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Wednesday, November 23, 2011
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Metrics and Measurement of Sustainability Performance

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

The selection of sustainability performance metrics in a company’s sustainability or corporate social responsibility (CSR) management system is dependent on the relevant issues facing that specific firm, the issues facing its stakeholders, and the context of the company’s industry. CSR metrics are crafted to report on performance in the environmental, social, and economic contexts. Since the issues underlying CSR are complex, selection of particular sustainability metrics involves value judgments about their importance and the measurement methodology to be used. I offer below some issues to consider in developing sustainability metrics and reporting systems. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather a menu of issues to think about that are relevant to CSR measurement systems.

First, one sound business philosophy that I learned a long time ago from a college professor was: “you get what you measure and reward.” This philosophy has rung true over the years and I’ve seen it play out at many different firms. Any metric that the firm sets out to produce and track should somehow be weaved into the performance management and bonus incentive scheme of the company in order for it to have the greatest impact. If employees are not trained to consider CSR metrics as part of the results they manage to, and if they are not somehow directly incentivized based on CSR performance, they will focus and prioritize other areas outside of these metrics. In such a case, improvement to areas tracked by the CSR metrics will likely be incremental or nonexistent altogether.

Second, practically every individual metric has benefits and drawbacks involving tradeoffs of incentives or measurement goals. It is easy to create perverse incentives one way or another with any given individual metric. For instance, using an energy intensity metric (energy usage/output or revenue) has the benefit of factoring in the effect of more production by the firm, but has the drawback that the company’s absolute energy usage—and thus its total impact—can be increasing, while being masked by the intensity metric. Using absolute energy usage has the opposite effect, as it masks improvements in efficiency when the firm’s growth outpaces the related efficiency gains. These optical effects make it difficult for either metric to provide an accurate picture on its own, and it can result in employees managing to one performance indicator at the expense of the other. Often, good metric systems are designed to use sets of counterbalancing metrics whose effects cancel each other out. This helps provide a balanced performance picture and reduces the possibility that employees or managers will have incentive to improve in one area at the expense of another.

Third, when working with any type of metric, it is very important to develop benchmarks against which to compare the results. Such benchmarks need to be relevant to the objectives of the CSR metric system. When the desired objective is improvement over a prior year, then the benchmark is simply the prior year quantity. However, how do we determine benchmarks to achieve sustainability? One vocal sustainability researcher and metrics expert, Mark McElroy, holds that many CSR metrics in use today are lacking because they do not have a benchmark measure to compare against that represents the truly “sustainable” level of use for that resource for that company. In other words, if a firm states that it used 1.0 million (M) gallons of water in the current year as compared to 1.1 M gallons in the previous year, we can only say that this was an improvement over the prior year. However, what does it say about whether the 1.0 M gallon result is “sustainable,” meaning a rate that doesn’t deplete the resource beyond its capacity to regenerate? To know if that firm’s water use is sustainable, a more detailed assessment would need to be made about water availability and use in the firm’s geographic region, and such an analysis would require allocations of the resource base amongst industries and companies. It is, to be sure, a formidable undertaking, but Mr. McElroy’s point is well taken that CSR metrics reported without context stand little chance of achieving their objective of reporting on sustainability, as defined.

Finally, for companies wishing to report sustainability metrics externally, there are additional considerations of how to frame and execute such external reporting. Currently, many companies use annual CSR reports as a primary vehicle to communicate their environmental, social and economic performance. Such CSR reports are often complemented by press releases and other ongoing external communications. Surely there are good reasons to adopt this approach to external reporting, but it is worth considering whether it is a good idea to separate the company’s CSR reporting from its financial reporting. A public company in the U.S. files annual financial reports (Form 10-K) and quarterly financial reports (Form 10-Q) with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), and those are very likely the reports that 99 percent of investors pay most attention to. In that context, do companies risk creating the perception that CSR reports are a side dish when they divorce sustainability metrics from financial ones? As companies refine their CSR measurement and reporting systems, they may want to consider ways of unifying communications so that users of reports are not left feeling like there are double standards.

Designing and implementing any form of performance measurement system is indeed a challenging task, and it is no less so for a CSR measurement system. Organizations need to make sure their metric systems are tailored to the challenges of sustainability measurement and are set up to succeed.

Rafael is a 2nd-year MBA/MEM joint degree student focused on energy policy and strategy. Prior to Yale, Rafael worked almost 10 years as an external financial auditor, including as manager at Deloitte & Touche LLP. Rafael is a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA), and holds other financial certifications.

Posted in: Environmental Performance Measurement
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
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Q&A with Vera Pardee, Senior Attorney in CBD’s Climate Law Institute

By Susanne Stahl

Vera Pardee, senior attorney in the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, recently spoke at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies about the future of climate change regulation on a panel with Dale Bryk, Director of the Energy & Transportation Program and a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Dan Lashof, Director of NRDC’s Climate Center.

YCELP: What is the future of cap-and-trade as a policy solution in the United States?

VERA PARDEE: We should start with a little bit of background. Cap and trade was an idea intended to integrate market forces into regulations designed to prevent the worst consequences of anthropogenic climate change. Many Republicans had balked at any regulatory scheme for climate change unless market forces were given a primary role through trading schemes. However, when Democrats in the House and Senate introduced cap-and-trade bills in 2010, Republicans quickly changed course and attacked the legislation as overly expensive and supposedly job-killing. So I think it’s interesting to keep that mind. At this point, the unrelenting gridlock in Congress seems to guarantee that not much of anything can be accomplished on the federal level.

Although prognostication is difficult, it is not likely that there will be a federal approach to cap and trade; that does not mean, however, that there won’t be effective regional approaches or state approaches, as NRDC’s Dale Bryk has outlined.

In California, we have AB 32, which is a cap and trade program. California often leads and states often follow where California goes. AB 32 has many smart design elements, but every time legislation includes a trade component rather than just a cap, one introduces the potential for fraud and abuse and, most critically, lack of additionality – that is, are emissions actually reduced somewhere? Although creating a marketplace for emission permits theoretically causes greater efficiency, practically it can create trading bubbles, inequalities, and much lower prices on carbon than should be imposed if the true damages caused by climate changed were taken into account. 

In 2009 and 2010, when cap-and-trade was considered in Congress my organization, the Center for Biological Diversity, did not actively support any of those bills – not only because of fear of abuse – as that’s not necessarily an objection that cannot be overcome – but because all but one of them had as its centerpiece the dismantling of all Clean Air Act provisions to reduce greenhouse gases in exchange for this scheme. We said that’s a very bad idea because the Clean Air Act has been an incredibly successful pollution reduction vehicle for 40 years and it definitely should not be sacrificed. We do not, however, oppose new legislation that builds and expands upon the Clean Air Act in positive ways. As it turns out, cap-and-trade did not pass, and at this point most if not all green organizations are on the same page as we are, which is to say that we have to safeguard and protect the Clean Air Act.

YCELP: What do you see as the policy or regulatory mechanisms most likely to provide the largest greenhouse gas reductions?

VERA PARDEE: For myself, I would say a direct, substantial tax on carbon emissions that continues to rise. Such a tax has many advantages. It would be, first of all, a very direct and transparent mechanism. It would generate funds that could be used for renewable fuel development and assistance, and it would provide an effective incentive to avoid the generation of greenhouse gases. And the tax – as was proposed in the Cantwell Bill that was one of the possibilities in 2010 – could result in rebates to consumers, which would also avoid any possibility of ending up with a regressive tax. So a direct tax would be fast; it could be equitably structured; it would be transparent.

After a direct tax I think what we have is the Clean Air Act, and with all its mechanisms it at least holds the promise of being very effective.

Beyond that, I think you absolutely cannot discount the many, many local and regional initiatives – sometimes those aren’t given enough credit. Some people think that if you don’t tackle the largest emissions, you may as well stop, and I think that is incorrect.  Stopping greenhouse gases is going to be an effort that requires societal consensus and that will be accomplished by changing people’s minds and then their habits in their daily lives on a local level as well as through nationwide regulation. So I don’t discount those measures at all.

YCELP: Are there other measures or legislation pending that could prove to be a real push forward in reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

VERA PARDEE: Yes, with some qualifications. What has been done with the Clean Air Act is the best thing that has happened so far: the various rulemakings – the endangerment finding, the vehicle rule and then the beginning of greenhouse gas permitting for stationary sources – have been a start. Of course it’s been viciously fought on every level, which is deplorable. My hope, and I think well-founded hope, is that those attacks now being litigated in the federal appellate court in D.C. will fail.

That said, there is so much left to do to enforce the Clean Air Act, and so many steps yet to be taken. I fear the progress that is being made with Clean Air Act regulations may become illusory if the actions that are taken are largely an effort on paper. If you review the permitting that is now going on for stationary sources – the first permits are being issued to try to control greenhouse gases from things like power plants and factories – the permits themselves have been very disappointing because the stepwise analysis of the best-available control technology has been employed to force very few, if any, actions to actually reduce greenhouse gases. Things like switching fuel sources for power plants, which is an obvious, clear remedy to get greenhouse gases reduced, are rejected as a viable option.  So it’s great that we now have required permitting that looks at the problem, but if the regulators don’t require action, we really haven’t advanced anything.

So other than the vehicle rules, I don’t really know of any federal law that has yet to make a difference on these issues. The vehicle rules will make a difference over business as usual beginning with the 2012 models, but unfortunately, those rules are by no means tough enough.  Even with the rules, we will still lag behind the EU and China, and we will still fail to employ technology available today that could improve the mileage and therefore reduce the emissions of our vehicle fleet.

YCELP: The Center for Biological Diversity identified a way for EPA to address climate change based on water quality impacts under the Clean Water Act. Could you say more about that?

VERA PARDEE: The basic premise is that carbon dioxide released into the air is being absorbed by the ocean in enormous amounts and causes the pH level of the ocean and other bodies of water to become much more acidic, which is extremely dangerous to marine life.  The Clean Water Act is mostly known for permitting, but what we have been looking at is the fact that the Clean Water Act requires states to list all bodies of water in their jurisdiction that are impaired. The question, then, is what is impairment? There are laws on the books in many states that define impairment as change in pH level at certain quantifications. If a body of water experiences such a change through human causes, then under these state laws, the waters must be considered impaired. We brought a test case that made the connection between the CWA’s requirement of impairment listings, these state laws, and the demonstrated effect of carbon dioxide on pH levels, and obtained a settlement that raises awareness of this issue and a promise by EPA to begin to look at this relationship.  EPA issued a guidance document saying that for the next year, 2012, states should list all of the bodies of water within their jurisdiction as impaired that have suffered a certain change in pH. And once they are on that list under CWA section 303(d), then it becomes necessary to take action to stop the impairment. The acidification effect is not theoretical. It is real, and it has already happened. And the effects on marine life as well as the industries that live off marine life are drastic.

YCELP: Is there any legislation or measures pending that could be a real setback?

VERA PARDEE: EPA can’t act if it doesn’t have any money so the constant attempts to cut back EPA funding are really frightening. We often criticize EPA for not doing enough or not doing it fast enough, but without EPA the ballgame, at present, is really over. Cutting off the EPA’s funding would probably be the worst thing that I can see.  Beyond that are the innumerable bills that have passed the House that would undo or delay EPA’s greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts.

YCELP: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

VERA PARDEE: This was mentioned during our panel, but I’d like to reiterate that we need to counteract the idea that regulatory initiatives, or even the government as a whole, are evil. The rhetoric has in many ways become religious and fanatical. And rationality must prevail. We need to change the conversation in the country. The connection between environmental regulation – or just regulation – and the loss of jobs is a pernicious and false connection and must be broken.

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Monday, November 21, 2011
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Q&A with Dan Lashof, Director of NRDC’s Climate and Clean Air Program

By Susanne Stahl

Dan Lashof, Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate and Clean Air Program, recently spoke at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies about the future of climate change regulation on a panel with Dale Bryk, Director of the Energy & Transportation Program and a senior attorney with NRDC, and Vera Pardee, senior attorney in the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.

 

YCELP: What is the future of cap-and-trade as a policy solution in the United States?

DAN LASHOF: As my colleague Dale Bryk mentioned, there are a number of states that are moving forward with cap and trade; the European Union has a program that has been up and running for awhile, and they’re making it more robust and effective over time. Australia is in the process of adopting a program.

At a national level, I think the U.S. will eventually come back to it because the substantive and political reasons why it had been a focus of efforts in the past are still valid. And while it’s been politically tainted – and that will last for a while – I think eventually people will see it as a more effective mechanism than the more piecemeal approach, which, by necessity, will be pursued over the next few years.

YCELP: What do you see as the policy or regulatory mechanisms most likely to provide the largest greenhouse gas reductions?

DAN LASHOF: For the foreseeable future, and provided that EPA retains its authority under the Clean Air Act, I think that the biggest opportunities are from regulations EPA will be issuing for power plants and other large industrial sources under Section 111.

There are also significant reductions that are in the pipeline as a result of the vehicle performance standards developed jointly by EPA, the Department of Transportation and the California Air Resources Board, both passenger vehicles and now, for the first time, heavy-duty trucks.

YCELP: What EPA regulation during this current administration has accomplished the most in terms of GHG reductions?

DAN LASHOF: The light-duty vehicle standards that cover model year 2012 to 2016 are definitely the most significant. Those could potentially be surpassed by the regulations that EPA is currently working on that would apply to power plants.

YCELP: Are there other measures or legislation pending that could prove to be a real push forward in reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

DAN LASHOF: There are a couple of others that I would identify: one is the regulation of methane leaks from the oil and gas system, which is really important because methane has a higher global warming impact per ton than carbon dioxide. Getting those regulations in place would clear away one of the concerns that has been raised about potentially switching from very dirty coal plants to natural gas as a cleaner source because there is enough uncertainty now about how much methane is leaking to call into question what the net benefits of doing that are.  If EPA was able to issue strong regulations requiring good housekeeping in oil and gas production, then it would be a much clearer benefit from a climate perspective.

The other area, which people haven’t been paying much attention to, but has significant potential has to do with industrial gases like hydrofluorocarbons where there are significant emissions and very high global warming potential gases so reductions could have a big payoff.

YCELP: Is there any legislation or measures pending that could be a real setback?

DAN LASHOF: The Keystone XL pipeline, which is clearly directly within the jurisdiction of the Obama administration to decide to provide a permit, and the extra emissions associated with shifting to dirtier fossil fuels like tar sands oil could erode some of the benefits associated with the vehicle standards and the power plant standards.

The other threat, which is only partially within the administration’s control, but they do have some leverage over it, is Congressional threats to EPA’s rules – either generically or individually.

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Friday, November 18, 2011
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Q&A with Dale Bryk, Director of the Energy & Transportation Program at NRDC

By Susanne Stahl

Dale Bryk, Director of the Energy & Transportation Program and a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, recently spoke at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies about the future of climate change regulation on a panel with Dan Lashof, Director of NRDC’s Climate Center, and Vera Pardee, senior attorney in the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.

YCELP: What is the future of cap-and-trade as a policy solution in the United States?

DALE BRYK: It already exists as a policy in the United States:  the 10 Northeastern states launched the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in January 2009. That   program has some flaws, but in general I think the states are really happy with the benefits it delivers. The program provides a mechanism to shift gears from sending energy dollars out of state -- to West Virginia for example -- to import coal and instead keeping those energy dollars in the states, in the local communities to drive investment in efficiency, local construction jobs, and that has huge economic development benefits, in addition to lowering pollution and energy bills.

I think the states didn’t realize – even when they were designing that cap-and-trade program – how good it was going to be for them in terms of making that shift to clean energy and what the larger economic benefits would be within the states. California’s planning to launch its program next year, and there are probably 10 other states in the wings – so that’s all going to happen even though we don’t have comprehensive federal climate legislation, or a national cap and trade program. The programs in place at the state level are going to change the way people think about that policy, and I think that’s how we’re going to pave the way to doing something similar at the federal level.

YCELP: What do you see as the policy or regulatory mechanisms most likely to provide the largest greenhouse gas reductions?

DALE BRYK: We just got the vehicle standards. If you think about the wedges analysis a lot of people have done to show where we’re going to get these greenhouse gas reductions, the vehicle standards put us on track for significant reductions in the transportation sector.

Energy efficiency standards for vehicles, and then efficiency on the stationary side for residential, commercial, and industrial buildings and for appliances and equipment -- those policies represent the biggest, fastest, cheapest way to reduce pollution. It’s already cost effective, but there are all kinds of market barriers – so it’s just a matter of scaling up the policies that have been effective in the states where they’ve been implemented.

More has been done in residential and commercial buildings than industrial facilities – so scaling up in the industrial sector to make motors and industrial processes more efficient – and businesses more competitive -- is a key area for growth, as are existing buildings . A lot of the work that’s been done historically on efficiency has focused on new buildings, homes and offices, but now we are seeing New York and other cities working with the real estate industry on strategies to attract private sector financing for deep energy efficiency upgrades in existing buildings.  

While efficiency is by far the quickest way to make reductions, especially since it pays for itself, there are a lot of market barriers, for example landlords do not have an incentive to purchase efficient appliances if tenants reap the rewards of those investments in the form of lower electric bills.  And efficiency is more difficult to visualize so it doesn’t get the same public attention– people know what a wind farm looks like but they can’t imagine how better lighting, heating and cooling systems, windows and insulation can save more energy than a nuclear power plant produces, much less avoid the need for dozens of power plants.  And then you have things that are politicized like the light bulb standards, which have actually created a lot more choice in the market place including a more efficient traditional lightbulb, and which will lower our national energy bill by $10 billion a year. So there’s a lot of misunderstanding – and efficiency is not as glamorous as renewable energy and even as climate policy was a few years ago (now it’s more of a mixed bag in terms of it being a political win for local and state politicians).

If Congress was functional, we could have something like a federal energy efficiency investment requirement for utilities that would just require them to invest in efficiency when it’s cost effective, but it’s hard to imagine such a policy, even if it was supported by industry, because things are so politicized. Industry, consumers and environmental groups strongly support the lightbulb standards and they are under fierce attack by the right wing of Congress.  That leaves us with a state-by-state, industry-by-industry approach. The utility industry is further along than most other industries in their thinking on these issues but they still have a long way to go.

YCELP: Are there other measures or legislation pending that could prove to be a real push forward in reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

DALE BRYK: You have the straight-up state energy-efficiency and renewable energy policies and energy-efficiency resource standards in places like Ohio, which you might not think of as the hotbed of clean energy investment. But Ohio has both a huge number of solar manufacturing facilities – it’s a bright spot on the state’s economy on the manufacturing side – and they also have energy efficiency investment policies on the utility side. And you have a relatively new governor who didn’t come in with any particular interest in clean energy who I think we’re seeing embrace this sector as an economic driver in the state. Michigan also has a governor who’s very interested in clean energy. These things are on the cusp: there are policies in place, but they are just starting to deliver the fruits of the enormous potential they have to create jobs and save money for people, in addition to lowering pollution.

The other thing, not so much on the policy front, is working directly with the real estate sector and the finance sector to scale-up energy-efficiency retrofits, working more with the private sector on existing buildings and developing models like the one we have in New York City.

There is a policy element to it – they have city legislation that requires all large building owners to do retro commissioning, which is basically just making sure all the systems in their buildings work as they’re supposed to so you don’t have your air conditioning and your heating fighting against each other. Then you need to line up financing, and of course it helps to have a very powerful and active mayor like Mayor Bloomberg to encourage large building owners to demand efficiency investments. The policy element requires people to look at these issues and proves to them the huge opportunity they have to mine existing buildings as an energy resource, but then we need to line up everything so that it’s very easy for them to move forward.

That’s something that we’re working to replicate in other cities so it’s a ground-up approach that’s more focused on direct collaboration with the private sector than just straight-up policy work where you’re relying on the policy to be the primary driver.

YCELP: Are there measures pending that could be a real setback?

DALE BRYK: The Environmental Protection Agency is under court order to issue their regulations for greenhouse gases for power plants and industrial sources, and yet they have Congress threatening to pull their authority to do so under the Clean Air Act out from under them. And there’s interplay between what the states are doing, sort of pushing the envelope, and what EPA is doing where they can encourage each other. If a lot of the states are going to move forward on their own anyway, it’s not so scary for EPA to do that. And if EPA is going to move forward anyway, then it’s easier to get more states on board to do even more than that as they start to realize the economic benefits of shifting to a clean energy economy, as the Northeast states and California have done and as some Midwest states are starting to do. That could go in a virtuous cycle, or it could go in a vicious cycle. If EPA loses its authority, the state-level initiatives could be affected as well.

YCELP: Anything else you’d like to add?

DALE BRYK: We want to have climate regulation; we want to limit carbon dioxide with a pollution cap. When we sit in the think tank part of work looking at what’s the best policy and what’s the most efficient way to get the most reductions for the least cost, that’s all something that we want to achieve, but there are a lot of other ways to move the ball until we can get that.

So all the policies we can adopt on efficiency, on renewables, on vehicles, on alternative fuels, including expediting the commercialization of electric vehicles – there’s a huge opportunity to start moving down the road to 80-percent reduction by 2050 with these policies, all of which have traction now at the state level or in federal agencies, including EPA and the Department of Energy, where we can get things done. We have to put more of our thinking on how to move those balls faster and further because we certainly don’t want to rely on a polarized, dysfunctional Congress to create the policy framework we need to enable us to compete in the global clean energy market; we can’t put all our eggs in that basket, so we have to make the other baskets do even more than we thought they could in the past.  As more and more people realize the benefits of clean energy in their own lives – lower energy bills, lower unemployment rates in their communities, lower asthma rates and an improved quality of life – it will be more difficult for ideologues in Congress to vote against their constituents’ best interests, and then we will start to see some opportunities open up for federal action.

DALE BRYK is the Director of the Energy & Transportation Program and a Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, where she oversees a team of 50 lawyers, scientists and technology experts working to develop policy solutions that will dramatically improve energy efficiency in buildings, appliances and industry; expedite commercialization of emerging renewable energy technologies; increase vehicle efficiency; drive investment in low-carbon fuels; and reduce vehicle miles traveled. Her expertise is in the area of energy and climate policy, including utility regulation and energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. She was integrally involved in the development of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the cap-and-invest program launched by 10 Northeast states in January 2009.

Dale joined NRDC in 1997, prior to which she practiced corporate law at Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York.  From 2002-2010 she also taught the Environmental Law Clinic at Yale Law School. Dale has a J.D. from Harvard Law School, a Masters Degree in international law and policy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a B.A from Colgate University.

Posted in: Environmental Law & Governance
Monday, October 31, 2011
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Hallo-green?  The Growing Environmental Focus of Halloween

By Guest Author, Anthony Moffa, JD Candidate '12, Yale Law School

This week we celebrate one of the stranger holidays on the calendar: We dress our kids up in cheap, plastic costumes and send them to strangers’ homes for candy. This custom is one that arguably has led to millions of pounds of waste generated by the disposal of outfits that are generally used only once. In recent years, though, efforts have sprouted up to tackle that problem – trying to mitigate the wasteful nature of the costuming and candy-eating tradition (there’s even a website and blog dedicated to this cause specifically at http://greenhalloween.org/). In the spirit of the holiday I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight some of the easier ways each of us can make Halloween a bit more green.

Costume Swap

Probably the most obvious, but also the most effectual, environmental twist on the holiday is the concept of a “Costume Swap.” The idea is quite simple. Instead of throwing away last year’s Halloween costume, trade it with someone else who has a different one for use this year. This is recycling in its most pure form. Costumes that would be part of the waste stream, because they are either out of favor with a particular child or no longer fit, are instead reused year after year. This year, October 8 was National Costume Swap Day. Parents in all parts of the country designated local outposts where they could exchange costumes; information about the locations and times was made available on social networking sites. According to Green Halloween swapping half of the costumes worn by children on Halloween would reduce annual landfill waste by 6,250 tons, which is the equivalent of 2,500 midsize cars.

Buy Organic and Local

The growing popularity of the organic and local food movement has made some reconsider the source of the traditional Halloween decorations and treats. (see this article from Slate). For the environmentally conscious, the criteria for the perfect pumpkin for this year’s jack-o-lantern included two more traits besides size and shape – organic and local.  Fortunately, a pumpkin is a type of produce that for many of us has always been locally sourced – a fall weekend outing to pick a pumpkin complete with the obligatory hayride is almost an American tradition. Finding an organically grown one is slightly more challenging, though by no means impossible. Much more trying, however, is the task of procuring organic, yet still tasty and affordable, treats to delve out on Halloween. Despite the difficulty of this task, it is an environmentally important one, as separate studies by environmental scientists in Sweden and Great Britain have suggested that consumers cut the amount of sugary foods in their diets by as much as 50 percent.  With the National Confectioners Association projecting that at least $2.2 billion worth of candy will be sold this Halloween season, if a larger portion of that were spent on organic candy the environment and our health might be improved.

Give Moderately

The final tip is the simplest of them all, and it has the dual benefit of saving money and the environment, though it may upset some children. On October 31, when trick-or-treaters come knocking, by all means bring out the candy, but instead of allowing them to take handfuls from a giant bucket, consider giving only one piece to each child. This simple act of moderation will not only serve a similar function as buying organic in that it reduces the amount of sugary foods in our diets, but it will also reduce the waste created by candy wrappers. Though most candy wrappers are made from plastic they are generally not recyclable and therefore end up in landfills.  Different from the one-type plastic used to make soft drink bottles, candy wrappers are usually made up of mixed materials, making the recovery of useful materials difficult and expensive. Taking even a fraction of this waste out of the stream will undoubtedly help the planet.

YCELP wishes you and yours a Happy (and Green) Halloween!

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Friday, October 21, 2011
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Clearing the haze

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

The news late last month from China’s environment ministry that it plans to bring one of the country’s most destructive and widespread pollutants – tiny particulates widely known as PM 2.5 – into national air quality standards suggests that attitudes to pollutant data, once deemed too politically sensitive to gather, may be shifting. 

Air particulates with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less (hence “PM 2.5”) have serious health implications. Small enough to penetrate human lung tissue, they can cause asthma, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. In most parts of China, PM 2.5 has beenfound to account for more than half of air particulate pollution.  But despite these serious pollution levels and impacts, national air-quality standards in China have lacked requirements for monitoring PM 2.5, or specific reduction targets – until now.

Speaking at Seventh Environment and Development Forum on September 22, China’s pollution control secretary Zhao Hualin announced that the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) intends to revise its national ambient air quality standards to include PM 2.5 measurements. Recognising the contribution of PM 2.5 pollution to poor visibility and air quality, Zhaotold the audience, “We have now started to address the haze problem, which is precisely a PM 2.5 problem”. 

The idea is for China’s so-called “model cities” to pilot particulate measurement, themselves something of a shifting phenomenon. In late August, the MEP made revisions for the second time as to what criteria are necessary to qualify as a National Environmental Protection Model City – a title given to cities to reward special efforts in the green sphere – and PM 2.5 measurement is among the requirements. 

Under these new standards, only 11 cities now qualify as model cities, vastly fewer than the 77 reported to have carried the title before the changes. They are: Wujiang, Liaocheng, Qingpu District of Shanghai, Linyi, Dongguan, Xuzhou, Yinchuan, Yichang, Linan, Huai’an and Foshan. Three more have undergone review and are in the process of being designated as model cities, while the remaining locations previously considered model cities are under review. 

The strengthening of air quality metrics suggests that the political tides surrounding pollutant data may be changing. When the MEP released draft amendments to its Air Pollution Index (API) in late February of this year, the inclusion of PM 2.5 was notably absent, despite the addition of ozone and a number of other considerable improvements.  

The omission was criticised as a political maneouvre rather than a decision stemming from a lack of technical capacity in Chinese cities to measure the pollutant. Ma Jun, who directs the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, told the Global Times, “Government agencies feel the [inclusion of PM 2.5 in the] index may hurt the image of many cities that want to attract investment or that they may not be able to improve PM 2.5 pollution in a short time.”  

Secret US diplomatic cables, released by Wikileaks, further corroborated such suspicions, reporting research by local scientists that revealed PM 2.5 levels five to 10 times higher than World Health Organisation guidelines was deemed “too sensitive” for authorities and therefore not systematically measured in major Chinese cities. But just months after the release of draft API revisions and the diplomatic cables, secretary Zhao has claimed that measurement of PM 2.5 is “technically no longer a problem”. So, how big a step is this?

The first thing to make clear is that Zhao was most likely referring to the question of technical capability to measure PM 2.5, and questions remain as to whether political sensitivities around environmental data still exist. The memory of a failed attempt to quantify economic losses attributable to environmental harms is still fresh in the MEP’s memory. In 2007, the conclusions of China’s “Green GDP” project met stiff resistance from provincial leaders who feared yet another performance metric, and the results of the report were never officially released. The then-State Environmental Protection Agency and National Bureau of Statistics were left quibbling over data and methodology – a testament to how contentious attributing numbers to pollution can be.  

However, recent signs that China is embracing a more transparent approach to its environmental challenges are evident. In early June, the MEP released a franker assessment of China’s environment than seen previously in the latest annual State of the Environment Report. Vice-minister Li Ganjie stated that while some aspects of the environment showed modest improvement, “the overall environmental situation is still very grave and is facing many difficulties and challenges”. Only 3.6% of the 471 cities monitored in the most recent report garnered top ratings for clean air. 

Deborah Seligsohn, principal advisor to the World Resources Institute’s Climate and Energy Program, has also noted a dramatic shift in language since the 1990s when the annual reports claimed that China’s environmental situation was “basically good” or, later, “basically unchanged”. Not until the State Environmental Protection Agency achieved ministerial status in 2007 did the reports become more critical, describing the environment as “not inspiring”.

Including the politically sensitive PM 2.5 in air-quality standards signals a push for greater transparency in China’s environmental governance. Over the course of a few months the MEP has already taken significant strides to improve air quality measurements and standards. This will bring China’s policies closer to international best practices for air quality monitoring.  

Piloting measurement in model cities makes political sense as a way of easing China into eventual binding PM 2.5 targets for all provinces – a mandate that will likely be included in the 13th Five-Year Plan. By first signaling that PM 2.5 is an aspiration for “model cities”, the government is taking an important step toward lessening political stigma surrounding the pollutant: instead of being punished, cities will be rewarded.

PM 2.5’s inclusion is also indicative of a broader trend: China’s transition to a political culture that is more open about environmental conditions. Importantly, if it continues, this openness will allow greater public access to data and information, in turn spurring better results for the environment.

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

This piece was originally posted on the China Dialogue website on October 19th.

Posted in: Environmental Performance MeasurementEnergy & Climate
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
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The Nuclear Power Endgame in Germany

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

In the second event of the webinar series Climate Change Solutions: Frontline Perspectives from Around the Globe, the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy welcomed Mr.  R. Andreas Kraemer, Director of Ecologic Institute, Berlin, to the stage to address the nuclear power phase out in Germany.  Speaking both to our international online audience and a live audience in Berlin, Mr. Kraemer offered a fascinating discussion on the true causes and triggers of Germany’s decision to cease production of electricity from nuclear power plants by 2022.

Though general perception (particularly outside of Germany) points toward the tragic catastrophe at Fukushima earlier this spring as the trigger for the dramatic shift, in truth, the nuclear endgame has been in play for years.  Economics, rather than emotions, underlie the decision.

The decision to phase out nuclear is significant. No exception to the trend among many industrialized nations, Germany deployed nuclear power plants in the 1950s as a safe and reliable source of electricity, as well as a way to try to redeem nuclear technology after the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.  In 2010, nuclear provided 23 percent of Germany’s electricity.[1]  Phasing out this substantial industry will not be easy, but it does make sense.

The economics of nuclear are clear: Nuclear power is economically unsustainable without public subsidies. Private investment in the industry simply has not demonstrated willingness to pay for the associated risks.  At the same time, political and public dissatisfaction with nuclear has grown, matched by increasing support for renewable energy.

Mr. Kraemer explained how the successful deployment of renewable energy in Germany has shifted the way Germans envision electricity grids. Rather than maintaining a grid of large, centrally placed power plants, Germany seeks a smarter, more efficient grid fed by distributed generation supplemented by strategic and economical larger plants.  Widespread public support for renewable energy justified the creation of German policies that promote renewable energy. These policies ultimately jumpstarted Germany’s now self-sustaining renewable energy industries. In a climate constrained world, this robust and growing portfolio of renewable energy opens the door to phasing out nuclear.

A far cry from simply shutting down plants, the German government orchestrated a strategic, orderly phase-out of nuclear, working in collaboration with the nuclear industries to smooth the transition for the industry and the public. Essentially, the phase-out strategy allows nuclear plants to continue running through the end of their useful life, but there will be no investment in extending plant life and certainly no new nuclear.

Can the US catch up with Germany? Mr. Kraemer says “yes!” The US has plenty of energy from the sun and wind – more “energy potential,” in fact, than Germany. What’s missing is political will and, to some extent, maturity of the renewable energy industries. We need to learn from Germany’s experience. Looking at the economics (in which nuclear power has no self-sustaining business case) and the environmental and social risks associated with the technology, Mr. Kraemer’s proposition is that the United States (as well as the European Union and other global countries) should admit that our investment in nuclear power was a mistake and begin to phase it out in an orderly way.

You can hear Mr. Kraemer’s full discussion on the nuclear power endgame in Germany here.



[1]
Federal Statistical Office, Germany. “17% of Germany’s electricity consumption was met by renewable energy in 2010” Press release No. 144, April 11, 2011.

Posted in: Energy & Climate
Monday, October 17, 2011
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Why Environmentalists Can’t Ignore Development Economics, and Two Books to Get Us Started

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

Picture rural Ghana: Orange-brown yam fields with hand-piled dirtmounds stretch for miles in any direction, a silent testament to the fact that half the country’s population makes its living from agriculture. The farmers wait for rain; the yams need it – but for all of its life-giving properties, it complicates life when it comes, carving deep gullies into dirt roads and bringing anopheles mosquitoes and their bellyfuls of the malaria parasite, which kills nearly one million people annually.

The developing world is tightly intertwined with the environment. Indeed, the U.N. calls ecosystems “the GDP of the poor,” because of the dependence this portion of society has on the environment. Now consider just how many people this portion represents: more than half of the earth’s population earns less than $3,000 per year. 

With paved roads, financial metropoles and first-world medical care it’s easy to forget how visceral our connection to the environment is. But our task as environmentalists--understanding the complex relations between humans and the environment--cannot be accomplished without a close look at the developing world.


Though academic articles within the discipline can be daunting, two excellent, accessible books covering development economics research have been released this year. Written in a narrative style, Karlan and Appel’s More than Good Intentions and Banerjee and Duflo’s Poor Economics summarize key developments in the past decade. The authors are all involved in two cutting-edge development research organizations: Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). IPA and J-PAL have pioneered the use of randomized controlled trials, methodology borrowed from medical trials that has brought the rigor of hard science to development research.

Important reading for all environmentalists.

Posted in: Energy & Climate
Monday, October 10, 2011
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The Klamath River: How the 100-Year Old Crisis is Finally Coming to an End

By Guest Author, Laura Johnson, MESc '13, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

In a recent Yale Environment 360 video, photographer Pete McBride navigates the Colorado River from its source in the Rocky Mountains to its historic mouth in Mexico. It’s a sobering account. The Colorado River, Pete says, has become a “dry river cemetery.”

Over 20 dams were installed along the Colorado River to divert water for industrial, agricultural, and urban life. These ever-increasing demands exceed the river’s capacity, and droughts are spreading throughout the basin. Similar water management problems exist worldwide, but another example close to home is California’s Klamath River. Officials recently announced that four of the major dams along the Klamath will be removed in the coming years – and the situation there may offer some hope for the Colorado.

In 1909, developers installed the first of four major dams on the Klamath River as part of the PacifiCorp Klamath River Hydroelectric Project. The installation of these hydroelectric dams had a number of negative effects: Coho salmon and steelhead trout populations throughout the Klamath River Basin declined, migratory salmon were kept from reaching spawning grounds up river, and algal blooms developed behind the dams, creating an additional source of stress for fish populations.

Stakeholders – including Indian tribes, the US Department of Interior, farmers, environmental groups, and private citizens – called for improved management strategies and, in 2003, the National Research Council (NRC) released a set of recommendations for overhauling the Klamath River, including a call for dam removal. The NRC based its decisions on data and risk analyses, and provided stakeholders the indicators they needed to analyze potential effects of various water management strategies.

The inclusion of indicator data allowed stakeholders to come to an eventual agreement on how to best manage the Klamath River’s water resources; the various groups signed the Klamath Restoration Agreement and Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement in 2010 and are waiting approval from Congress. The dam-removal project is expected to begin in 2020, allowing PacifiCorp time to raise money for the project without increasing power rates to its customers.

The Klamath River Restoration Agreement offers a successful example of social learning through adaptive management and stakeholder involvement – and it underscores the importance of metrics and data in environmental decisionmaking.

For more information on the Klamath River restoration visit http://klamathrestoration.org/

Posted in: Environmental Performance MeasurementEnergy & Climate
Thursday, October 06, 2011
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Key Steps on Global Warming Agreed in Cancun… Now What?

By Guest Author, Jonathan Smith, Yale Law School, J.D. '12; Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, M.E.M. '12

The binding international greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets of the Kyoto Protocol are set to expire next year, but global greenhouse gas emissions show no signs of halting themselves.  All eyes are focused on this December’s Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa to see how, if at all, the emissions reduction targets of Kyoto will be extended past 2012. The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy invited NRDC’s International Climate Policy Director, Jake Schmidt, to talk about recent developments in international climate negotiations, and what we can expect from Durban, as part of the Center’s new Climate Change Solutions: Frontline Perspectives from Around the Globe webinar series.

Jake’s presentation, entitled Key Steps on Global Warming Agreed in Cancun… Now What? (recording available here) focused on the major unresolved issues from last year’s conference in Cancun that are likely to be discussed and negotiated at Durban, including the transparency of each country’s emissions data, accountability of each country’s emissions reduction targets, and new funding pathways such as the Green Climate Fund. But of course, the elephant in the room is the conclusion of the Kyoto Protocol obligation period. With Kyoto as the ostensible driver of national greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitments the world over, significant changes to, or non-continuation of, Kyoto has the potential to throw a wrench in the best-laid plans of politicians, negotiators, and activists.

But, as Jake highlighted, many countries have recently been taking decisive emissions reduction action seemingly without direct relation to obligations under Kyoto. For example, neither of the top two emitting countries, China and the United States, has binding reduction targets under Kyoto, but both are nevertheless taking political action to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions. China is a party to Kyoto but not listed as an Annex I country, and thus has no binding emissions targets. Yet its most recent Five-Year Plan has made emissions reduction promises formed at the Copenhagen conference into binding domestic law, and Chinese investment in clean energy technologies continues to rise. The United States, which has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, is nevertheless also following through with policies to reduce emissions such as higher fuel efficiency standards and revising emission standards for power plants. The U.S.’s energy-related CO2 emissions have decreased since 2005, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that just with the policies of today, emissions will stay below 2005 levels until at least 2035.

Globally, clean energy investments increased 30% from 2009 to 2010, and 2010 was the first year that nearly half of new energy capacity was non-fossil in nature. It is statistics like these, and proactive national emissions reduction actions like those above, that provide glimmers of hope for climate policy post-Kyoto. As Jake notes, the question is no longer if countries will take action, but rather how much action will they take?

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Monday, October 03, 2011
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The Environmental Performance Index Enters the Next Generation

By Guest Author, Diana Connett, MEM '12, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

On September 26 and 27 experts from around the world gathered in New Haven to review the preliminary analysis on the 2012 Environmental Performance Index. Difficult questions about making data criteria more stringent, including time series analysis, and issues around aggregation were debated as investigators move the EPI into the next generation. As organizations and countries around the world construct environmental indicators and aggregate environmental data, the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Columbia’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network are continuing to innovate research and communication of policy-relevant environmental data at an international scale. Stay tuned for the release of the 2012 EPI in January 2012.

Related Links:
2010 Environmental Performance Index

Posted in: Environmental Performance Measurement
Friday, September 02, 2011
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Green Kitchens in Cambodia: Can Cookstoves Fuel an Economy?

By Guest Author, Jasmine Hyman, PhD candidate, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

Siem Reap, home of the Angkor Watt temples, is among Cambodia's poorest provinces [1]. Four out of ten villages lack access to clean drinking water; literacy rates are among the lowest in the country; 53 percent of all children are malnourished, and average incomes hover just above $1.80 USD per day [2]. The tourism industry here brings in over $640 million USD per year, yet foreign revenue streams do not ensure (and may indeed extract from) local development -- though the draw of external revenue streams is understandably attractive for Least Developed Countries such as Cambodia. 

But a different form of foreign investment has dramatically changed Arun and Mlis Keo's [3] economic outlook. The couple, who farms just 20 kilometers from the Angkor Watt heritage site, acquired a biodigester through the National Biodigester Program (NBP) run by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of the Cambodian Royal Kingdom (MAFF) and the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV-Cambodia). The biodigester, which converts livestock dung to biogas, fuels their cooking and household lighting needs and has decreased their energy bill by $14.39 per month -- while saving them one and a half hours per day in fuelwood collection. The slurry waste from the biodigestion process substitutes for chemical fertilizer, generating an extra annual savings of $52 per year.

The Keo family represents just one of 8,000 Cambodian rural homes, spanning nine provinces, that have qualified for a flat $150 subsidy and soft private loans to invest an average of $472 into a household-scale biodigester. Considering that the average annual Khmer income is $412, the NBP's popularity (and zero loan-default rate) deserves investigating [4].

When talking about the biodigester, the Keos do not mention the environmental or health benefits of the project. The best part of owning a biodigester is the convenience, Mlis Keo said. She no longer needs to collect firewood or buy charcoal, and cooking rice on a gas stove is much easier than building and maintaining a fire.   

But reductions in household soot and atmospheric methane from the livestock waste are certainly points of interest for NBP, which is trying to convert those benefits to carbon credits for international sale.  

Carbon finance -- foreign investment in greenhouse-gas-reducing projects in developing countries that generate, in turn, carbon credits that developed countries may buy and use for their own climate commitments -- has been a source of controversy in international headlines and academic debate since the Kyoto Protocol launched a global carbon market in 2005. Proponents point to an estimated $141.9 billion market value in 2010 [5] while critics underscore imbalanced regional investment patterns [6] and uncertainty regarding the final destination of the revenue streams.

While much has been said on the shortcomings of carbon finance, the market's local successes are poorly understood and may, in fact, be hindered by current market rules. Further, while the future of the Kyoto Protocol is uncertain, international enthusiasm for carbon-financed cookstove programs is on the rise with the launch of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. But how can carbon finance truly benefit the poor? And are current requirements for defining a carbon offset project relevant for development objectives? 

These are just a few of the issues driving my research. Through funding by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and pilot support from the Yale Institute of Biospheric Studies, I am collaborating with the Nexus Alliance of small-scale project developers to trace benefit flows and to identify principles for success when designing pro-poor cookstove and kitchen interventions.   

Jasmine Hyman, M.Sc. (LSE), B.A. (Columbia) is completing a doctorate at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, where she holds a doctoral fellowship from the National Science Foundation. Her research seeks to identify design principles for global climate finance schemes that promote equitable development and social justice. 


[1] Kosa, Chea and Mara, Yos (2006), "Children's Empowerment through Education Services (CHES) Project in Siem Reap Province," in Winrock International (ed.), (Phnom Penh).

[2] Doherty, Ben (2010), "Angkor Butterfly Hunters Tell of Poverty Amid Tourist Wealth," The Guardian.

[3] Names have been changed.

[4] van Mansvelt, Rogier (2011) "Biodigester User Survey 2009-2011," for NBP, Phnom Penh

[5] Capoor, Karan and Ambrosi, Philippe (2010), "State and Trends of the Carbon Market 2010," (Washington DC: The World Bank).

[6] UNEP RISOE, CDM in Charts, Accessed July 2011.

Posted in: Innovation & EnvironmentEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
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China’s 12th Five-Year Plan Lays Out Ambitious Blueprint, but Data Challenges Remain

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

In March, China released its 12th Five-Year Plan – a blueprint outlining the key economic and development targets for the country over the next few years.  Unlike previous Plans, climate change and energy are featured prominently, and a strong emphasis is placed on a slower, more sustainable growth trajectory.[1]  Not only is the 12th Five-Year Plan the first to mention climate change, but it adopts as part of national, binding law the climate pledges China first made at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCCC) Copenhagen climate summit in December 2009.  Binding targets for a range of other environment and energy issues are also included in the Plan, including important air and water quality pollutants that were previously absent.

Part of the country’s ability to achieve these targets will be in its capacity to measure and track progress toward its goals.  The Chinese government has pledged implementation of “well-equipped and statistical and monitoring systems” and “index evaluation systems”[2] in the 12th Five Year Plan, indicating an increasing awareness of the importance of data, information and robust infrastructure to ensure targets are met.  However, while there are signs of China’s move toward a more “data-driven” approach to decision-making in the formulation of the latest Plan, political sensitivities around pollution information still persist, meaning China may still confront challenges when trying to improve environmental conditions.

The 12th Five-Year Plan comes at a time of growing recognition from the Chinese government regarding the importance of information for environmental decision-making. In 2010 the Chinese government completed its first national census of pollution, requiring more than $100 million U.S. dollars, 570,000 staff and nearly two years to complete.[3]  The survey mapped more than 6 million sources of residential, industrial, and notably agricultural pollution, which had been previously absent from measures of water contamination.  The survey found that previous measures of water pollution – specifically chemical oxygen demand – had neglected to include non-point agricultural sources of pollution, from fertilizer and pesticide effluent as well as landfill leakage.[4] Including these non-point sources of discharge meant that prior measures of water pollution had been missing over half of the baseline data for chemical oxygen demand – from 13.8 million tons in 2007 to 30.3 million.  At the time, Chinese officials noted that the targets would not be revised based on the new data, while still touting China’s success in meeting COD reduction targets in the 11th Five-Year Plan. However, the findings from the survey did lead to the adoption of a binding reduction target for a critical water pollutant – ammonia nitrogen – and continued reduction goals for Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) in the 12th Five-Year Plan. The adoption of these new water pollution targets were largely due in part to the survey results, which allowed for the government to set new targets and refine previous ones based on this new information. 

While this example speaks to the progress China is making in terms of measurement and performance tracking, political sensitivities surrounding other environmental data still prove to be barriers to policy changes.  Earlier this year, the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) released draft proposals to amend its Air Pollution Index (API) [5] to an Air Quality Index (AQI) that more closely resembles the U.S. version [6]. While the proposed amendments include significant improvements – such as including ozone measurements, improved calculation methodologies, and standardizing color-coding schemes – PM 2.5 [7] is notably absent.Experts, such as Ma Jun, Director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), a Beijing-based NGO, and former Yale World Fellow, have suggested that leaving out PM 2.5 is due to political rather than technical concerns. “Government agencies feel the index may hurt the image of many cities that want to attract investment or that they may not be able to improve PM 2.5 pollution in a short time,” Ma told the Global Times. U.S. diplomatic cables have also revealed that lack of measurement of PM 2.5 and other dangerous air pollutants could be due to fear of political consequences.

So while we can see evidence that China is embracing improved data-based decision-making, the results are mixed because political vulnerability toward environmental pollution is still a serious concern amongst Chinese leadership who fear citizen unrest and social instability.  What China must realize are the benefits from knowing risks and exposures to environmental harms and pollutants, which is not possible without measurement.  Failing to incorporate critical pollutants in national environmental policies only pushes serious concerns under the rug, in a type of “act now, apologize later” mentality that in many cases have led to dire political ramifications for Chinese government officials when harmful pollution disasters surface [8].

Therefore, while the 12th Five-Year Plan makes important inroads in establishing more comprehensive environment and energy-related targets, equal progress needs to be made in terms of data transparency and a shift toward a government culture that doesn’t fear data and numbers.Only then can the Chinese leadership expect to formulate sound policies and robust systems to drive environmental results.


[2] Premier Wen’s Work Report, the NDRC Draft Plan for National Economic and Social Development, and the Ministry of Finance Budget Report can all be found online: http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2011/03/05/china-npc-2011-reports-full-text/.

[3] Xinhua News Agency. 2010. China issues first national census of pollution sources. February 10. http://english.mep.gov.cn/News_service/media_news/201002/t20100210_185653.htm.

[4] Ansfield, J. and K. Bradsher. 2010. China Report Shows More Pollution in Waterways. The NY Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/10/world/asia/10pollute.html.

[6] Hsu, A. 2011. China amends air quality measures but misses key pollutant – PM 2.5. http://hsu.me/2011/03/china-amends-air-quality-measures-but-misses-key-pollutant-pm-2-5/.

[7] PM 2.5 refers to air particulates with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less; known to have serious health implications such as asthma, lung cancer, and cardiovascular disease, due to their ability to penetrate human lungs.

[8] Si, Meng. 2011. On Yunnan’s Chromium Trail. China Dialogue. http://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/4493.

Posted in: Environmental Performance MeasurementEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Thursday, August 18, 2011
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World’s First Electric Highway

By testpersona

British-based electricity firm Ecotricity will complete the world's first electric highway by September of this year by installing twelve electric charging stations between London and Edinburgh.  The first of its kind, the aim is to bring the all-electric vehicle out of the city and make longer distance (not just commuter) traveling possible.

Though still a market in its infancy, it's estimated that the UK needs to have 1.7 million electric vehicles on the road by 2020 in order to meet its carbon reduction targets. At today's roughly 2,000 electric vehicles on the road, there's a long way to go to meet that target - but without eliminating the perpetual cycle of consumers not buying electric vehicles due to the lack of charging stations, and charging stations not being built due to lack of electric vehicles and demand – electric vehicle numbers will always remain low.
 
With top ranges of just 100 miles for newer electric vehicles, and an average charging time of 20 minutes to top up and a whole hour to fully charge the battery, critics argue that charging times are simply too long at this point to present a viable option for longer motorway journeys.  Put in context, that would mean stopping just over three times, for an hour each time to complete the 400 mile journey from London to Edinburgh.
 
While it's critical to get a charging network in place, without faster charging time and improved battery range, electric vehicles may still be confined to city living.
Posted in: Innovation & EnvironmentEnergy & Climate
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
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Defining Terms for Empirical Research

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

A basic part of research often taken for granted is the simple definition of a term.  There is a global understanding of what is measured by GDP, for example.  However, there are many terms for which there is no internationally accepted definition -- "environmental goods and services" is one of these because environmental impacts are highly context-specific. This poses difficulty and adds contextual nuance when undertaking a study such as ours on the linkages between trade and the environment.

The distinction between production and/or consumption poses particular difficulties with such research projects. For example, a bicycle manufacturer may spew noxious gases and deplete non-renewable minerals in the production process.  However, the use of bicycles may reduce fossil fuel use by end-users as they bike rather than drive to work. These are just a few of the complexities that organizations like the WTO, the World Bank, the OECD, and others are trying to resolve so that trade statistics can inform more sustainable trade policies.

Another major hurdle for the integration of environmental concerns into trade policy is the accounting of the environmental impact embodied in trade ­in the modern global economy. One of the best-known examples on the world stage is the carbon content of trade: how much carbon dioxide is emitted in the manufacturing of a product that is consumed abroad? And is it fair only to include that in the accounting of the country in which it was manufactured?  Several research institutions are working to develop comprehensive input-output tables that account for environmental impacts and resource use; however, none are yet sufficiently adequate accounting tools.

While there is neither a clear definition of environmental goods and services nor a sufficient accounting tool for environmental trade impacts, empirical analysis, such as that in our "Exploring Trade and the Environment" report, offers some insight into the complexities of the relationship between trade and the environment.

Posted in: Environmental Performance Measurement

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