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On the Environment

Monday, September 17, 2012
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Announcing the Indicators in Practice Project

By Guest Author, Aaron Reuben, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, '12

At the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy we are concerned with the state of our planet. We consider ways that national and international governance of our world can be improved to better humanity’s lot - and the lot of the species that coexist (somewhat shakily) with us on this tottering orb. 

One of the more longstanding ways we seek to improve global governance is by creating and publishing, in collaboration with the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University, our biannual ranking of the environmental performance of the world’s nations, the Environmental Performance Index (EPI). In this Index we consider the movement of each nation towards fulfilling their own environmental goals (reduce pollution; create more nature reserves). Those at the top of our list have set ambitious goals for improving environmental health and quality and, largely, they have achieved them. Those at the bottom struggle to set or achieve environmental targets, though many, like Azerbaijan, are quickly improving (earning them a high ranking on our “Trend EPI,” which considers rates of change in performance across years).

Now that the EPI has been around for nearly a decade, we are often asked what the true impact of this effort has been, or could be. 

Is the EPI having an impact on the governance of the world’s resources? 

Do decision makers, stakeholders, and activist agitators look to the scores of their country on the EPI and change the course of their actions? Are new policies implemented? Old ones abandoned?  

This is an ambitious question to answer. As a first step, we have developed the Indicators in Practice Project, a new endeavor to examine the question of the impact of environmental indices, our own EPI and other similar efforts, from a variety of perspectives. 

Through our case studies of government efforts to create and use environmental indicators we have already begun this process. But we are now expanding considerations of environmental performance metrics to include other sectors – businesses and civil society groups in particular.  We will publish an academic review of the literature on indicator impacts, and we will reach out to scholars, practitioners, and policy makers around to world to find and present success stories where strong measurement of environmental quality (matched against goals of environmental protection) have led to good results. 

Another key goal of this effort will be to contextualize the rankings presented in our EPI. Where possible we hope to dig deeper into our best and worst environmental performers -  and ask the question, from a policy and management perspective: what’s driving these scores?

We will revamp the EPI website to include a new Indicators in Practice section, coming soon. And check back often for case studies and discussions of how environmental performance metrics are being used across the world to drive real, measureable changes in the governance of our planet.

Aaron Reuben is a research assistant at the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy, where he studies the policy impacts of environmental health indicators. He holds a Masters of Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and is a former Editor-in-Chief of the Yale environmental journal, SAGE Magazine.

Posted in: Environmental Performance Measurement
Thursday, September 13, 2012
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“Academic Performance Index” Ranks YCELP Faculty

By Guest Author, Josh Galperin, YCELP Associate Director

For more than a decade The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy (YCELP) has focused on developing and improving quantitative environmental performance measurement in order to provide a tool for nations to judge the effects of their environmental policy. As the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) has evolved and improved, the profile and proliferation of quantitative performance measurement in other fields have also grown. The margins of this growth is being partially captured in an ongoing YCELP project titled “Indicators In Practice.” In the meantime, one seemingly unrelated effort at performance measurement has captured our attention.

James C. Phillips and Professor John Yoo, both at the University of California-Berkeley, released a paper this month titled The Cite Stuff: Inventing a Better Law Faculty Relevance Measure. Their method attempts, as they say, “to provide a quantitative, albeit imperfect, measure of intellectual impact and productivity” based on “the number of times a scholar has been cited by his peers.” The paper not only presents a ranking for select faculty across the United States, it also breaks down the data into discrete fields, presenting the most cited faculty in a given area of law.

YCELP, of course, is inherently interested in understanding the most impactful environmental law faculty in the United States. YCELP is also inherently interested in having a sense of the diverse ways that others are using quantitative performance measurement. But this particular ranking offers something even more deserving of our attention. (So please forgive me for burying the lede, but we didn’t want to seem too proud).

Professor Dan Esty (YCELP Director on leave) and Professor Doug Kysar (interim Director of YCELP) were ranked as the two most cited faculty in the field of environmental law.  This is an impressive recognition that speaks highly of the work of both professors and the efforts of YCELP to promote that work.

It is worth pointing out that many excellent professors who frequently publish in the field of environmental law were categorized in other fields such as administrative law or public law. Were these professors, such as Richard Revesz, Richard Stewart and Jody Freeman (categorized in administrative law) or Dan Farber (in public law) included instead in environmental law, the rankings would be different.

Any ranking will have certain limitations. The Environmental Performance Index, for example, is limited by the availability, quality and consistency of national environmental data. The Phillips and Yoo “Academic Performance Index” (as I’ve dubbed it) is limited by the necessarily subjective nature of categorizing faculty and selecting proxies for academic impact, productivity or, finally, quality. Ultimately though, the purpose of quantitative performance measurement is not the static ranking that it can create, but the verified improvement or tangible results of investment that those rankings can demonstrate.

The 2012 EPI included a pilot Trend EPI, highlighting both environmental improvement and decline across the globe and creating a starting point for policymakers to explore how real policy has impacted a country’s performance. Phillips and Yoo likewise make clear that “[o]ne of the values of data is to assist one in making decisions.” In the case of the Academic Performance Index the decisions relate not to national environmental policy but to law school hiring decisions. 

The meaning of the new academic study is indeed nuanced, but the benefit of having such as study, as with the EPI, is significant. As Phillips and Yoo explain, quantitative measurement is “important in a profession that seeks not to collect knowledge for future generations like medieval monks, but desires to have an impact on the world now.”


Posted in: Environmental Performance Measurement

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