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On the Environment

Friday, July 22, 2011
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Quantifying Environmental Indicators and Trade

By Guest Author, Diana Connett, MEM '12, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and Jay Emerson, Associate Professor of Statistics, Yale University

Some of the most influential institutions in the international trade realm are integrating environmental concerns into their trade-related work. Groups such as the WTO, World Bank, United Nations, OECD, and various multilateral trade groups, have convened workgroups to flesh-out definitions of ‘environmental goods and services.’ The challenge, as is usually the case with environmental data, is how best to quantify the associations between trade and environmental conditions.

This is a difficult challenge. The world of environmental metrics is young and evolving (unlike the longstanding world of more traditional trade statistics). And connecting quantifiable environmental values to quantifiable economic values (or the narrower subset of quantifiable trade values), and vice versa, is particularly problematic.  There is, for instance, currently no internationally recognized system of environmental accounts. There is also no universally-agreed-upon environmental equivalent to GDP, or the stock market, and so different organizations have developed their own frameworks for assessing relationships between environmental conditions and trade.

Our latest report, “Exploring Trade and the Environment,” is one attempt to connect quantifiable environmental values to quantifiable economic values. Building on eleven years of research in environmental metrics, and the resulting Environmental Performance Index, the report explores ways of assessing quantifiable associations between environmental factors and trade statistics. One of its more straightforward, yet still significant, findings is a strong correlation between high levels of trade and low environmental impacts on human health (see the ENVHEALTH category in the figure below).

Bivariate associations of environmental performance, trade flows, and GDP per capita. Scatterplots of each pair of variables appear above the diagonal; associated correlations and a record of missingness appear below the diagonal, with shading indicating the sign<br /> and strength of the correlation.

Bivariate associations of environmental performance, trade flows, and GDP per capita. Scatterplots of each pair of variables appear above the diagonal; associated correlations and a record of missingness appear below the diagonal, with shading indicating the sign and strength of the correlation.


To appreciate what this really means, it’s important to understand the data underlying the terminology we use. ‘Environmental impacts on human health’ comes from the World Health Organization’s ‘Disability-Adjusted Life Years’ (DALYs) measure, and ‘levels of trade’ refers to the percent of a country’s GDP that is generated by imports and exports. The DALY metric is composed of, among other things, measures of infrastructure, such as access to improved drinking water and sanitation sources. The variable itself has a strong correlation with GDP. The finding of a ‘strong association between trade levels and environmental impacts on human health’ is thus hardly surprising: countries with more robust trade also typically have better water and sanitation infrastructure.

On a deeper level, perhaps what is most interesting about this finding is that it demonstrates the interconnectedness of policy problems and solutions. For policymakers in the developing world, for instance, our analysis suggests that improving human health means not only the obvious actions of increased water and sanitation infrastructure investments, but it also means putting in place policies that increase overall national trade levels.

Posted in: Environmental Performance Measurement
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
Friday, July 08, 2011
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YCELP Q&A: Chris Clayton

By Susanne Stahl

A few weeks ago, the House passed the 2012 agriculture appropriations bill, which cut $2.7 billion from the previous year’s level, including $760 million from conservation programs, $686 million from the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program, and $354 million from research; the House also passed an amendment that prohibits USDA from spending money to implement climate change adaption planning into its programs and policies.

The appropriations bill – and the debate surrounding it – offer an interesting preview of the 2012 Farm Bill discussion. The farm bill funds a variety of programs including conservation programs, nutrition programs, rural development, crop insurance, and crop subsidies. The legislation is reauthorized every five years, allowing lawmakers the chance to review and revise programs. With such disparate interests competing for a portion of what is sure to be a much smaller pot of money, something will have to give.

The Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy visited with Chris Clayton, ag policy editor at DTN/The Progressive Farmer, for some perspective on this and other ag policy issues.

YCELP: What do you think will happen with conservation spending in the next farm bill?

CLAYTON: We’re going to have some real challenges in the 2012 Farm Bill for conservation spending. You have 17 conservation programs, all of them have different constituencies or groups -- some of them are overextended, which means more people want to sign up for them every year than there’s money for them. But they’re all going to face cuts in this next farm bill, and that’s going to affect the ability for farmers to address issues such as erosion and nitrogen and phosphorus in the waterways. If you don’t have the funding through conservation programs, if the incentives from the conservation title of the farm bill are taken away, then you talk about maybe actual regulations stepping in and filling the void.

For a full list of USDA’s conservation programs, visit USDA's website here.

YCELP: How will producers compensate?

CLAYTON: It’s going to become a more complicated matter because these issues -- whether it’s water, air, or climate -- aren’t going to go away, but the funding is going to be more difficult, and we’ll have to start thinking in different ways of providing incentives for farmers to do these things environmentally -- or your just going to hear constant kicking and screaming about EPA because they could very well be regulated through the courts or rules and regulations and not have real incentive programs to help them reduce runoff and protect the soil. It’s going to be real difficult moneywise in this next farm bill.

But the problem I think is it also requires people to think outside the box a little more than they want to. I don’t think it’s necessarily a lack of money, it’s a lack of thinking outside the box -- what can we do differently and achieve the same results.

YCELP: Is climate change a concern that producer and farm groups are discussing?

CLAYTON: Some groups and people are talking about it quite a bit. 

If you look at the issues that agriculture has to address in conservation -- nitrogen and phosphorus runoff in the waterways being a key one -- all of these things are interrelated and can be addressed by the same type of conservation practices. We have to figure out ways to mitigate and adapt, but if you are putting in cover crops or double cropping over the winter you’re also reducing the potential of erosion; you’re also reducing nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into the waterways, you’re also potentially getting a second biomass crop that can be used for energy or a second feed crop that can be used for livestock.

And despite the rebuke from the House of Representatives (regarding funding for climate change adaptation planning), USDA continues to emphasize research on how farmers and livestock producers can deal with extensive production challenges stemming from climate change. USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture recently announced 13 grants totaling more than $53 million to study ways agriculture and forestry can adapt to climate change and take advantage of variable climate patterns. These grants carry forward a series of climate-related projects USDA began rolling out last February that includes three separate $20-million grants for five-year studies on how climate change will affect corn in the Midwest, forests in the Southeast and wheat in the Northwest.

For more on this topic, see Chris Clayton’s recent post House Says USDA Can't Adapt to Climate Change and his article Climate Keeps USDA Adapting.

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