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On the Environment

Monday, April 02, 2012
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Measuring Progress at Rio and Beyond

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

This post was originally published March 31, 2012, in Sage Magazine.

This past Sunday at the US-Canada Citizens Summit for Sustainable Development, I facilitated a group discussion on metrics and indicators for measuring progress toward sustainable development goals. Indicators and targets are mentioned throughout the “Zero Draft” document titled “The Future We Want,” a 19-page document that distills over 6,000 some pages of viewpoints from member states and major groups. This document has been serving as the basis for negotiations, and hopefully will be adopted as some sort of “outcome document” at the Earth Summit in Rio this June.

What does the Zero Draft say about indicators and metrics? Paragraph 33 makes mention of a “set of indicators to measure progress” toward implementation of countries’ implementation of green economy. Paragraph 43 elaborates a recognition of the importance of measuring global progress. The goal of establishing indicators and measures “to evaluate implementation” is stated for achievement in the next three years. Subsequent to Paragraph 108, which makes mention of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to complement the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), Paragraph 109 states, “We also propose that progress towards these Goals should be measured by appropriate indicators and evaluated by specific targets to be achieved possibly by 2030.” Lastly, included in Paragraph 111 is a statement that expresses agreement of the limitations of GDP as a measure of well-being.

Discussion of metrics, indicators, and targets to better quantify and track progress toward green economy, poverty eradication, and sustainable development goals came up in every session I attended during the Summit. Representatives from civil society, the private sector, municipal governments, and academia voiced the need for better data and metrics.  How does a city know how much money it will save from energy efficiency measures, and how will it know which measures to implement and how those policies are performing?  How does a country know how its ecosystems are functioning if there is no data by which to measure its conditions?  How can cities be considered “sustainable” without metrics to define them?

These are daunting questions that decision-makers at every level are facing. Unfortunately, through my observations of the latest informal negotiations on the Zero Draft at the United Nations this past week, neither do most negotiators. Discussions haven’t progress past the conceptual level at the UN – what the insertion of “planetary boundaries” means and what the scope of green economy should include, for example.

The 2012 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) can be a possible solution and specific tool that can help bring some level of clarity to the discussion.  A joint project between The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network at Columbia University, the 2012 EPI provides countries with a comparative framework by which to assess environmental performance on a range of issues.  These include the environmental burden of disease, air quality, water quality, forestry, agriculture, water quantity, climate change and energy issues, biodiversity and fisheries.  Incorporating the last decade’s worth of globally-available data on these issues, countries can clearly see areas in which they perform well, where they lag, and how they’ve improved or declined overall.

The EPI framework and methodology already measure progress toward some key environmental goals that came out of Conventions originally negotiated at the 1992 Earth Summit.  An indicator on biodiversity and habitat protection gauges how close or far countries are from protecting 17 percent of each terrestrial biome within its borders – a target set by the Convention on Biological Diversity at its 10th Conference of Parties in Nagoya, Japan in 2010.  The EPI also uses a target for carbon dioxide emission levels established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the scientific body on climate change whose work supports the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.  Therefore, countries can already get a sense of how they are doing on key issues originally identified at Rio 20 years ago, as well as an indication of how far they still have to come.

While the EPI provides a starting point, there are still persistent data gaps that prevent a more complete picture of sustainability.  We identified several of these gaps in our analysis, including missing global data for recycling rates, toxic and chemical exposures, heavy metals, municipal waste management and treatment, desertification, water quality (sedimentation and organic/industrial pollutants), nuclear safety, climate adaptation, agricultural soil quality and erosion, to just name a few.  These gaps are indications that while we have come a long way in terms of improving data and measurement practices for environment and sustainability issues, we still have much further to go if we hope to be able to better understand the complexity of ecosystems, human impact on the environment, and whether we have achieved green economic growth.

Although it is unlikely that Rio will produce a new indicator for capturing social, economic and environmental progress that will replace GDP, leaders can at least begin to move toward a definition of a set of indicators that better encapsulate sustainable development, poverty eradication, and green economy (all identified themes of the Earth Summit this June).  This way countries, cities, organizations, industries, and individuals can begin to identify what information needs to be collected and where investments in monitoring are needed.  But for these improvements to happen, negotiators must also earmark financing to support data collection and monitoring.

A summary of the main conclusions from this session as well as others are available in the Outcome Document, which can be accessed on www.citizenssummit.org as soon as it’s compiled.

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

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012
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Ending Deforestation in the Amazon: Turning a Possibility into a Reality

By Guest Author, Jonathan Smith, JD/MEM candidate, Yale Law School and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

For the past several months, the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy has invited global experts to speak about the climate policies of the top ten greenhouse-gas-emitting nations in its Climate Change Solutions: Frontline Perspectives from Around the Globe webinar series. For most of the nations in the series, that means policies addressing emissions from energy use, electricity, and transportation. For instance, over three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions in both the US and EU are attributable to the energy sector. But the issues Brazil faces are much different – it is the only top-ten nation with emissions primarily derived from land use change, deforestation, and agriculture. Dr. Paulo Moutinho, Executive Director of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), spoke recently about these issues and others. A recording of the webinar is available here.

Over the last twenty years, an area the size of Texas has been deforested in the Brazilian Amazon. Seventy percent of this deforestation is due to cattle-ranching activities, but other factors -- such as increasing corn, soy, and sugar cane production for food and biofuels -- are also stressing the environment. The Brazilian government’s subsidies of traditional, intensive agricultural practices dwarf that of sustainable, low-carbon agriculture. And governmental investment in transportation and urban infrastructure in the Amazon similarly threatens its forests, with over 70 percent of deforestation occurring within 50 kilometers of roads. Settlements are a relatively new driver of deforestation, and in the last ten years small landholders and settlers have been playing an increasingly major role in deforestation. At current rates, over 40 percent of the Amazon forest could be gone by 2050, potentially releasing up to 40 billion metric tons of the carbon stored by the forest into the atmosphere.

Moutinho condenses the myriad of contributing factors to four main threats to the forest: 1) the lack of environmental safeguards in the government’s huge Growth Acceleration Plan that is building infrastructure in the Amazon; 2) the growing demand for beef and grain commodities around the world, and the ensuing incentives for cattle ranchers and farmers to cut down forestland; 3) governmental settlement policy that encourages the deforestation of a large number of small land plots; and 4) threats to weaken protections in the Forest Code that are currently under debate in Brazil’s Congress.

But though the threats to the Amazon loom large, progress has been made. Deforestation rates have been reduced to two-thirds below the 1996-2005 average through programs like the compensated reduction of deforestation and the Amazon Fund, the creation of protected areas, and improved law enforcement measures. And the national goal of an 80-percent reduction in deforestation by 2020 could avoid the release of nearly 6 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere. At the subnational level, some Brazilian states such as Para and Amazonas are instituting their own state-level REDD programs. And at the sub-state level, forest protection is highly dependent on stakeholders, such as the indigenous communities, who live on lands that hold 30 percent of the carbon stock of the Amazon, and have traditionally low rates of deforestation.

Moutinho stresses the importance of a national REDD regime within which state-level REDD programs are nested, so that targets and methodologies could be standardized across states. And aside from REDD, he also advocates for a national emissions trading scheme, expansion of protected areas, and programs to both increase the land-use efficiency of cattle ranchers and promote the growth of crops on land that had already been cleared for ranching.

A long and multi-pronged effort is necessary in order to slow—or eventually stop—deforestation in the Amazon. But with deforestation not only directly threatening one of the world’s richest biomes, but also indirectly threatening biomes the world over through climate change, the effort must be made.

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Monday, March 12, 2012
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2012 ARPA-E Summit Highlights: the Benefits of Investing in Energy Innovation

By Guest Author, Rafael E. Torres, MBA ’13, Yale School of Management, MEM ’13 Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

Investing in innovation in any industry is a risky proposition, yet often one worth pursuing. Technological innovation is the driving force for economic growth, but it requires firms to make significant investments in research, development, and commercialization in order to produce results. The energy industry is no exception to this requirement, though the energy system’s nuances present unique challenges to potential innovators, including high capital intensity, as well as technical complexities and risks. Energy technology innovation, while highly desirable from a social perspective, is a tough nut to crack, even for the entrepreneurial forces of the private sector. This is where ARPA-E comes in.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA-E), authorized in 2007 and first funded in 2009, was established within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to fund projects developing breakthrough energy technologies that increase energy security, reduce energy-related emissions, and improve efficiency. ARPA-E’s objective in funding and providing expertise to these high-risk/high-reward projects is to assist inventors through a critical and sensitive phase of the technology development process in order to commercialize energy technologies and attract private sector investment. To date, ARPA-E has funded over 180 projects with $521.7 million in awards across 12 program areas, and its awardees have sourced more than $200 million of private capital after receiving ARPA-E funding.

Now an annual event, the 3rd ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit—held at the end of February just outside of Washington, DC—brought together an eye-catching lineup of speakers and energy experts to discuss the issues of the day and to celebrate the success of ARPA-E awardees’ projects. The Summit featured a technology developers’ workshop aimed at providing training to entrepreneurs, multiple keynote presentations, fireside chats to promote interactive dialogues among experts, a technology showcase highlighting ARPA-E awardees, and plenty of networking events. Keynote presentations included commentary by U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, ARPA-E Director Arun Majumdar, President Bill Clinton, Microsoft Founder and Chairman Bill Gates, and prominent members of the U.S. Congress, among others. Nearly 2,500 people attended the Summit, comprising mainly researchers, corporate leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, policymakers, government officials, and students.

Summit participants had the opportunity to absorb a wealth of knowledge and to witness firsthand the remarkable innovation ecosystem that has arisen from ARPA-E’s efforts. Some examples of the technologies showcased: lithium air and lithium water batteries, microbial fuel cells, solar hydrogen generators, an ultra-compact solid state cooling system for refrigeration, high-powered laser drilling, and advancements in assorted types of solar and wind energy generation components. Venture capitalists, corporate managers, and technologists alike lined up to engage innovators and learn about their exciting new energy technologies. During the panel discussions and keynotes, experts from a variety of disciplines shared their perspectives on topics such as commercialization of technologies, financial tools, investment mechanisms, institutional frameworks, policy measures, national security considerations, and even political roadblocks.

Among many memorable takeaways, the following remarks stood out:

-Secretary of Energy Steven Chu highlighted our vulnerability to price fluctuations in the fuel markets, most recently to oil and gasoline, as well as our inability to drill our way out of the problem. Secretary Chu made the case for leveraging energy innovation in order to reduce our exposure to oil price fluctuations and improve the U.S.’s economic competitiveness.

-Former President Clinton discussed some of the hazards to the energy innovation project, including advances in fossil fuel extraction techniques that could lock us into dirty energy consumption, the lure of short-term jobs in oil and gas, constrained federal budgets that limit spending on research, and ideological imperatives to deny climate change. However, he built a case for continued investment in energy innovation domestically, and he noted that the nation’s economic future depends on the successful projects of the entrepreneurs present.

-Serial entrepreneur Steve Blank encouraged innovators to get out of their buildings and speak with customers to find out what they need. In addition, they should focus on deploying the lowest acceptable functional technology in the market in order to bet smaller while they learn, as opposed to ‘betting the farm’ on a more developed (and more expensive) project.

-Bill Gates drew a distinction between the IT revolution and the energy transition currently underway, noting that the IT revolution is an exception in terms of how quickly things can change. Energy transitions have historically taken 60-70 years on average, mainly due to their capital intensity. Mr. Gates argued that the U.S. is currently under-spending on energy R&D, and that the private sector needs incentives to jump into an area that has failure rates over 90 percent and that needs thousands of firms initiating projects to produce just a few viable options.

-Senator Jeff Bingaman described science and technology as critical to U.S. competitiveness and indicated that partisan politics is creating obstacles to continued progress in the energy system. Whereas regulation, spending on innovation and tax incentives had been effective policy tools in the past, they were now under sustained attack. Higher lighting efficiency standards are in the process of being rolled back, Solyndra has been used as an excuse to defund innovation projects, and the production tax credit’s renewal is in jeopardy. Senator Bingaman expects that we may need to wait until the November elections to make further progress in energy.

The ARPA-E Summit brought together the energy innovation community to demonsrate what is possible when the government invests in and incentivizes innovation. Knowledge networks and communities of practice form around the seeds of innovation capital, and new technologies find a way from laboratory to prototype, and from prototype to marketplace. Certainly, no one would dispute that we likely will come across some failures along the way, nor would they deny that some of the outcomes of R&D investment will be difficult to measure. However, with great risk comes the potential for great reward, and the ARPA-E Summit provided a sneak peek at what some of the fruits of our innovation investments might look like.

For more information on the 2012 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, visit the website.

Posted in: Innovation & Environment
Friday, March 09, 2012
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Bottom Up or Top Down? Another Way to Look at an Air Quality Problem

By Guest Author, Erica Zell, Stephanie Weber, and Alex de Sherbinin

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

Air quality matters for human health, and many of the world’s urban areas suffer from high levels of contamination. One of the worst pollutants is PM2.5., which are microscopic particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter that lodge deep in the lungs, potentially leading to respiratory and cardiovascular disease in exposed populations. According to World Health Organization research on the environmental burden of disease, outdoor air pollution causes close to one million premature deaths worldwide each year, with particulate matter as one of the leading contributors. Fine particulates originate in large part from fossil fuels combustion and from agricultural and forest fires.

How do we know how polluted the air is? In some cases, we know it when we breathe it —like when our throat and lungs get irritated.  In other cases, we can see it, when visibility is reduced and the horizon is hazy.  Air pollution concentrations can be monitored with ground-based instruments. However, not all countries have the financial wherewithal and capacity to deploy ground-based instruments, and for some countries monitoring information is not available to the public, for example, through health advisories. For PM2.5, there are about 40 times more air quality monitors in North America and Western Europe than in the rest of the world combined. Each monitor costs on the order of $18,000 and requires something like $5,000 per year to operate.

But there is another way to assess air pollution levels: from the top down, through satellites.  Satellites have broad geographic coverage, provide regular observations (twice daily in some cases), and produce data that are generally available quickly and freely via the Internet. This is a major advantage over data from ground-based instruments. There are, however, some challenges associated with applying air quality measurements from satellites. Satellites, by definition, look down through the atmosphere and, as such, typically produce a column measurement of pollutants which does not necessarily reflect concentrations at ground level.  They may also have difficulty measuring pollution on city scales. Yet these problems are not insurmountable.

For PM2.5, satellites measure a property called Aerosol Optical Depth (AOD), which is an indication of light extinction that can be related to particle concentrations in the air. Aaron van Donkelaar and his colleagues at Dalhousie University have addressed the challenge of deriving surface concentrations from satellite AOD measurements. They tie the satellite measurements to ground-based PM2.5 concentrations and use NASA’s GEOS-Chem global chemical transport model to factor in weather and chemical conversion factors affecting surface concentrations.

Map showing average exposure to particulate matter fine concentrations

Figure 1.

Building on this work, a team of researchers at Battelle Memorial Institute collaborated with the Center for International Earth Science Information Network  at The Earth Institute to generate estimates of annual PM2.5 exposure for populations worldwide over a 10-year period, as derived from NASA MODIS and MISR data. This work was funded by the NASA Earth Science Division Applied Sciences Program.

Battelle’s satellite-based results provide some insight on air pollution levels in China, a topic that has generated headlines recently. Because air pollution is influenced by the weather — for example, a stagnant air mass tends to hold any pollutants in place — it is best to look at several years of data to understand average pollution levels independent of weather patterns.  Figure 1 shows the average exposure to PM2.5 by province in China for the years 2008–2010. The data show that PM2.5 levels in China are above WHO guidelines for annual average PM2.5, (10 micro-grams per cubic meter (µg/m3)) by several-fold in many areas.

Map showing population distribution

Figure 2.

Our methodology weights the results by population distribution such that concentrations in more densely populated areas are more heavily weighted than concentrations in areas with lower population density. Figure 2 shows the population distribution of China according to CIESIN’s Global Rural Urban Mapping Project. In general we find that pollution concentrations are highest near population centers, since the industrial and transportation sectors are leading sources of emissions.

Map showing average exposure to fien particulate matter concentrations change between 2201-2003 and 2008-2010

Figure 3.

Figure 3 shows the change in surface concentrations of PM2.5 in China over a 10-year period.  Air pollution concentrations grew by more than 5% in Jiangsu and Xinjiang provinces, and though we are unable to pinpoint the exact reasons for this (most probably increases in population and industry), it can point policymakers to areas that may need greater attention.

The question of how polluted the air is can best be answered with a combination of ground-based and satellite-based monitors. Studies such as this one, and recent data sharing by the Chinese government, bring us one step closer.  After all, there’s more than one way to look at an air quality problem.

This work was the basis of the Particulate Matter Indicator in the Yale-CIESIN 2012 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), and has generated considerable buzz in the media, including an Economist article and a posting by the Guardian Environment Network on China’s air quality, and a blog post by the New York Times on India’s air quality problems.

Erica Zell and Stephanie Weber are from Battelle Memorial Institute and Alex de Sherbinin is a senior research associate at CIESIN. CIESIN deputy director Marc Levy and de Sherbinin serve as PI and co-PI, respectively, on the NASA ROSES Decisions grant NNX09AR72G that funded this work.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2012
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Q&A with Mary Nichols, Chairman of the California Air Resources Board

By Guest Author, Agustín F. Carbó-Lugo, MEM '12, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

Mary Nichols, Chairman of the California Air Resources Board, gave the keynote address at the Yale Environmental Law Association’s second annual New Directions in Environmental Law Conference. While she was on campus, she sat down for an interview with Agustín F. Carbó-Lugo, a MEM candidate at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

Agustín Carbó: Environmental justice groups argue that California’s greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade program will create “hot spots” in low-income communities. How is California addressing these concerns from a legal and programmatic perspective?

Mary Nichols: First of all, when we began developing the cap and trade program, we were operating under the requirements of AB 32, which has very specific provisions that order the Air Resources Board to consider environmental justice in every aspect of our decisionmaking. And before we could even begin to adopt a market-based program of any kind, we had to make certain findings, including findings that the program would not increase air pollution in any community in the state.

So from the beginning we were analyzing the rule and developing it in a way that we felt [we] would be able to make those kinds of findings -- that [process] involved looking at how the program would actually operate in a worst-case situation: Assuming that the most polluting companies in the state subject to the rule were trying to buy as many credits as they could rather than cleaning up themselves, would they actually be able to do that in a way that would increase localized air pollution?

We were able to satisfy ourselves based on some scenarios that we developed that it could not happen because of existing air quality regulations already on the books. But we also, in the course of writing the regulation, put in some safeguards that we felt would make sure – and hopefully assure concerned members of the public – that it was not going to happen. Those safeguards involved extra monitoring at the localized level and the ability to take action to disallow further use of imported allowances or offsets if we found increased pollution from facilities under the cap and trade program.

One reason we think there’s not a real issue here, despite the concern, is that there’s a tendency on the part of facility owners to make decisions based on actual costs of compliance with the program. In other words, putting a price on carbon causes people to take a look at their operations and decide how to operate more efficiently. Generally speaking, the oldest, dirtiest plants are also those where the company has chosen not to clean up because they’re not operating very efficiently in addition to the pollution that they put out. Either they decide to clean up – and thereby also improve their operating profile – or they’ll tend to shut down their least efficient facilities and concentrate on the places where they get more output per unit of fuel.

The other reason is that when we look at our low-income and minority communities in California with the greatest concentrations of toxic contaminants, the sources of those pollutants tend not to be the industrial facilities themselves, but instead community-level transportation like the ports and the rail yards where the major pollutants of concern are diesel toxic emissions. These facilities are not being directly affected by the cap and trade program, but they are subject of a lot of other regulatory attention from the Air Resources Board these days.

We do understand how in parts of the world – where there are great concerns about whether localized communities have any kind of air pollution protection – adding in carbon trading or carbon allowances could add to a community’s concerns if they’re not also accompanied by a push to deal with health. But in our situation in California, we just don’t think it’s an issue.

Agustín Carbó: Is California’s cap-and-trade program pushing the climate change agenda to a national level? Do you foresee that eventually the federal government may preempt this issue?

Mary Nichols: Some of the thinking behind the original AB 32 was clearly that if our state and other states adopted climate legislation, especially if that legislation was in some ways conflicting or created different pressures on companies, that it would make them more anxious to support federal legislation.

The truth is, a lot of impetus behind the adoption of the Waxman-Markey legislation by the House of Representatives came from the business community; large companies that operate at the national and international level were already experiencing the push and pull of being held accountable in different states and were hoping Congress would step in and preempt state programs like ours. Of course, no bill was passed in the Senate, and it looks now like it’s going to be a long time before that happens.

But I expect that someday Congress will take action. There will be federal climate legislation and if it has a cap and trade element, then state programs probably will be merged into that program. Whether it would be an absolute preemption or a set of steps creating incentives for states to join I can’t say – either way, we would much prefer to be operating under a national program rather than running our own; it’s just more efficient that way.

Agustín Carbó: In light of skeptics and partisan propaganda that insists climate change is not real, what needs to happen to gain more public acceptance and force the U.S. government to commit to international initiatives to fight climate change?

Mary Nichols: I don’t think the impediment has anything to do with science. The science debate is a distraction. Scientists are still debating exactly how cigarette smoking causes cancer. That’s the nature of science – to continue to raise problems and objections.

I recognize that people will be questioning the accepted consensus on human-caused climate change for many years into the future. But the fact is there is enough agreement on the need to curb our emissions of greenhouse gases. That’s not what’s holding back any kind of effective regulatory or legislative program. It’s politics, and it’s the cost – and until there’s a sufficient demand and understanding that there are ways to do this that don’t hurt the economy, that actually help the economy, we’ll continue to see blockage at the national level.

Agustín Carbó: Recent UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations have made it clear that climate protection will depend on actions on the ground in both developing and developed countries, a concept that may involve Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) and Low-Emissions Development Strategies (LEDS). Is California considering to design, plan and/or implement some of these measures?

Mary Nichols: I think the California program and the programs we’ve worked on with other states and other subnational groups through various mechanisms – including the Western Climate Initiative and others — constitute that kind of on-the-ground control measure. We think what we’re doing is actually developing some of the operating rules and the experiences that will make it possible for other places to do some of the things we’re doing. The cap-and-trade program is only one example. We also have the low-carbon fuel standard, our advanced fleet cars programs, our industrial audits – there’s a panoply of rules that we’re working on.

But I think what’s more relevant to many parts of the developing world are programs we’re working on that involve incentives and/or voluntary programs – working with agriculture, working with local sanitation districts, helping to promote better technology for the capture and reuse of methane from waste materials. These areas are critically important if we’re actually going to make a dent in the overall buildup of greenhouse gasses. And these are programs that are also underway in California, but they’re not all necessarily being led out of the Air Resources Board. We have a variety of other government agencies at the state and local level working together with the private sector to pioneer some of these activities.

It’s very exciting to pick up the paper every morning to see examples new technologies. For example, there’s a little rural community outside of Las Angeles called Norco, which is famous because it’s zoned for horses. Along with the horses, they also have a very large waste disposal problem – and the city has been spending tens of thousands of dollars each year to collect and truck the stuff to a land disposal site. They’ve just signed a contract with a subsidiary of Chevron, which is developing for them a waste-to-energy plant. The plant will not only alleviate the cost of disposal, but also provide the city with some of its electrical power. This is great stuff, and it’s happening because of interest in waste disposal, energy policy – and it also helps our climate numbers.

This interview has been edited and condensed. A video recording of their conversation is available below as well as here.

Posted in: Energy & Climate
Tuesday, March 06, 2012
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Man U Scores One for Sustainability, but We Should be Changing the Playing Field

By Guest Author, Ysella Yoder, Program Manager, Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy

Premier soccer team, Manchester United, just became the first English soccer club to achieve the international Environmental Management System standard, ISO14001 – saving themselves £500,000 (or $792,000) over the last few years in the process.

The ISO14004 provides a “framework for a holistic, strategic approach to the organization's environmental policy, plans and actions.” In order to achieve this standard, Manchester United implemented a range of sustainability measures including plucking the low-hanging fruit: improving efficiency in lighting, heating and cooling, and encouraging fans to use public transport to and from matches.

This type of low-hanging fruit is the easiest, quickest, and most cost-effective route to realizing cost savings while greening your business. In the Green to Gold Business Playbook, Dan Esty and P.J. Simmons highlight the importance of going after the low-hanging fruit first for quick payback by:

·      Investing in energy efficiency;

·      Reducing major environmental risks;

·      Launching a pilot project or two; and

·      Finding ways to engage employees.

Dell expects to save about $5.8 million a year as a result of increasing energy efficiency measures. And Walmart sought out cost-saving ideas from their employees. One employee suggestion to turn off the back-light break room vending machines led to a cost savings of $1 million per year.[1] Employee engagement is key. Often it’s the middle managers who are the ones tasked with improving efficiencies and, without buy-in from key people in the company, success is limited.

The Playbook lists countless examples of these return on investment success stories and provides tools to help companies achieve their broader sustainability goals. But achieving these gains is not easy and cannot be done through a one-size-fits-all approach. Each business’s needs are unique and time will need to be invested in assessing where the greatest gains can be achieved. For Manchester United, one of the biggest paybacks may have been lighting, but, for Google, most gains might be seen in more efficient heating and cooling of data centers.

It’s important to note that companies large and small, for-profit or not-for-profit, can all benefit from incorporating sustainability measures into their business practices and achieve real cost savings, decrease impact on the environment, build brand value, cultivate loyal customers, and ultimately score one for the home team.

NEEF, The Engaged Organization: Corporate Employee Environmental Education Survey and Case Study Findings, March 2009, p.32.

Posted in: Innovation & Environment
Thursday, March 01, 2012
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Data’s Power to Spur Environmental Progress

By Guest Author, Renee Cho, Staff Blogger, the Earth Institute

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

In January, 132 countries received their environmental report cards. The Environmental Performance Index, released at the World Economic Forum in Davos, ranked countries on aspects of environmental impacts on human health and on ecosystems. The rankings were based on scores each country earned on 22 indicators dealing with environmental health, air pollution, water, biodiversity and habitat, agriculture, forests, fisheries, and climate change and energy.

Coming in at first place on the 2012 EPI is Switzerland, with Latvia, Norway, Luxembourg, and Costa Rica rounding out the top five. The U.S is ranked 49th and Iraq is in last place.

The EPI and its precursor, the Environmental Sustainability Index, were developed by the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and the Earth Institute’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network in 1999. Since 2006, the EPI has been released every two years. In addition, this year’s new Pilot Trend Environmental Performance Index ranks countries according to how much progress they have made over the last decade.

The EPI’s importance lies in its ability to goad leaders into action by letting them see their countries’ strengths and weaknesses compared to other countries, and to enable those that want to do better to dig into the data and identify the best practices of countries with higher scores.

In addition, the Pilot Trend Environmental Performance Index will be helpful for the private sector, allowing companies to see which countries take sustainability seriously, and thus might offer better business prospects.

“Most of the smaller Asian countries are very concerned if they don’t do well and track these findings closely,” said Alex de Sherbinin, senior research associate at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network. He added that countries in every region are competitive.

Seoul pollution in 2005. Photo credit: Craig Nagy

A good example of the EPI’s power to drive change is South Korea’s progress on air quality. In the 2002 Environmental Sustainability Index, South Korea came in 135th out of 142 countries; in reducing air pollution, it was 139th. Troubled by its standing, South Korea brought together various ministries, non-governmental environmental organizations and automakers to address the issue of air quality, mainly Seoul’s.

Air quality is often determined by measuring particulate matter in the air (produced by dust, the burning of fossil fuels, and power plants) that is smaller than 10 micrometers, or PM10. Because of their small size, these particles can enter the lungs and cause serious respiratory problems. The World Health Organization’s PM10 target guideline is 20 micrograms per cubic meter as an annual average.

In, 2002, South Korea started a special program to improve urban air quality aimed at significantly reducing PM10 and the pollutant nitrogen oxide, produced during combustion. The government’s plan to improve air quality involved tightening discharge allowances for vehicles, promoting low-emission vehicles and emission-reducing devices, and the early retirement of old vehicles. It also raised fuel quality standards and intensified vehicle inspections.

To reduce industrial pollution, large industries were given total discharge allowances. Buses running on cleaner compressed natural gas were introduced in 2001; by 2010 there were estimated to be 23,000 in use; a bus rapid transit system and congestion fees at tunnels were also established. The government is planning to increase the number of hybrid and electric vehicles; and parkland will be expanded by 2020, with five new parks and the conversion of a landfill into a park. In addition, South Korea is preparing to begin trading carbon emissions in 2015.

Restoration of the Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul helped reduce small particle air pollution. Photo credit: Kaizer Rangwala

As a result of the measures taken since the 2002 EPI, South Korea’s ranking rose to 43rd in 2012; it came in 51st for air effects on human health. The Pilot Trend EPI, measuring progress, ranked South Korea 13th. South Korea’s move up 51 places from its 2010 EPI ranking is touted on the Ministry of the Environment’s website.

In contrast, China, with its poor 2012 EPI ranking of 116th, air effects on human health rank of 128th and air ecosystem effects rank of 114th, has not reacted publicly to its scores; but nevertheless, it has been pressured into improving air quality by activists and bloggers fired up over air quality data released by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

Photo credit: urbangarden

Beijing’s particulate levels fell by almost a third from 2006 to 2009 in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics, but have been climbing ever since. The country’s Pilot Trend EPI ranking of 100th means that its performance has actually declined over the decade. And indeed, China’s pollution, stemming largely from coal-fired power plants and mounting numbers of cars, has made headlines recently. In December, pollution in Beijing shut down highways and grounded almost 700 flights. The deputy director of the Beijing Health Bureau reported that although smoking rates in Beijing have not increased in the past decade, the lung cancer rate rose 60 percent, likely as a result of air pollution.

Until last month, Beijing’s air quality monitoring reported only PM10 levels. But according to Angel Hsu, project manager for the 2012 EPI and a Yale doctoral candidate, fine particles that measure less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (about 1/30 the width of a human hair), or PM2.5, constitute 50 percent of the particulate matter of China’s air. PM2.5 is produced by dust and combustion (from vehicle exhaust, coal-fired power plants, wood burning). Because of their tiny size, PM2.5 are thought to pose the most severe health risks since they can lodge deep in the lungs and enter the bloodstream, increasing the risks of lung cancer, and cardiovascular and respiratory disease.

Beijing traffic.

Beijing and other Chinese cities began monitoring PM2.5 and ozone a few years ago, but did not release their findings to the public. In 2008, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing began measuring and reporting PM2.5 levels via Twitter, and found that over 80 percent of days exceeded American standards for safe levels of air pollution. The readings were in stark contrast to Beijing’s official air quality reporting (of only PM10) which often concluded that the air was safe. The capital’s annual average PM2.5 concentration has been approximately 100 micrograms per cubic meter, while the proposed yearly standard is 35 micrograms per cubic meter. Roused by the embassy’s reports, citizens began putting intense pressure on the government to publicly report PM2.5 levels.

On Jan. 26 as the Year of the Dragon began, Beijing acceded and began publishing hourly PM2.5 readings from one monitoring station. It now plans to establish 35 PM2.5 monitoring stations throughout all districts and counties of the city by the end of 2012. (By international standards, monitors should be 50 meters from pollution sources; the U.S. Embassy monitor is only 15 meters from a large ring road, which may account for continued discrepancies in readings.)

According to China Radio International, a newly announced air pollution control program for Beijing aims to reduce PM2.5 levels 30 percent by 2020. In addition to the new PM2.5 monitoring stations, a satellite remote sensing system will oversee overall air quality.

By 2020, the plan also aims to:

- Get 1.6 million cars with outdated emissions standards off the road

-  Reduce the city’s annual total consumption of coal 62 percent below 2015 levels

- Close all cement plants run for profit in Beijing

- Ban heavy industry from opening new facilities or expanding in the city

- Expand forest area in the city by 133,000 hectares (328,650 acres) and water surface by 2,000 hectares (almost 5,000 acres)

By 2015, 1,200 asphalt, glass and ceramic factories will have to leave the city.

The Chinese government has ordered 30 major cities to begin monitoring PM2.5 this year, and 80 more next year. China Daily reported that China aims to reduce its pollutant emissions 30 to 40 percent by 2015 in accordance with its 12th Five-Year Plan (2010-2015) for environmental protection. The plan calls for an investment of 3.4 trillion yuan ($539 billion) in environmental protection efforts.

If China can realize these ambitious plans, it will significantly improve its air quality, but getting air pollution under control will be an ongoing challenge.

“Without effective monitoring, tracking and transparency, you don’t know where you stand, and the potential for collaborative problem-solving involving a strengthened civil society and citizens is reduced. Researchers, academics and NGOs need the data,” said de Sherbinin. “Indicators alone won’t solve the problems, but they are guideposts to help you get where you want to go.”

It will be interesting to see how China fares on the 2014 EPI.

Renee Cho is a staff blogger for Columbia University's Earth Institute and a freelance environmental writer.

Posted in: Environmental Performance Measurement
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
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What Jeremy Lin and US-China Cooperation on Climate Change Don’t (Yet) Have in Common

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

This article by Angel Hsu originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

It may not be coincidental that soon after NBA Knicks' Jeremy Lin dazzled the nation with a seemingly infallible jump-shot, China's vice president, heir apparent and avid basketball fan Xi Jinping made an official U.S. visit.

But while Lin -- a Harvard graduate raised with Chinese and American values by a "Tiger Mom" -- has proven remarkable on the court, China and the U.S. as players in the environmental arena have performed more like junior-varsity playground scrappers.

This year's Environmental Performance Index, produced with my colleagues at Yale and Columbia Universities, revealed the U.S. and China respectively ranked at 49th and 116th place out of 132 countries. The U.S. and China fare even worse if we look at their performance trend index numbers across the last decade: 77th and 100th, respectively. While both countries have made some progress in a few environmental categories, notably environmental health conditions, their showing on climate change - often considered one of the world's greatest environmental threats -- is paltry: Out of 132 countries, China ranks 93rd; the U.S. ranks 121st -- firmly in the bottom decile.

These are frightful scores for two countries that collectively emit more than 40 percent of the world's carbon dioxide. To make matters worse, any mention of climate change -- or, more broadly, environmental concerns in general -- was noticeably absent last week when Xi met with top U.S. officials in Washington D.C. to discuss a range of "greatest concerns" for both countries.

These are consequential omissions that could set the wrong precedent for China's leadership transition. Particularly at a time when U.S.-China cooperation on climate and energy under a new Xi leadership is uncertain, this recent trip missed an opportunity to set key messages for Xi to consider in the coming months.

One of the most straightforward aims must be U.S.-China cooperation on technology innovation. Although China's carbon intensity (emissions of CO2 per unit of GDP) decreased last year, its overall emissions increased. China was able to achieve easy efficiency gains in the last five-year policy period through elimination of small manufacturing facilities in energy-intensive sectors and by targeting its greatest energy consuming enterprises. For China to meet the carbon intensity reduction goals outlined in its next Five-Year Plan -- a national reduction of 16 percent -- will almost certainly demand research and development collaboration in emerging technologies like carbon capture and storage.

Xi's meeting with President Obama could have also advanced mutual understanding of domestic clean energy policies in both countries, helping to ease tensions over issues like subsidies - a sticking point offered small remedy last January when Presidents Obama and Hu Jintao met. In that meeting, President Hu agreed to end domestic subsidies for China's wind industry, a move seen by U.S. trade representatives as hugely progressive due to the controversial nature of China's seemingly protective domestic policies. The U.S. and China must continue to resolve differences in national economic policies that inhibit joint innovation and advancement of renewable energy technologies.

Finally, both countries must redefine their roles as leaders in global climate negotiations.

In light of its obstinacy this past December in Durban, the U.S. must act more aggressively and positively as a leader of climate change policy if it expects China to follow suit; U.S. stubbornness legitimizes the excuses of other countries that shy away from effective action. First and foremost, U.S. leadership must sidestep partisan politics on climate change and willingly contribute to a legally-binding deal to be decided by 2015. (Admittedly, we must wait until November to see whether we experience our own Executive transition.)

Regardless, weak U.S. leadership in global negotiations could tip China the same way under a new Xi presidency. Although China demonstrated new and considerable leadership in Durban last year, its recent opposition to the E.U. airline tax on carbon emissions demonstrates an uneasiness to fully accept the responsibilities implied in such a global leadership position. This slipperiness portends a China that, while more constructive than the U.S. in the global climate regime, still plays largely to its own domestic interests.

If China and the U.S. aim to bring their own version of "Linsanity" to climate and energy policy under new leadership, then both countries must pursue active and open dialogue and seek middle ground in the current race of self-interest.

Posted in: Environmental Performance Measurement
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The Next Global Debt Crisis

By Guest Author, P.J. Simmons, Chairman, Corporate Eco Forum

Today’s global sovereign debt crisis is keeping a lot of government and business leaders up at night. But another global debt crisis is brewing that, while invisible to most CFOs and finance ministers, threatens to unleash long-term economic hardships that make today’s recessionary worries seem trivial.

I’m referring to the economic collision course we’re on because of systemic, global patterns of over-borrowing from planet’s “natural capital” and asset base—a remarkably productive network of land and water systems that annually produce a staggering $33-$72 trillion worth of “free” goods and services that we depend on for a well-functioning global economy. Because these non-man-made benefits aren’t bartered and sold in the human marketplace, their value is exceedingly hard to monetize on corporate or government financial statements. So we generally don’t. But that shortcoming in accounting doesn’t make the value of these assets—or the cost of losing them—any less real: As we’ve seen with debacles like Enron and the derivatives meltdown, our imperfect accounting practices can sometimes get it dangerously wrong.

At risk are critical life-support systems that are also the lifeblood of our global economy. These natural land and marine systems, thanks to more than four billion years of planetary R&D, far outcompete man-made technology in their capacity to churn out—at scale and affordably—vital goods and services we need for global economic stability and growth. Without charge, this living natural infrastructure works behind the scenes to purify massive amounts of precious drinking water and breathable air; generate abundant and stable supplies of raw materials and commodities integral to supply chains; replenish fertile soil and fish stocks needed to meet growing food demand; buffer people and businesses from the worst effects of floods, droughts, fires and extreme weather events; provide barriers to the spread of disease; maintain awe-inspiring destinations that fuel tourism; and house a treasure trove of biological information that propels scientific and medical breakthroughs.

In short, these assets are priceless. Literally. And that is the problem.

Having developed habits of taking “nature” for granted, we have collectively taken from it for free, drawing down Earth’s natural capital and mismanaging natural assets as if they were endlessly renewable. Yet even this planet’s remarkable natural systems—unique in the known universe and incredibly resilient—cannot sustain damage beyond certain thresholds. Eventually, they break down. Only then does the market begin to understand the full economic value of what we have lost, as what were once dismissed academically as “externalities” suddenly become real, costly burdens.

How much is our current mismanagement of natural assets costing the global economy today? The most recent U.N. estimates are around $6.6 trillion a year—the equivalent of 11% of global gross domestic product—through effects like contamination of water supplies, loss of fertile land through soil erosion and drought, and supply chain disruptions from deforestation and overfishing. The damage could skyrocket to $28 trillion by 2050 under business as usual, which would eclipse the economic damage expected from climate change. However sobering the numbers, in the abstract they are merely statistics affecting someone else and therefore still largely off of most government and business leaders’ valuation radar screens. But the costs hit home when ecosystem degradation translates into lost lives or illness, when scarcities bring supply chains to a grinding halt, when homes are destroyed or jobs lost, or when preventable damage from natural disasters overwhelms the budgets of insurers and governments.

Today’s more farsighted business leaders grasp what’s at stake. They know that investments in protecting and maintaining natural systems are mandatory to ensure continued opportunities and prosperity for businesses, communities, and even nations—not optional philanthropic acts. They understand that just as we invest in maintaining our critical human-built infrastructure, whether roads, bridges, power plants, or orbiting satellites, so too must we be vigilant in safeguarding natural infrastructure to avoid crippling costs down the road. They see the business logic in taking action today, to avert tomorrow’s balance sheet risks and even to seize new revenue opportunities as the demand for environmentally restorative solutions escalates.

Coca-Cola, for instance, is investing in preserving healthy watersheds to ensure the long-term availability of fresh water for its business and the communities in which it operates. Mars is investing tens of millions to advance sustainable cocoa farming practices to head off supply chain disruptions. Darden Restaurants (owner of Red Lobster) has made protecting healthy ocean systems a top business priority, acknowledging that “seafood sustainability is essential to the continued success of our business.” Weyerhaeuser now expressly manages forests for wood production but also for “the ecosystem services they provide.” In 2011, Puma became the first company to issue an “environmental P&L” statement, and Dow Chemical announced a $10 million collaboration with the Nature Conservancy to develop practical tools to help businesses better “assess the value of nature.”

These forward-thinking companies are among a growing list of those getting out ahead of governments in forging solutions to the accelerating “natural debt” crisis. To add to the momentum, the Corporate Eco Forum that I chair—a membership group of 80 large companies with combined revenues of over $3 trillion—announced a new initiative on the “Business Logic of Investing in Natural Infrastructure” at the Clinton Global Initiative in September. In the first half of 2012, we will work with our diverse membership to catalyze a new round of private sector-led commitments to safeguard natural assets, to be announced at the June 2012 Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro.

Turning around the brewing natural debt crisis will require broader participation from visionary business leaders, especially when the world’s governments are consumed by more urgent short-term economic challenges. But time and again, the private sector has shown its enormous capacity to innovate fast to solve big problems. Let’s hope this time is no exception.

A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.com

Posted in: Innovation & Environment
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
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Chasing data in China’s provinces

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

The following post is republished from China Dialogue.

China’s environmental data has created many international headlines in recent months, particularly its controversial air-quality measurements. While Deng Xiaoping urged the Chinese citizenry to “seek truth from facts”, China is still a long way from providing the environmental data and information that allows for just that.

My colleagues and I recently released a study that provides a detailed analysis of provincial-level environmental data in China. We introduced 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. 

In total, we looked at 32 indicators in 12 environmental policy categories (among them air pollution, water quality, climate change, biodiversity, agriculture and forestry). The data we reviewed and used to construct these indicators were all derived from official Chinese statistics.

We concluded that the lack of clear policy targets for many environmental metrics in China, as well as concerns over data sources and transparency, hamper the government’s ability to effectively address pressing environmental issues at the provincial level. While the report elaborates these challenges in detail, a few of the main findings are summarised below.

First, the existence of baseline environmental data is highly uneven. To develop performance indicators that evaluate the efficacy of environmental policies, baseline data are necessary to benchmark performance. Less than half the indicators evaluated had this. Baseline data were most prevalent for economic sustainability indicators (68%) and least prevalent for ecosystem vitality indicators (20%), while environmental health indicators were in the middle (42%). This pattern reflects the priorities of Chinese environmental policymaking in the past decade, which has emphasised pollution control and resource efficiency in the industrial sector. 

Second, difficulties in accessing raw data hinder data quality evaluation. Our report provides pilot indicators based on official statistics; however, we did not have the ability to independently evaluate those statistics. We found that official statistics for most indicators lack detailed information on data collection methods and monitoring systems, and in no instance were we able to obtain raw data from monitoring stations. Nor were we able to obtain data from third parties that might have been used to corroborate official statistics.

For all these reasons, it proved difficult to assess the validity and reliability of the official statistics. These difficulties gave us concerns about how much the official statistics reflect the reality of on-the-ground conditions.

Third, ongoing measurement systems are also highly uneven. Consistent measures, produced on a regular basis, following established methodologies, in a transparent and verifiable manner, are critical for environmental performance monitoring. In China, the measurement systems related to industrial efficiency are exemplary models. In this area, the published data meet the foundational requirements and, as a result, permit operational use of performance indicators in the five-year plans.

The other measures generally fall short. For example, methodologies for ecosystem measures tend to change over time, making comparison problematic, and the metrics used to measure air and water quality are transformed in ways that make tracking performance difficult.

And fourth, policy targets for the vast majority of candidate indicators are not easily identified. Overall, we were able to establish a basis for constructing a policy target for 21 of the 33 indicators we included in our framework — eight in the environmental health objective, seven in the ecosystem vitality objective and six in the economic sustainability objective. We considered 50 additional indicators but did not include them because of the lack of clear policy targets by which to gauge performance. However, the lack of properly specified policy targets is not unique to China. Similar challenges around goal-setting exist in many countries, especially in the developing world.

A major theme underpinning all of these conclusions is the need for greater data and information transparency. Even though laws on the disclosure of environmental information came into effect on May 1, 2008, China still has a long way to go in terms of providing environmental data transparently.

Researchers at Chinese NGO the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs and the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council found that most big cities in China failed to publish adequate pollution information in 2011 in the third edition of the Pollution Information Transparency Index (PITI), released last month. Only 19 out of 113 cities received passing scores for information transparency. The authors concluded that environmental information disclosure is an “innovative system” in China that does not, so far, go beyond the initial stages.

It is our belief that the value of both the PITI and our report, “Towards an Environmental Performance Index in China”, lies in being able to provide transparency to environmental data and results in China. Transparency and access to information are fundamental tenets of sound environmental policymaking. Greater transparency can stimulate research and policy for developing innovations that can only help China navigate the difficult path of sustainable development.

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

Posted in:
Wednesday, February 01, 2012
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Exploring Canada’s Climate Perspectives: Dr. Shi-Ling Hsu on Canadian Climate Policy

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

In January’s Climate Change Solutions: Frontline Perspectives from Around the Globe webinar, Dr. Shi-Ling Hsu, law professor at the University of British Columbia and author of the new book The Case for a Carbon Tax: Getting Past Our Hang-Ups to Effective Climate Policy, joined the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy to discuss climate policy from Canada's perspective. His presentation, “Climate Policy in Canada: (Snow)Boots on the Ground,” explained the nuances of Canadian policy that outsiders may miss by focusing only on the similarities between Canada and the United States. 

On the surface, many of Canada’s climate actions appear to parallel those of the United States: Canada’s recent withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol or its acceptance of the Copenhagen Accord might be seen as Canada simply following the U.S. lead in international policy, and Canada’s efforts to impose federal command-and-control policies for greenhouse gases might look similar to President Obama’s efforts to regulate carbon under the Clean Air Act. However, there are several subtle but important distinctions between the two neighbors’ attitudes toward climate policy, Hsu said.

He outlined four “puzzles” that, when explained, reveal differences between the United States and Canada:

  1. Why is Canada’s conservative and market-savvy federal government embracing command-and-control climate policy, rather than a market-based approach?
  2. Why is British Columbia—the only province in North America to have accepted a carbon tax—so far ahead of the country and the continent?
  3. Why are four important Canadian provinces still participating in the Western Climate Initiative, when all U.S. states except California have abandoned the program?
  4. What explains Alberta’s voluntary adoption of carbon policy when its economy and policies are so tightly linked with oil & gas extraction?


To explain these puzzles Hsu identified four unique Canadian qualities:

  1. Trade Dependence. Canada places a strong emphasis on maintaining healthy trade relationships with the U.S., Europe, and (more and more) China.
  2. Conciliatory Attitudes. Canadian political leaders often value consensus and conciliation over confrontation and conflict.
  3.  Federalism. Canada is a very federalist country—the jurisdiction of Canadian provinces is much broader than that of U.S. States. Provincial responsibility for action on climate change is well recognized, and passing federal climate policies can be very challenging.
  4. Strong Executives. Canada’s executives (the Prime Minister and provincial Premiers) can be very powerful if backed by a legislative majority. Additionally, Canadian courts are highly deferential to executive branch action or inaction. Unlike in the U.S., if an executive agency makes a decision, Canadian courts are unlikely to question or overturn that decision.


Hsu then explained how these four Canadian qualities—unique compared to the U.S.—explain the four “puzzles” of Canadian climate policy:

  1. Trade Dependency and Federalism explain Canada’s command-and-control approach to carbon regulation. To avoid trade tariffs and to otherwise remain competitive in a global marketplace, Canadian companies want to show that they operate under similar regulatory conditions as other countries. Additionally, command-and-control regulation is one of the few carbon policies that the federal government is positioned to impose; the federal government does not have constitutional authority to implement a cap-and-trade program. Hsu notes, however, that the proposed means of achieving federal command-and-control may be a tough sell: the government has defined greenhouse gases as toxic substances, and thus plans to regulate emissions under criminal law. 
  2. The Strong Executive role of British Columbia’s Premier Gordon Campbell explains why the province succeeded in passing a carbon tax. Premier Campbell was politically and intellectually interested in a carbon tax policy, and in 2008 he faced ideal political conditions to lead parliament in adopting the legislation. Interestingly, Campbell’s political party was the less liberal of the province’s two parties; by taking leadership on carbon, Premier Campbell won support from environmentalists who were traditionally more supportive of his opponents.  
  3. Federalism explains why the provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec, and Ontario remain in the Western Climate Initiative when all U.S. states (except California) have dropped out. Because there is no expectation of leadership from the federal government, Canadian constituencies demand and expect action from their provincial leadership; thus, participation in the Western Climate Initiative is well supported.
  4. Trade Dependence, Conciliatory Attitudes, and Federalism explain why the fossil fuel-dependent province of Alberta has taken voluntary (albeit tepid) action on climate. Oil and gas production accounts for 25 percent of GDP, 75 percent of exports, and 35 percent of government revenue in Alberta. This dependence on fossil fuel trading motivates Alberta to remain an attractive trade partner to countries that more and more prefer climate-friendly suppliers; Alberta’s climate policy is a sign to trading partners that the province is doing something to address climate change. Additionally, a general inclination to remain conciliatory with neighboring Canadian provinces likely motivated Alberta to pursue some degree of voluntary action. Finally, Canadian federalism means that Alberta’s voluntary action may also prove strategic: by having a climate policy in place, Alberta makes it more difficult for the federal government to impose top-down (and potentially more impactful) legislation.


To conclude, Hsu predicted climate action will continue to come from Canadian provinces, rather than from Canada’s federal government. He recognized that, despite the unique qualities of Canadian politics, action from the United States would likely motivate action from Canada. In the perhaps more likely case that the U.S. fails to pass significant climate legislation in the short term, there is still potential that Canada might show leadership by adopting a carbon tax.

Such a tax, Hsu said, could be significant even if it’s not very steep. Even a slight price on carbon could guide upcoming capital decisions (regarding the construction of new power plants, for example) toward less carbon-intensive paths.

A full recording of Dr. Hsu’s presentation, along with recordings of all the other webinars in the Climate Change Solutions series, is available at http://yaleenvirocenter.webex.com.

Posted in: Energy & Climate
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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