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On the Environment

Monday, January 30, 2012
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Seeking the Signal in the Noise of Environmental Performance Metrics

By Guest Author, Marc A. Levy, Deputy Director of the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN)

This week CIESIN released, with its colleagues at Yale University, the 2012 Environmental Performance Index (EPI).  Wherever possible we collected and processed data in time series, to permit not merely comparisons across countries but also consistent comparisons over time. This has made the EPI a much more powerful diagnostic tool because trends are often much more revealing than static patterns.

To take one illustration, consider overfishing. Globally, the picture is not pretty. On our 0-100 scale, the world average went from 34 in 2000 to 29 in 2010—twice as many countries got worse than got better.

One of the real pleasures of producing the EPI is the chance to work with fellow data geeks who help guide us to the most suitable information and help us structure it into meaningful indicators. For overfishing we turn to the Sea Around Us group at the University of British Columbia, led by Daniel Pauly and backed by a talented, hard-working team. They have done incredible work collecting all the available fishery statistics, uncovering and correcting major errors, making the numbers as comparable as possible, and putting together compelling, informative time series that reveal where overfishing is running rampant and where it is under control.

Map of waters of Namibia. The top two panels show landings by species; the bottom two panels show stock status (click to enlarge). Source: Sea Around Us Project

I asked the people at Sea Around Us where these numbers show meaningful success brought about by deliberate policy efforts. They pointed to Namibia as a clear example. In our 2000-2010 trend analysis, Namibia’s score rises 34 percent. The policy success is even more dramatic when looking at the full time series assembled by Sea Around Us, which reveals that things were extremely bad in the early 1990s, with about 80 percent of the stocks in a collapsed state. By 2000 they had already improved considerably, and that improvement has continued to the present. A major driver of this change has been the elimination of foreign fishing fleets from the Namibian EEZ. Until Namibia established its EEZ in 1990, South African, Russian, Spanish, and Ukrainian vessels took the bulk of the catch (see figure, top). After 1990, Namibia restricted the access to its EEZ (NMFS, 2009), and was able to enforce restrictions.  Consequently the catches of horse mackerel, chub mackerel, hake, anchovy, and monkfish declined briefly and can be attributed to the dramatic decrease in fishing effort expended in the Namibian EEZ by foreign fleets, rather than an actual decrease in the biomass of these species (see figure, second from top).

Being able to see such trends and link them to policy efforts makes possible the identification of leaders and laggards and holds open the promise of accountability and progress.

Marc A. Levy is deputy director of the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), a research and data center of the Earth Institute of Columbia University. He is one of the authors of the 2012 Environmental Performance Index. This post originally appeared on State of the Planet, the Earth Institute's blogspot.

Posted in: Environmental Performance Measurement
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Fourni fishermen hope FPA will safeguard stocks, livelihoods

By Guest Author, Sandy Aylesworth, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, MEM '13

It is late November and I am bombing across the Mediterranean in a 15-foot Zodiac en route to Fourni, one of Greece’s 1,400 islands, for meetings with the mayor and local fishermen. I share the Zodiac with Anthony Moffa and Adele Faure, two students from Yale Law School, Thodoris Tsimpidis, a retired Naval captain and founder of Archipelagos—Institute of Marine Conservation, and Anastasia Miliou, head scientist and director of Archipelagos. The other students and I are enrolled in the Law School’s Environmental Protection Clinic, and Archipelagos is our client.

We turn sharply into a cove and stop abruptly. “And this,” says Anastasia, “is Anthropofagos Island.” Anastasia is gesturing toward a tall, shrubby island that will serve as an enforcement and research base for Greece’s second no-take marine zone, where fishing is completely forbidden.

Ideally, Anthropofagos Island and the no-take zone that borders it will also be an integral piece of the first Fisheries Protected Area (FPA) in Greece. A FPA is a management scheme wherein different stakeholders of a fishery partner to manage their resource sustainably. FPAs are gaining worldwide recognition as a viable fisheries management tool because of their success in achieving sustainable, locally managed fisheries—a triumph given the depressing reality of the world’s dangerously overfished stocks and failed fisheries management.

In response to declining catches over the last two decades, Fourni’s fishermen, Archipelagos, and Fourni’s mayor, Ioannis Maroussis,are forming a FPA. All three parties are confident that the management structure they envision will enable them to halt illegal fishing, enforce existing regulations, and implement the Anthropofagos no-take zone. The Clinic’s Archipelagos team will abet this effort by drafting a memorandum of understanding (MOU) and policy paper in support of the Fourni FPA. Ideally these documents will enable the FPA to secure European Union funding and official recognition.

In contrast to the stark white of the denuded island, the water beneath the Zodiac is a rich periwinkle. The clarity of the water is shocking and allows a clear view of fish, seagrass beds, and a smattering of invertebrates. Nearby an elderly woman, her son, and husband fish from an intricately painted wooden boat. The boat’s toy-like size and primary colors belie the gravity of these fishermen’s problems: Despite practicing the same artisanal fishing methods their family used for hundreds of years, their resource is in danger of becoming commercially extinct—only 10 percent of Fourni’s fishermen are able to fish fulltime and elders bemoan the exodus of the island’s youth, who are leaving in pursuit of profitable marine jobs elsewhere.

The necessity of improving the existing fisheries management in Fourni was particularly glaring last year when Archipelagos scientists found a 50-percent to 80-percent decline in total fish landings. The fishermen, mayor, and Archipelagos attribute paltry fish landings to rampant illegal trawling in the Fourni archipelago.

Near-shore trawling decimates seagrass beds, which provide the nursery for the vast majority of the island’s juvenile fish. The seagrass is also a crucial food source for mature fish. Although Greece forbids trawling on the beds, and they are protected habitat under an EU directive, trawling regulations are not enforced.

Fourni’s coastline and tall mountains protect trawlers from detection. Even if the trawlers were visible, the local coastguard would have a difficult time apprehending illegal fishermen: it does not own a boat. The fishermen say that illegal trawling occurs daily, yet only one fine for illegal trawling was administered in Fourni last year. The pervasiveness of this problem was wholly evident when we observed several illegal trawlers fishing after spending just two nights on Fourni.

Another obstacle to implementing existing regulations is the politically and financially potent trawlers’ union that lobbies aggressively in Athens. Even if approval for an FPA overcame political obstacles, Greece’s financial crisis likely will preclude national funding for an FPA.

But there is cause for optimism: the EU has dedicated funding for sustainable fisheries projects and the proposed Fourni FPA will be a strong candidate.

In Fourni our extensive meetings made clear that the fishermen are ardently protective of their resource and truly dependent on the sea for their livelihood and way of life. Though feta, calamari, and souvlaki enlivened our meetings, the fishermen became somber when they talked about the lack of control they feel over the resource that has sustained the island for thousands of years. They firmly believe that the FPA is their only means of restoring their marine ecosystem to health.

Yale’s Environmental Protection Clinic continues to work closely with Archipelagos. For more information on Archipelagos and the Institute’s research and projects  visit http://www.archipelago.gr/.

Posted in: Environmental Law & Governance
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
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2012: The International Year of Sustainable Energy for All

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

The United Nations has named 2012 the “International Year of Sustainable Energy for All,” setting three goals: ensuring universal access to modern energy services, doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency, and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

Possibly the greatest area of opportunity for achieving these goals is the developing world, where low electrification rates mean great potential for improving access, efficiency gains from switching to modern energy from traditional fuels can be significant, and expanding populations and standards of living drive demand for new generation facilities, which can take advantage of recent advances in renewable energy technology.

The aforementioned goals are driven not just by environmental sustainability targets, but also by recognition of the significant negative impact that energy poverty has on billions of lives. While a majority of earth’s population lives with critical goods just out of reach—poverty that frequently takes the form of a lack of food, clothing or shelter—a lack of these goods insufficiently describes the full spectrum of poverty that these individuals endure. Many throughout the developing world also experience energy poverty, lacking access to electricity and the light it provides.

According to the IEA, 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity, and 2.7 billion to clean cooking facilities, mostly in rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia. For these populations, productive activity is limited by available energy sources: many clinics close at sundown, vaccinations cannot be refrigerated, and children study by the light of kerosene lanterns. Electrification can improve lives and promote environmental sustainability here not just by providing light and power for a greater range of activities, but also by encouraging a shift away from the traditional energy sources thatcontribute to millions of deaths annually via indoor air pollution.

To provide modern energy, many countries have invested in large-scale primary generation facilities—hydroelectric dams, for example. But the infrastructure necessary to deliver electricity to the entire population is frequently lacking. It’s too expensive to build when the customer base is diffuse and much of the population served cannot afford to pay unsubsidized prices for electricity.

In the coming years, forward-thinking countries will explore strategies to increase renewable primary energy generation in order to provide modern energy access while protecting the shared environment for increasing populations with climbing standards of living. In addition, decentralized electricity generation and transmission—in the form of community mini-grids, for example—can help overcome cost issues in traditional grid expansion and provide modern energy access to alleviate energy poverty. By developing strategies to increase electrification rates efficiently and expandingrenewable energy, countries can both pursue reductions in energy poverty and work toward environmental performance goals.

Posted in: Environmental Performance Measurement
Monday, January 09, 2012
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China’s Long March Towards Better Environmental Conditions

By Guest Author, Alex de Sherbinin, Senior Research Associate at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network

This post originally appeared on Columbia University's Earth Institute blog, State of the Planet.

Given its burgeoning economic growth, its rapidly expanding industries, large population, and growing consumer class, many in the environmental field have an intense interest in how China will address its environmental problems.  The country has made some impressive energy and resource efficiency gains, and environmental issues are an important part of the government’s efforts to build a “harmonious society.”  Yet, as evidenced by the recent air pollution events in Beijing, there is a lot of progress to be made, and the government has yet to fulfill its commitment to data transparency.  China’s Regulation on Environmental Information Disclosure, which took effect in May 2008, represents a major step forward, but implementation is still at early stages and much remains to be accomplished to tap the full power of public participation in environmental protection as embodied in the Aarhus Convention, the US government’s Right to Know provisions, and the recently developed Access for All initiative.

It is in this context that a team of researchers (myself among them), jointly led by CIESIN at Columbia University and Yale University, have released the report, Towards a China Environmental Performance Index, that takes a first cut at assessing China’s environmental management and performance at the provincial level. Working closely with colleagues at the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning (an arm of the Ministry of Environmental Protection) and City University of Hong Kong, we held three expert workshops over the course of two years, analyzed China’s environmental laws, and compiled the best available data. In the end, we determined that it was not possible to produce an aggregate index by province – but the process revealed the steps that would be necessary to fulfill that vision.  The bulk of the report provides a component-by-component analysis of China’s policies and measurement practices. Charts and maps illustrate the issues for 33 indicators, relying entirely on official provincial statistics.

Our decision to stop short of producing an aggregate index was based on concerns over data quality (to use statistical parlance – we had concerns over validity and reliability) and a lack of official policy targets for a number of the indicators we developed. Although we could have proposed interim targets, the crux of the matter was that we could not access raw monitoring station data that would have helped to assess data quality.  This led us to have concerns about how much the official statistics reflected on the ground realities. For our global work (see the 2010 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) and the forthcoming 2012 EPI) it is true that we were unable to validate all data sources (especially those derived from official UN publications – which are becoming fewer in number); but in our recent work with countries we have sought to achieve a higher standard.

What we did produce is a model framework for environmental performance indicators to assist the Chinese government in tracking progress toward policy goals, as well as recommendations for how the Chinese government can apply more aggressive performance metrics to environmental decision-making. China is making good faith efforts to raise environmental standards, partly due to the outcry of its increasingly affluent citizens for better air quality.  Yet the government is also seeking to lift millions more out of poverty, and to do so at a pace that has rarely been witnessed. It seems clear, however, that China’s quest for economic development at all costs will create a legacy of environmental damage that will be costly to repair – unless action is taken now. To avoid the worst impacts, the government needs to have policy tools that are adequate for guiding and prioritizing action, and that is what an EPI would provide.

The report is available in English here; a Chinese version will be available shortly. For more information, visit the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy website.

Posted in: Environmental Performance Measurement

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