On the Environment
Monday, October 31, 2011
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.
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.
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!
Friday, October 21, 2011
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.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
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. 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.
 Federal Statistical Office, Germany. “17% of Germany’s electricity consumption was met by renewable energy in 2010” Press release No. 144, April 11, 2011.
Monday, October 17, 2011
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 fat 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.
Monday, October 10, 2011
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/
Thursday, October 06, 2011
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?
Monday, October 03, 2011
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.
2010 Environmental Performance Index
Friday, September 02, 2011
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 . 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 . 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  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 .
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  while critics underscore imbalanced regional investment patterns  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.
 Kosa, Chea and Mara, Yos (2006), "Children's Empowerment through Education Services (CHES) Project in Siem Reap Province," in Winrock International (ed.), (Phnom Penh).
 Doherty, Ben (2010), "Angkor Butterfly Hunters Tell of Poverty Amid Tourist Wealth," The Guardian.
 Names have been changed.
 van Mansvelt, Rogier (2011) "Biodigester User Survey 2009-2011," for NBP, Phnom Penh
 Capoor, Karan and Ambrosi, Philippe (2010), "State and Trends of the Carbon Market 2010," (Washington DC: The World Bank).
 UNEP RISOE, CDM in Charts, Accessed July 2011.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
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. 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” 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. 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. 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)  to an Air Quality Index (AQI) that more closely resembles the U.S. version . While the proposed amendments include significant improvements – such as including ozone measurements, improved calculation methodologies, and standardizing color-coding schemes – PM 2.5  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 .
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.
 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.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
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.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
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.
Friday, July 22, 2011
By Guest Author, Diana Connett, MEM '12, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and Jay Emerson, Associate Professor of Statistics, Yale University
Some of the most influential institutions in the international trade realm are integrating environmental concerns into their trade-related work. Groups such as the WTO, World Bank, United Nations, OECD, and various multilateral trade groups, have convened workgroups to flesh-out definitions of ‘environmental goods and services.’ The challenge, as is usually the case with environmental data, is how best to quantify the associations between trade and environmental conditions.
This is a difficult challenge. The world of environmental metrics is young and evolving (unlike the longstanding world of more traditional trade statistics). And connecting quantifiable environmental values to quantifiable economic values (or the narrower subset of quantifiable trade values), and vice versa, is particularly problematic. There is, for instance, currently no internationally recognized system of environmental accounts. There is also no universally-agreed-upon environmental equivalent to GDP, or the stock market, and so different organizations have developed their own frameworks for assessing relationships between environmental conditions and trade.
Our latest report, “Exploring Trade and the Environment,” is one attempt to connect quantifiable environmental values to quantifiable economic values. Building on eleven years of research in environmental metrics, and the resulting Environmental Performance Index, the report explores ways of assessing quantifiable associations between environmental factors and trade statistics. One of its more straightforward, yet still significant, findings is a strong correlation between high levels of trade and low environmental impacts on human health (see the ENVHEALTH category in the figure below).
Bivariate associations of environmental performance, trade flows, and GDP per capita. Scatterplots of each pair of variables appear above the diagonal; associated correlations and a record of missingness appear below the diagonal, with shading indicating the sign and strength of the correlation.
To appreciate what this really means, it’s important to understand the data underlying the terminology we use. ‘Environmental impacts on human health’ comes from the World Health Organization’s ‘Disability-Adjusted Life Years’ (DALYs) measure, and ‘levels of trade’ refers to the percent of a country’s GDP that is generated by imports and exports. The DALY metric is composed of, among other things, measures of infrastructure, such as access to improved drinking water and sanitation sources. The variable itself has a strong correlation with GDP. The finding of a ‘strong association between trade levels and environmental impacts on human health’ is thus hardly surprising: countries with more robust trade also typically have better water and sanitation infrastructure.
On a deeper level, perhaps what is most interesting about this finding is that it demonstrates the interconnectedness of policy problems and solutions. For policymakers in the developing world, for instance, our analysis suggests that improving human health means not only the obvious actions of increased water and sanitation infrastructure investments, but it also means putting in place policies that increase overall national trade levels.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
By Guest Author, Yaron Schwartz, Research Assistant, Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released this past Friday the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), a new and potentially powerful regulation that limits the amount of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) that can cross state borders. CSAPR is a response to the environmental dilemma created by airborne pollutants that can disperse widely and across state boundaries, a dilemma that particularly afflicts the eastern half of the United States (for instance, sulfur dioxide emissions from a Pennsylvania power plant creating acid rain in New York’s Adirondacks). Under CSAPR, 27 states will be required by 2014 to cut their SO2 emissions to 2.4 million tons per year and their NOx emissions to 1.2 million tons per year, down from 8.8 million tons and 2.6 million tons in 2005.
CSAPR’s public health and environment benefits could be vast. The EPA announced that they expect the rule to prevent 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 19,000 cases of acute bronchitis, 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and 1.8 million sick days a year beginning in 2014. The EPA also estimated that CSAPR’s benefits will overwhelmingly outweigh its costs. The following graphic tells the story well.
For more information about the EPA’s new rule on cross-state pollution, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/airtransport/.
Friday, July 08, 2011
By Susanne Stahl
A few weeks ago, the House passed the 2012 agriculture appropriations bill, which cut $2.7 billion from the previous year’s level, including $760 million from conservation programs, $686 million from the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program, and $354 million from research; the House also passed an amendment that prohibits USDA from spending money to implement climate change adaption planning into its programs and policies.
The appropriations bill – and the debate surrounding it – offer an interesting preview of the 2012 Farm Bill discussion. The farm bill funds a variety of programs including conservation programs, nutrition programs, rural development, crop insurance, and crop subsidies. The legislation is reauthorized every five years, allowing lawmakers the chance to review and revise programs. With such disparate interests competing for a portion of what is sure to be a much smaller pot of money, something will have to give.
The Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy visited with Chris Clayton, ag policy editor at DTN/The Progressive Farmer, for some perspective on this and other ag policy issues.
YCELP: What do you think will happen with conservation spending in the next farm bill?
CLAYTON: We’re going to have some real challenges in the 2012 Farm Bill for conservation spending. You have 17 conservation programs, all of them have different constituencies or groups -- some of them are overextended, which means more people want to sign up for them every year than there’s money for them. But they’re all going to face cuts in this next farm bill, and that’s going to affect the ability for farmers to address issues such as erosion and nitrogen and phosphorus in the waterways. If you don’t have the funding through conservation programs, if the incentives from the conservation title of the farm bill are taken away, then you talk about maybe actual regulations stepping in and filling the void.
For a full list of USDA’s conservation programs, visit USDA's website here.
YCELP: How will producers compensate?
CLAYTON: It’s going to become a more complicated matter because these issues -- whether it’s water, air, or climate -- aren’t going to go away, but the funding is going to be more difficult, and we’ll have to start thinking in different ways of providing incentives for farmers to do these things environmentally -- or your just going to hear constant kicking and screaming about EPA because they could very well be regulated through the courts or rules and regulations and not have real incentive programs to help them reduce runoff and protect the soil. It’s going to be real difficult moneywise in this next farm bill.
But the problem I think is it also requires people to think outside the box a little more than they want to. I don’t think it’s necessarily a lack of money, it’s a lack of thinking outside the box -- what can we do differently and achieve the same results.
YCELP: Is climate change a concern that producer and farm groups are discussing?
CLAYTON: Some groups and people are talking about it quite a bit.
If you look at the issues that agriculture has to address in conservation -- nitrogen and phosphorus runoff in the waterways being a key one -- all of these things are interrelated and can be addressed by the same type of conservation practices. We have to figure out ways to mitigate and adapt, but if you are putting in cover crops or double cropping over the winter you’re also reducing the potential of erosion; you’re also reducing nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into the waterways, you’re also potentially getting a second biomass crop that can be used for energy or a second feed crop that can be used for livestock.
And despite the rebuke from the House of Representatives (regarding funding for climate change adaptation planning), USDA continues to emphasize research on how farmers and livestock producers can deal with extensive production challenges stemming from climate change. USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture recently announced 13 grants totaling more than $53 million to study ways agriculture and forestry can adapt to climate change and take advantage of variable climate patterns. These grants carry forward a series of climate-related projects USDA began rolling out last February that includes three separate $20-million grants for five-year studies on how climate change will affect corn in the Midwest, forests in the Southeast and wheat in the Northwest.
For more on this topic, see Chris Clayton’s recent post House Says USDA Can't Adapt to Climate Change and his article Climate Keeps USDA Adapting.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
By Guest Author, Yaron Schwartz, Research Assistant, Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy
In a creative effort to curb carbon emissions, six states, along with New York City and several land trusts, decided to pursue a different policy tactic than previous environmental campaigns. Rather than lobbying for Congressional legislation, this coalition sued five major electric utilities and the Tennessee Valley Authority in 2004, claiming that their emissions constituted a public nuisance and, therefore, should be regulated by the courts under federal common law. The case eventually reached the Supreme Court, bringing national attention to this environmental campaign and issue.
This week, however, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the defendants in American Electric Power v. Connecticut. The Court stated that it was the responsibility of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as charged under the Clean Air Act to regulate US carbon emissions, not that of the courts. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued, "Congress set up the EPA to promulgate standards for emissions, and the relief you're seeking seems to me to set up a district judge, who does not have the resources, the expertise, as a kind of super EPA."
While undoubtedly a setback for those who desire real reductions in U.S. carbon emissions, this case may still have a silver lining. By highlighting the responsibility of the EPA to set standards for carbon emissions, the Court has placed renewed pressure on the EPA to take meaningful action on climate change. The Court’s decision has also clarified the stakes for all concerned. As long as Congress refuses to address climate change through new legislative solutions, the EPA will remain the only national policymaking body in the United States with the ability to tackle the problem. Efforts to impede or constrain EPA’s regulatory authority under the Clean Air Act now seem doubly dangerous.
Read the Court’s official decision in American Electric Power v. Connecticut.