capital.

Subsequently, Natalia recognized some instances in which the Rights of Nature were respected in Ecuador, even prior to the 2008 Constitution. Examples include the Galapagos Vilcabamba road case and the shark finning prohibition in the Galapagos Islands. However, Natalia expressed a deep concern for the cases where the Rights of Nature have been violated in the country, questioning the legitimacy and abiding power of the 2008 Constitution. The lack of protection of the Tangabana highlands in the province of Chimborazo, an ecosystem of great importance for water and carbon capture, became the first case of a lost demand for the Rights of Nature.

Another case is the open-pit mining project in El Condor Mirador, an area with many endemic specie. In this instance local communities pointed to the project’s environmental impact assessment, which confirmed the project’s contamination would cause extinction of at least three endemic amphibian species and one reptile species. Despite this risk, the project proceeded. This represented a direct violation to Article 73 in the Constitution, which asserts that “the State will apply precaution and restriction measures in all activities that can lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of ecosystems or the permanent alteration of natural cycles”. Moreover, Natalia included the decision to exploit Yasuní National Park as another example of the Government’s flexible interpretation of the Constitution.

Natalia’s presentation concluded with a reflection on how the Rights of Nature constitute an opportunity to change the paradigm and to rethink humanity’s development in harmony with Nature. The presentation was followed by questions from the webinar attendees, which centered around the speaker’s vision for the future of the Rights of Nature, the role that international courts can play, the results of actions by civil society groups in Yasuní and the characterization of the voluntarily isolated indigenous communities that live in the area. In answering these questions, Natalia showed her broad experience in the topic and her unique insights as someone who has committed her career to promoting environmental justice.

Ecuador’s adoption of the Rights of Nature in the National Constitution was a revolutionary move that embodies the country’s political transformation over the past decade. As shown by Natalia’s presentation, the implementation of the country’s new legal framework, including the Rights of Nature, is far from perfect and there is still much to be done to achieve a full recognition of the intrinsic value of Nature. However, as Natalia recognized, this bold move has opened up a space for a different discussion about the environment and conservation that was previously inexistent.

Moving forward, the challenge will be for Ecuador to continue on its path towards human wellbeing by truly acting in accordance to its new constitutional principles. Sincere commitment to protect Nature’s right to persist and to be maintained should not be conditional to capricious human needs and desires. Otherwise the concept of granting essential rights to Nature should be reconsidered in terms of the real capacity and willingness of the State to respect them. Ecuador has an opportunity to become a global example of development in the right direction, one that truly “loves life,”  as the country’s slogan claims. Will it take it?

You can watch a full video of the webinar here, or below:

The Politics of Rights of Nature in Ecuador: Natalia Greene from YCELP on Vimeo.

Posted in: Environmental Attitudes & BehaviorInnovation & EnvironmentEnvironmental Law & Governance
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
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Cataloguing Impacts of the Shale Boom: A Foundation for Local Governance

By Guest Author, Christopher Halfnight, F&ES '15

The shale boom has stirred deep controversy across the United States.  With vast domestic deposits of natural gas and tight oil now both geologically and economically accessible, many stakeholders, from developers to landowners, are seeking to gain.  But others are sounding alarms over contaminated wells, methane flares, and toxic spills.  Federal and state authorities, with slow regulatory responses and minimal stake in local impacts, are often leaving local governments to navigate this controversy – and the many impacts of “fracking” – with constrained budgets and limited capacity.

With support from the Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund at Yale Law School, Yale Climate & Energy Institute, and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, a research team at the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and the Land Use Law Center at Pace Law School is working to fill this governance gap through a project titled Addressing the Local Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing.  The team is building a suite of tools to empower local government decision-making on a range of shale-related local governance challenges.  The project’s stakeholder workshops and research to date have helped fashion the first significant resource in that toolkit: a comprehensive impacts framework cataloguing the potential local effects from shale oil and gas development.  The research team developed this framework of fracking impacts to help orient communities to potential risks and benefits of shale development.  The framework represents a major new resource to provide both a significant knowledge base for local government decision-making and a substantive legal foundation for regulatory and non-regulatory actions.

In the impacts framework, the research team has synthesized nearly 40 local impacts of unconventional oil and gas development across the environmental, socio-economic, and public health spectrum.  The team started with a spreadsheet of municipal fracking bans generously shared by Food & Water Watch, then scoured fracking-related local government resolutions across the country to assess the issues dominating communities’ concerns.  Building on this community-level survey, the team convened two stakeholder workshops and conducted significant research to identify and categorize key potential impacts.  Ranging from habitat fragmentation to visual blight and rising tax revenues to increased employment, the framework addresses both positive and negative impacts communities may face throughout the fracking development lifecycle.  The catalogue of impacts is inclusive but neither exhaustive nor predictive; it captures the range of challenges a community may face from a shale play depending on local context, including issues of concern to the scientific community, environmental advocates, industry, and local community members. Importantly, some of the identified impacts are quite likely to occur, while others are equally unlikely. The researchers are not making judgments about the probability or severity of these impacts. We are simply identifying issues that may arise in any given community in order to help prepare local decision-makers. 

For each impact in the framework, the research team has identified potential causes and resources linked to those causes that explain, document, contextualize, or substantiate the impact.  Wherever possible, the team has sought to provide links to authoritative, peer-reviewed journal articles with objective perspective on an impact and its cause.  Where peer-reviewed resources were not available, the framework provides either non-peer reviewed reports and studies or news reports with useful coverage of the impact.  With more than 150 resources and links that document and contextualize the potential local impacts, the framework represents a significant effort towards equipping local governments with a foundation to manage shale development. 

The impacts framework makes clear that the local effects of the shale boom are many and varied.  Most of the impacts the research team has noted span the entire geography of shale development – from Texas to Pennsylvania to North Dakota – though individual community experiences vary with unique environmental, economic, and other characteristics.  Some potential impacts, such as groundwater pollution from stray gas or fracking chemicals, are subject to scientific study and documented in peer-reviewed literature.  Other impacts, such as an increase in demand for local government services and a reduction in local government workforce retention, are not as well documented but still very real worries for local communities. 

The Yale/Pace shale development impacts framework represents a substantial step in the team’s efforts to empower local government decision-making.  This significant new resource will help local government leaders identify potential risks and economic benefits of fracking specific to their communities.  The framework will also provide the underpinnings for local action based on local priorities, while fostering productive engagement with industry and state regulators.

A static version of this impact list is available online now. In the coming weeks and months the Yale/Pace team will work to update this list with a robust menu of regulatory and non-regulatory governance options that local authorities might consider if any of these impacts raise concerns within their jurisdiction. The team is likewise developing more narrative explanations of the cause of each impact, which will allow local governments to tie their responses more effectively to the underlying problems. Finally, the team will soon release an updated version of this impact list in a dynamic, searchable, online interface.

Building on this initial resource, the team is engaging stakeholders from government, industry, and communities across the country to identify strategic options and alternatives for local governments to address each of the many potential impacts of unconventional oil and gas development.  The research team is creating a series of case studies illustrating local government capacity and identifying leading practices – from comprehensive plan amendments to road use agreements to noise restrictions – that will provide guidance to communities facing shale development.  Eventually, the team hopes to bundle these resources in a comprehensive training program for municipal leaders.  

Despite the recent turbulence in international oil markets, local governments across the country are struggling to keep pace with the shale boom.  Some communities are enacting bans that may be preempted by state governments, while others are welcoming development with inadequate safeguards.  The Yale/Pace research team is striving to find ground between the two, building tools for sound, balanced, and effective local law and policy that will empower the communities where many of the impacts of shale development are felt.

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Thursday, February 12, 2015
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Land Tenure and Sustainable Agriculture

By Guest Author, Elias Kohn, F&ES '16

As I described on this blog two weeks agoAgroforestry offers numerous social and environmental benefits. Unfortunately, broad implementation faces restrictions, such as the challenges of secure land tenure (as described in last weeks posting). Three current strategies to conquer this problem include constructing clearer legal definitions of agroforestry, honoring multiple land ownership models, and refocusing project funding, especially international climate mitigation financing.           

Agroforestry blurs elements of forestry and agriculture, sometimes landing in a gray zone in between. This can make agroforestry practices difficult to recognize and define. Without clear definitions, promoting land tenure policies or tax exemptions for agroforestry practitioners is also a challenge. This is motivating community groups and government agencies to establish clearer definitions. The USDA, for example, recently put a working definition of agroforestry into official guidance. As different agencies within the US develop programs, the USDA guidance can become a reference point that provides a framework for future legal development and eventual incentives and protection for agroforestry project development.

This is a stepping stone for additional policy improvements and “another piece of the policy puzzle coming together to support agroforestry” says Kate MacFarland of the USDA Agroforestry Center.

A second approach to land tenure challenges involves pooling land under a public domain and then granting community access that is secure for the long term. One example is how local agencies in Indonesia encourage community forestry, such as the Hutan Desa, “village forest,” that is regulated through customary law. In this model, water from the forest is shared, the core area of the forest cannot be harvested, and the village cooperatively protects the forest to enhance communal flood resiliency. The secured land, protected through policies and customary enforcement, provides the land tenure security that appears helpful for agroforestry practices.

Long-term land access, even without legal ownership, can combat land tenure obstacles. In 2006, Peru enacted Law 28852, which holds the potential to grant concessions for  “reforestation and agroforestry” for up to 60 years. Such a long time scale solves many of the concerns that food producers have expressed (see the previous post in this series for some interviews with producers). Law 28852 has been met with high controversy, however, due to possible unintended consequences. A key aspect of the controversy relates back to the need for functional definitions; specifically, there is not a clear enough definition of what constitutes a forest. The problems are multifaceted, just as these solutions are complex and interconnected.

A third approach to improve land tenure is to refocus funding. REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is a United Nations financial incentive program to reduce carbon emissions from forests in developing countries. Some REDD+ projects are controversial in Peru, for example, where critics accuse them of threatening indigenous peoples’ use of landand potentially undermining climate change mitigation. A refocused approach would cut out plantations, biofuels, or other large-scale agriculture projects within REDD+, and shift investment towards projects that establish local land tenure rights that fit within REDD+ goals. If the hypothesis that secure land tenure can promote agroforestry and climate smart land management is correct, then incentives that promote local land tenure could be a primary focus of redirected funds. Those projects might then naturally migrate towards long-term land management strategies such as agroforestry.

Agroforestry offers multiple benefits ranging from the social, economic, and the purely environmental. Similarly, by addressing policy restrictions such as land tenure, and by addressing land tenure in a manner that promotes community level decision-making and control, that course of action creates benefits outside of the actual agroforestry implementation.

A continual thought over the last few weeks, reoccurring when I crossed the Benjamin Franklin bridge in Philadelphia, or saw Manhattan’s skyscrapers from Coney Island, is the profound skill humans have to design and build. Now, it seems imperative to employ these skills to design ecological systems that also provide human needs. To make these systems accessible and maneuverable, like elevators rising effortlessly in the tallest of those skyscrapers, the policy tools and local governance structures require similar design skills and implementation. This task is especially suited for the individuals that inform legal and policy decisions.

Posted in: Innovation & EnvironmentEnvironmental Law & Governance
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
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A Pre-Paris Climate Timeline

By Guest Author, Joanna Dafoe, Yale F&ES '14, Yale Law School '17

This morning Christiana Figueres briefed civil society on how to successfully approach the Paris climate conference (COP 21).

Instead of listing all of the plans within the UNFCCC to prepare for Paris—of which there are many— she reminded civil society of the need for dynamic action across all sectors and UN bodies.

The momentum generated by parallel processes, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, is necessary for a successful outcome in Paris.

To this end, I have put together a timeline of select events taking place in the lead-up to Paris. The purpose of this timeline is to illustrate the dynamic political opportunity we have to raise ambition at COP 21.

These events are compiled from the calendars maintained by the International Institute for Sustainable Development Reporting Servicesand RTCC.


This post initially appeared on http://adoptanegotiator.org/

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Thursday, February 05, 2015
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How Land Tenure Standards Prevent Better Agriculture

By Guest Author, Elias Kohn, F&ES '16

If agroforestry provides so many potential environmental and social benefits, why isn’t it more common?

Conversations with agroforestry researchers and growers seem to suggest that lacking long term access to the land, what we can refer to as secure land tenure, prevents greater implementation.

Roughly 40 percent of farmland in the US is rented or leased and “it is a lot harder to implement agroforestry practices if you are leasing the land,”Kate MacFarland of the USDA National Agroforestry Center told me. Without an amendable landlord, farming with trees and perennials is a challenge. It is therefore important to understand how renting land can impact land management decisions, and whether there are any best practices for establishing successful agroforestry practices on rented land.                       

Photo: E. KohnMy own experience renting a residential unit in South Los Angeles and attempting to install a small agroforestry design helps illustrate these challenges. With two freeways visible from the driveway and neighboring a gas station, I was excited to see my coffeeberry bushelderberries, yuccas and a white oak seedling add some color to the nearly constant backdrop of concrete and asphalt. Greywater from my sinks and showers irrigated all the plants that were growing great. When I added worm composting and a small aquaponics system (pictured at left) with tilapia and minnows, my attachment to the whole system grew even more

One day I hurried home to check on everything, only to find that the landlord’s landscapers had ripped apart my work. Verbal permission from the landlord to grow a garden did not matter. Once the disappointment wore off, I was fascinated that the landscapers left all the small annual crops, but killed every native and perennial tree and shrub, the ones that provide greater environmental services and form the foundation of more resilient and longer term agriculture systems.

Was it a coincidence? Maybe, but strikingly similar scenarios occurred in multiple locations for me. Perhaps the short-term and high input agriculture/landscaping model is somehow deeply embedded in the public consciousness. The traditional model is also promoted through policies that dictate what is appropriate to grow on rented land or in a communal garden space.

It might be a leap to compare my experience to the land tenure challenges of large-scale agroforestry systems, but the notion that land use policies undervalue long-term agriculture and agroforestry is a common story.

Travel a few miles down the road from that rental unit in Los Angeles to the site of the former South Central Farm, for example. At one time this was the largest urban garden in the US, packed full of fruit trees and edible perennials that provided food for around 350 families. After the city sold the property to a real estate developer, uninterested in promoting urban food systems, LAPD bulldozed the farm in 2006. Without a guarantee, or even a favorable chance of having the ability to make decisions for a land base beyond a few growing seasons, it is high risk developing crops that provide long term benefits but require higher initial expense, such as fruit and nut trees.

Many food growers and agroforestry proponents still take the risk, understanding the social and ecological benefits of climate smart tree farming. Ben Lawson (pictured at right), a brilliant permaculture designer and emergency/disaster preparedness instructor living in Oregon, lost projects in

 multiple locations because he did not own the land. After months of investing in a project, ownership of the land changed. New landlords held different visions for the property that did not involve food production or land rehabilitation through tree cover. Ben reflects that:

"The sad irony of being a permaculture designer is that so much use of the modernized landscape is temporary. Renters are confined to container gardening. Community gardens are a great model, yet are often at risk of redevelopment…the transient nature of the real estate industry makes long-term investment in establishing productive perennials and tree backyard food crops a marginal practice."

Logan Sander, a natural builder and Master of Forestry Candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies explored land tenure and farming practices on fifty five farms and yards in Jamaica last summer. While his data analysis is still pending, his hypothesis is that successful agroforestry practices increase with land security.

“The idea is that as tenure is more secure, farmers are going to be planting more edible forestry tree crops and timber crops. Agroforestry elements will be stronger and move away from fast crops.”

While researching in Jamaica, Logan noticed that farmers with more secure land tenure planted long term timber trees among shorter-term crops. They considered this tree growth a safety net or retirement plan for future needs. On the other hand, Logan met farmers interested in agroforestry unable to pursue the practice because, as they explained, they would “have to wait for years and this is not our land.” From his research, Logan witnessed agroforestry implementation obstructed by lack of secure rights to the land.

Ruth Metzel, a teaching assistant for an agroforestry class and former intern at the World Agroforestry Center in Nairobi witnessed similar issues regarding land ownership policies: "Unstable land tenure can be a huge obstacle to practicing agroforestry, because in many cases, as in Costa Rica and Panama, governments have encouraged land clearing in the past in order to demonstrate possessory rights. When farmers and landowners must “prove” that they work the land through creating a clear distinction between their land in productive use and native ecosystems, agroforestry suffers precisely because at an initial glance it blurs the line between field and forest."

Perhaps it is that blurred line between a more “natural” state of a forest and the controlled grid layout of conventional agriculture that was unappealing to the landlord in Los Angeles that removed the trees and native shrubs but left the tomatoes and lettuce greens. Aversion to blurring the distinction between domesticate and wild may explain some of the challenges agroforestry proponents face.

Many policies prevent wider promotion of agroforestry systems, but a few current policies may start to change that trend. I will briefly explore these trends and policies in next week’s post.

A warm thanks to Kate MacFarland, Ben Lawson, Logan Sander and Ruth Metzel for their interviews.

Posted in: Environmental Law & Governance
Monday, January 26, 2015
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Agroforestry: Merging Human and Environmental Needs

By Guest Author, Elias Kohn, F&ES '16

It is no surprise that forestry was a major topic of conversation at the 20th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that recently concluded in Lima, Peru. Deforestation and agricultural practices constitute a foundational climate and environmental problem. In the last century, human activity cleared roughly 350 million hectares (1.3 million square miles) of tropical forest and degraded an additional 500 million hectares of primary and secondary tropical forest. Agriculture and indirect impacts of land-use change contribute 52 percent of global anthropogenic methane, 84 percent of nitrous oxide and substantial CO2 emissions. Chemical applications, soil erosion, and altered nitrogen cycles compound the problems that current agricultural practices pose. 

Fortunately, there is an alternative to these damaging practices. In fact, in Lima, eight South and Central American countries agreed to join the 20X20 Initiative in an effort to restore a half billion acres of forest and farmland. Rather than only mitigating the negative impacts of deforestation, 20X20 endorses agroforestry, a climate smart type of agriculture that can transition problems into positive solutions for restoration. Silvopasture, for example, a type of agroforestry, combines trees or shrubs with pastures and can increase animal productivity and forest cover without the negative impacts frequently incurred by conventional grazing.

Photo by F. MontagniniSilvopastoral systems, such as this one (pictured) in Misiones, Argentina that combines hybrid beef cattle and loblolly pine, could be connected to additional agroforestry designs – windbreaks or riparian buffers – to create wildlife corridors on the ecosystem level. These multi-use corridors also sequester carbon, as agroforestry systems appear to surpass conventional agriculture sequestration and may even rival some natural forests. Additional benefits include manure as an organic fertilizer for yerba mate and a steady income between timber harvests.

Even with the Lima 20X20 announcement, agroforestry deserves more attention than it currently receives because it provides numerous environmental benefits while addressing socioeconomic concerns.

Consider the UN Millennium Development Goals. Agroforestry merges environmental sustainability (Goal 7) with human needs such as poverty and hunger alleviation (Goal 1). Reforestation through perennial fruit and nut bearing crops offers a safety net when conditions prevent a productive annual crop season and offer nutritional variety limited by certain monoculture cash crop production. Simultaneously, tree crops, such as cacao and tea production in Southeast Asia, are increasing incomes and economic growth for small landowners. The African Plum, along with a huge variety of additionally underutilized tree crops, offers similar income possibilities.  

Clean water, lower carbon emissions and reforestation should not require less food production, inequitable resource distribution, or staggered economic development.

Goal 3 of the UN Millennium Development Goals seeks gender equality and female empowerment. Interest in the African Plum is growing among women in Cameroon, as the need to pay school fees and buy uniforms overlap with the Plum marketing season. Women comprise sixty to eighty percent of developing world farmers and account for 75% of household food production, yet receive less than 10% of agricultural extension delivery. Long-term tree crops that coincide with growing market demand for new fruits and nuts may offer a way to shift this imbalance to a more equitable distribution.

Photo credit: F. Montagnini



This picture shows an agroforestry system of organic cacao, bannana, and Inga trees in Costa Rica. (Photo credit for this photo and above: F Montagnini).



Unfortunately, all of these potential benefits remain severely restrained. Agroforestry designs have proven their effectiveness, but current laws and policies obstruct greater implementation.

Of the major policy restrictions, land tenure stands out as one of the most daunting. Agroforestry is a long-term investment where property rights dictate decisions and management. Policy leaders could promote this design system that addresses environmental challenges and human needs by changing land tenure policies and allowing this practice to thrive.

Initiative 20X20 may bring attention, technical, and financial support to this issue, but will it bring the needed policy changes?

Next week, the second post in this series will address land tenure as a barrier to more widespread agroforestry practices. 

Posted in: Innovation & EnvironmentEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Friday, December 19, 2014
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Q&A with New Urban Research Fellow

By Susanne Stahl

The Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy is pleased to introduce Alisa Zomer as its inaugural Urban Research Fellow.

Alisa is a 2014 graduate of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) where she studied urban sustainability with a particular focus on governance and climate change adaptation and mitigation in cities. Prior to Yale, she worked at the World Resources Institute in Washington, DC, on issues related to access to information, participation, and justice in environmental decision-making.

She joined the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) team after graduation and is working on a number of projects, including a review of urban sustainability metrics, a sub-national environmental performance index for Viet Nam, and a civic science colloquium.


YCELP: Your work has focused primarily on environmental governance, and you've worked on a number of issues from extractive resources to rights-based environmental approaches. How did you come to focus on urban sustainability?

Alisa: Right now the environmental movement has a fetish for cities. Cities are being branded as the biggest challenges for environmental degradation and also the biggest opportunities to promote sustainable development, and even mitigate climate change. Current obsession with sustainable cities aside, my interest in cities goes back and is closely wrapped up with issues of justice (or injustice) related to driving forces of urban change and demographic shifts.

Two specific examples come to mind: 1) redlining and blockbusting in the early nineteenth century, and 2) school bussing programs that came out of the civil rights movement. The former a discriminatory practice and driver of segregation; and, the latter a band-aid approach to addressing historical inequities. I grew up outside Boston where both these practices are part of the urban fabric and history of the city. My mother recalls my grandfather taking her to Dorchester to witness the poor state of inner-city schools and demonstrate for civil rights – it was the same neighborhood in Boston where my grandfather, the son of immigrants, grew up.

It is these complex narratives of urban change and inequity linked to my family history that piqued my interest in cities. The “environmental” part came later when I learned about resource rights and governance from incredible mentors (Filipina, Jamaican, Sri Lankan) at the World Resources Institute. Applying an environmental lens to look at justice and governance in cities was a natural intersection of my past and present.   

YCELP: What are the key considerations in developing — and implementing — next generation frameworks and indicators?

Alisa: Much of the urban sustainability movement is driven by top-down processes, either through mayors or international actors. A key consideration is how to meaningfully involve urban inhabitants in decision-making. We know that how people live in cities – their consumption and travel patterns –impacts resource use well beyond city borders. One emerging approach is using civic (or citizen) science to engage and empower city dwellers in urban planning decisions. Information technology communication along with low-cost environmental sensors allow people to take a direct role in monitoring environmental quality in their cities – such as air, water, waste, and even traffic. I’m working now to see how crowd-sourced data in cities engage city inhabitants and impact environmental policy.

Developing indicators and tools to promote good urban governance, is likely the biggest challenge to long-term urban sustainability planning. This is because governance is hard to measure and harder to change. That said, people en masse are taking to city streets around the world (Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong, New York to name a few) calling for change, so there is a real opportunity to develop ways to channel that energy for improving the quality of life in cities.      

YCELP: Of the places you've traveled and lived, what features stand out as essential to a sustainable city?

Alisa: Transportation makes or breaks a city, both in terms of sustainability and livability. Last spring I traveled to Medellin, Colombia, for the World Urban Forum and got to ride the metrocable, which has literally transformed the city – a single trip up to the hillside neighborhoods now takes 30 minutes instead of 2.5 hours by bus. At first the city’s transformation appears to be a well-glossed party line, but informal conversations with people on the street proved that the changes are real and deep. Making sure urban inhabitants, especially the poor, have safe, sustainable transport that is reasonably priced and timely is essential to the long-term sustainability of any city.  

YCELP: There is often a disconnect between science and policy, but your work has you navigating both. How can we improve communication between scientists and policymakers?

Alisa: Communication is important, but understanding how power dynamics and institutional structures influence decision-making is paramount. For example, even the most proactive mayor championing urban sustainability is still restricted by election cycles and term limits. This is one reason I’m excited to work with the EPI team to see how we can best bring together environmental data and political realities. Fortunately, the EPI has an amazing team of designers, programmers, researchers, and writers to make the data come to life, so these key environmental issues can reach a broader audience.  

YCELP: As a recent graduate from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES), what advice would you give to students interested in environmental policy?

Alisa: The environmental community tends to cluster together like-minded thinkers, but to actually take on super wicked environmental problems, we need to think beyond the environment. Recently Gus Speth questioned us “What is an environmental issue? It should be anything that has an impact on the environment.” Which is basically everything.

At Yale, the classes I took at the law school and school of architecture helped me to think about cities and policy from different viewpoints. My advice is to go beyond the environment and redefine the boundaries of how humans impact natural systems and vice versa. Justice issues, as demonstrated by the Peoples Climate March, will be the crux of building the future “environmental” movement and the most important allies will be people that you have yet to meet.  

Contact Alisa (alisa.zomer@yale.edu) and follow her on twitter @azomer.

Posted in: Environmental Performance Measurement
Tuesday, December 02, 2014
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Nature’s Rights in Practice: Envisioning Sustainable Communities and Economies

By Guest Author, Avana Andrade, Yale F&ES '15

In her October 20 webinar,Nature’s Rights in Practice,’ Linda Sheehan made it painfully clear that environmental laws in the US are founded on outmoded principles: Most of them still embody the concept that nature is separate from – and exists in order to serve – human needs. Appalling cases of recent environmental degradation indicate how unequipped our legal tools have been in addressing persistent and systemic social and ecological injustices. Laws that emerged in the 1970s in response to egregious cases of environmental disasters still assume that infinite growth is possible and desirable.

But academics and civic institutions are raising questions about both of these once-inviolable concepts. Their work shows how environmental and social problems are interlinked and outlining howand why we must alter our legal and economic paradigms. Progressive legal causes such as the Rights of Nature and the Pluralist Commonwealth model contribute to a wider conversation about how legal and economic frameworks could re-imagine their relationship to social and environmental challenges.

The Rights of Nature is unique in its endeavor to grant Earth’s living communities legal standing conventionally reserved for humans. Documents such as the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, the 2008 Ecuadorian Constitution, and The Future We Want (that emerged from the UN+20 Earth Summit), use language that positions nature as deserving of common protection under the law. The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth describes “the peoples and nations of Earth [as] an indivisible, living community of interrelated and interdependent beings with a common destiny.” The preamble avers that “it is not possible to recognize the rights of only human beings without causing an imbalance within Mother Earth.”

At the local level in the US, a few towns and counties include the Rights of Nature in their ordinances. Linda Sheehan highlighted Santa Monica, California, for its Sustainability Rights Ordinance. Passed in April, 2013, the ordinance calls attention to the inadequacy of the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the California Environmental Quality Act. The document asserts that “natural communities and ecosystems possess fundamental and inalienable rights to exist and flourish in the City Of Santa Monica.” This language, unlike any other legal premise at the local, state, or federal level, contends that natural communities ought to thrive alongside human communities, not at the latter’s expense.

In 2013, Mora County, New Mexico, passed a Community Rights Ordinance that uses the rights of nature concept to protect the community from oil and natural gas industries. In 2010, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, also passed an ordinance that both banned natural gas drilling in the city and recognized the “legally binding rights of nature” in its stand against the natural gas industry.

The Rights of Nature movement reflects a wide-spread scholarly attempt to draw attention to the interconnected nature of our environmental and social problems. Responses that fall within this call for integrated—and sometimes radical—change range from altering how businesses are structured to transforming our economic model. In her book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. Climate Change, Naomi Klein describes that she “started to see signs—new coalitions and fresh arguments—hinting at how, if these various connections were more widely understood, the urgency of the climate crisis could form the basis of a powerful mass movement, one that would weave all these seemingly disparate issues into a coherent narrative about how to protect humanity from the ravages of both a savagely unjust economic system and a destabilized climate system.”

Linda Sheehan reminded listeners that Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, known for his belief in rational self-interest and competition, also described an economic system that emphasized relationships and community. He theorized that well-being is achieved, in part, by exercising responsibility toward the community. This idea seems entirely out of synch with modern economic rationale. Sheehan argues that it’s precisely this engrained, conventional logic that has been so troublesome. But, she says, alternate forms of legal, economic, and social relationships are possible.

Community-level ideas like public banking and employee-owned companies are beginning to gain legitimacy far beyond any initial novelty factor. New Belgium Brewing, for example, is now 100 percent employee owned as well as a certified benefit corporation. As a “B Corporation,” New Belgium bases many of its decisions on social and environmental factors rather than just profit. The result is not only an independent company but also a high-quality work environment driven by an unprecedented level of investment from its employees.

Gar Alperovits, founder of the Democracy Collaborative, is particularly outspoken in this realm. He’s developed a systemic model, the Pluralist Commonwealth that endeavors to “resolve theoretical and practical problems associated with both traditional corporate capitalism and traditional state socialism.” The main argument behind his work is that democratizing the way wealth is owned and managed is crucial in addressing chronically unstable socio-economic institutions. Alperovits claims that even employee-owned companies may “develop narrow interests that are not necessarily the same as those of society as a whole.” In response to competition on the free market, for instance, the company may still be pushed to pollute local streams and air. The Pluralist Commonwealth model is based on altering “larger patterns of distribution and power,” nurturing a broad culture that embodies inclusive rather than profit-minded goals, and redefining what constitutes a community.

Perhaps humanity’s greatest challenge—at the heart of our warming climate and exhausted ecosystems—is this: creating an inclusive “culture of community accountability” out of which just and equitable legal and policy responses can flow.

A recording of the webinar is available at https://vimeo.com/113417655.

Avana Andrade is a Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She earned her B.A. in International Studies and Western European History at Colorado State University in 2010. Before returning to school, she worked as a public historian and backcountry ranger with the Student Conservation Association and the National Park Service in both Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. Her work has focused on the history of grazing and cultural resource management in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Canyonlands National Park. Work and recreation on the Colorado Plateau motivates her primary interest in grad school, environmental conflict mediation. Avana is a Colorado native and an avid backpacker and gardener.

Posted in:
Monday, December 01, 2014
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Climate Change Vet Cameron Explains How He’s Learned from Failure

By Guest Author, Verner Wilson, III, Yale F&ES '15

In 1988, I was two years old in rural Alaska. I didn’t know what was happening in the world, let alone what was occurring in its atmosphere. Twice in the prior decade, in 1973 and 1979, the world experienced an energy crisis that saw fuel prices skyrocket. In his famous 1979 speech President Jimmy Carter said the country was experiencing a “Crisis of Confidence” and urged Americans to adopt energy conservation strategies. At the time, a few Middle Eastern nations, rich in fossil fuels, dictated the supply and price of the important commodity. President Carter, and later President Reagan, vowed to make greenhouse-gas emitting fossil fuels more affordable for everyone.

And so cheaper fuel ballooned.

In the midst of this, in 1988 when James Cameron – now director of Climate Change Capital – was a law student. Greenpeace asked for his help on a research project. Could the US be sued in an international court of law for not acting on a newfound environmental problem largely caused by fossil fuels: climate change?

Cameron delved into the research and, after a few months, came to believe that since every country was contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, every country would do what it could to protect the one earth we call home. Once science fell in line, the world’s leaders would unite to protect future generations.

Speaking at Yale nearly three decades later, he begged to differ with his younger self.

At his lecture at FES on Wednesday, November 12, he recalled working on the Kyoto Protocol, an international top-down treaty that many nations adopted. He was excited when US President Bill Clinton signed it, but the US Senate defeated any effort to make it the law of the land. Thus, the most powerful, influential, and highest carbon-emitting state in the world did not legally promise to take the steps necessary to reduce its impacts of climate change. Years later, Kyoto’s efforts were deemed null, and many nations either pulled out altogether or failed to meet their obligations. The ideal international path forward, for which Cameron and his colleagues had worked, was dead in its tracks.

In 2009, leaders had high expectations for the same top-down approach in Copenhagen, but the world again failed to agree on a comprehensive solution, disappointing any hopes for progress. While many in the environmental community still hold out hope for progress at the annual convention in Paris in 2015, Cameron said he has largely “moved on” from the top-down approach.

Today, he argues for something much different: a bottom-up, grassroots-style climate solution. If not entire nations, then perhaps entire regions, states, territories, cities, industries, corporations or individual businesses will step up to the plate and make a difference collectively.

This bottom-up strategy may be complimentary to new international efforts at top-down actions.  In Brisbane, Australia, during the annual November 2014 G20 Summit, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a joint-effort to reduce carbon emissions. President Obama promised US carbon reductions through efforts such as the recent proposed EPA regulations of power plants. China has promised to increase its renewable energy usage and to decrease its carbon emissions beginning in 2030.

But after the midterm elections, President Obama’s initiatives face a hostile Congress, arguably worse than in 1992 when the Clinton Administration tried to implement the Kyoto Protocol.  Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, who will be the new Chair of the US Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, has laughed off climate change and even called the science a hoax. House Republicans have repeatedly passed bills to defund EPA in an effort to combat regulations to fight climate change.  Further, the new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is doing all he can to “get the EPA reigned in.”  That has caused China to question if the US is serious on climate negotiations. And it means that bottom-up action from cities, states/provinces, civil society, and companies are still critically important.

Whatever happens, it will affect me personally. My family’s fish camp warehouse eroded to the point where we had to take it down or watch it literally fall into the sea. Cities and villages throughout Alaska are facing not just coastal erosion from warmer temperatures, but also invasive species that threaten our subsistence food resources. Melting permafrost has damaged our pipeline and infrastructure. While many people may think warmer temperatures are good for Alaska, in many cases it’s not.  That’s why I have hope in my elders like James Cameron, who dedicated their lives to solve our climate crisis and are still thinking of fresh and encouraging ways forward.

Perhaps learning from failure is the most effective way to learn after all.

Verner Wilson, III, is a Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He is originally from Bristol Bay, Alaska, and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies in 2008 from Brown University. He previously worked for the World Wildlife Fund, as well as a coalition of Alaska Native tribes, on issues related to sustainable wild salmon fisheries, environmental justice, mining, oil and gas, and climate change.

Posted in:
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
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Yale Law students ask California Governor Brown to halt fracking

By Guest Author, Hillary Aidun, YLS '17

Last month I delivered a letter to California Governor Jerry Brown when he visited Yale Law School. Signed by twenty-two members of the Yale Environmental Law Association, the letter asks Governor Brown to place an indefinite moratorium on the use of unconventional oil extraction techniques such as fracking.

Governor Brown has made climate change a policy priority, but development of shale oil threatens to undermine his state’s progress. According to the California Air Resources Board, much of the state’s oil is more carbon intensive than the Alberta Tar Sands, one of the most climate-threatening reserves on the planet. Depending on whom you ask, we need to leave either two-thirds or 80% of proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground in order to restrict global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius. We should at least stop extraction of the most climate-disrupting energy sources, such as California oil.

Climate change threatens California in a number of ways, including by exacerbating drought. But unconventional extraction also contributes to drought in the immediate term by wasting at least two million gallons of water every day. Governor Brown has vowed to place water “front and center” as his state suffers from a drought so severe that cities are restricting residents’ water usage. He could save Californians enormous amounts of water by halting fracking and similar methods. These water-intensive drilling techniques are especially harmful because they permanently remove precious water from California’s supply; the chemicals employed and produced during fracking are so toxic that wastewater cannot be reused for other purposes.

Because fracking involves carcinogenic pollutants such as benzene and formaldehyde it poses enormous threats to human health and the environment through both air and water pollution. According to nationwide industry data, five percent of wells leak immediately, and more than half leak after 30 years. An investigation by the Associated Press has confirmed cases of water contamination in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas. In Los Angeles and Orange Counties, oil companies used 45 million pounds of air toxic materials for fracking and similar techniques between June 2013 and July 2014 alone. These toxins included crystalline silica, a known carcinogen, and hydrofluoric acid, which can cause severe damage to the eyes, skin and lungs. Californians have reported other health impacts in areas where fracking has been taking place for years.

Because fracking wastewater cannot be reused, operators dispose of it through underground injection. Federal seismologists have linked this practice to earthquakes. In the last five years Oklahoma has endured 2500 earthquakes, which scientistsblame on wastewater injection. More than half of California’s wastewater injection wells are within ten miles of a recently active fault line. Needless to say, California does not need to amplify its seismic risk.

Our letter—like fracking in California—focuses on oil, but it is important to note that most fracking in the United States takes place in pursuit of natural gas. Many consider natural gas a relatively harmless fossil fuel because it emits less carbon dioxide than coal when burned. But natural gas’s primary ingredient, methane, is up to 105 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Studies have found that methane leakage rates can be as high as 10% — meaning that in many cases natural gas is even worse for the climate than coal. 

Pick your poison—fracking is extraordinarily dangerous for a number of reasons. That is why nearly 70% of Californians want a halt to all fracking, and communities around the state are moving forward to prohibit the practice or calling on the Governor to do the same. I hope that Governor Brown will take note of fracking’s threats, and lead the nation on this pivotal environmental and human health issue.

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate

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