Policy & Politics
Interview: A Scientist’s View
On How to Repair the Planet
For an environmental scientist who studies how humanity is pushing the earth close to potentially disastrous tipping points, Johan Rockström
of a new book, Big World, Small Planet
— is surprisingly optimistic. Although he reckons that our species has crossed four of nine “planetary boundaries,” including those on climate change and deforestation, he believes there is still time to pull back from the brink and create a sustainable future based on renewable energy and a “circular” economy that continually reuses resources. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Rockström describes how an alignment of science, technological advances, and a growing public hunger for action can get civilization back on track. “It’s not a journey where we are backing into the caves,” says Rockström. “It’s a journey of high technology ... and huge, multiple benefits.”
Read the interview.
Forum: What the Pope Should
Say in His Upcoming UN Address
In his June encyclical, Pope Francis issued a call for robust individual action and a sweeping transformation of global economic and
political systems to deal with the dual threats of climate change and environmental degradation. On Sept. 25, he will bring aspects of that message to the United Nations. Yale Environment 360
asked leading thinkers on the environment and religion what they would like the pope to say before the U.N. While many said the pope’s encyclical was a potentially transformative moment for stewardship of the planet, others would like Pope Francis to speak out about issues he overlooked or dismissed, including the role of population growth in environmental problems and the vital part that the private sector must play in combating global warming.
14 Sep 2015:
Global Solar Panel Production
Rate Slowed in Recent Years, Analysis Finds
Solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing has been growing at a slower rate in recent years, increasing by only 4 percent
Solar panel manufacturing facility
annually from 2011 to 2013, compared to an average annual growth of 78 percent from 2006 to 2011, says a U.S. Energy Information Administration
analysis. Globally, solar PV production facilities are producing far fewer solar panels than their maximum capacity allows, the report says. The peak for that metric occurred in 2011, at 70 percent, when 36.6 gigawatts of solar PV modules were produced globally, while the maximum capacity was 52 gigawatts. The slowdown may be explained by complaints of unfair trade practices originating in China, the EIA says. An investigation found that Chinese solar PV modules were being dumped below cost on the U.S. market, and the U.S. Department of Commerce recently enacted anti-dumping measures on Chinese PV modules. The market is reacting to the slow growth by downsizing workforces and consolidating solar PV manufacturing companies, the analysis says.
10 Sep 2015:
Developing Nations Take Lead In
Cutting Forestry and Agriculture Emissions
Countries with the most potential to slash emissions from agriculture and forestry are skimping on climate commitments, while some developing countries are making the boldest and most detailed pledges for cutting land-use-related emissions. That is the conclusion of a new analysis
of climate pledges from China, Canada, Ethiopia, and Morocco by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Major opportunities to cut forestry and farming emissions exist for Canada and, especially, China, the report says. For example, UCS recently found that China could cut CO2 emissions by 1.2 gigatons per year by 2020, but its climate pledge fails to indicate how the country would do that. Canada’s climate pledge is also vague and unambitious, the report says. In contrast, Ethiopia and Morocco have released detailed and ambitious pledges, especially regarding agricultural emissions. An earlier UCS analysis also found that Mexico’s land-use-related climate pledges exceed those from the European Union and the United States.
08 Sep 2015:
NASA Facilities at Risk
From Projected Sea Level Increases
Many of NASA’s key sites for launching spacecraft and carrying out research will be threatened by even moderate increases in sea level
Sea level rise near Johnson Space Center
the U.S. space agency reports. NASA says that half to two-thirds of its laboratories, launch pads, airfields, testing facilities, data centers and other infrastructure are situated at less than 16 feet (5 meters) above sea level. The agency released a handful of maps showing how even a one-foot rise in sea level would impact the operations of major sites such as the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Johnson Space Center in Texas, and the Langley Research Center in Virginia. Conservative projections say global sea level could increase by 5 inches by 2050, and numerous experts on climate change and sea level rise say that the world’s oceans could rise by 3 to 6 feet this century if emissions are not brought under control.
21 Aug 2015:
Retiring Nuclear Power Plants
Undermines Clean Power Plan, Report Says
If U.S. nuclear power plants are retired early or phased out completely, greenhouse gas emissions could revert back
Salem Nuclear Power Plant in southern New Jersey
to 2005 levels and undermine nearly all progress the power sector has made over the last decade in lowering carbon emissions, according to an analysis
by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Third Way. The group found that retired nuclear plants would predominantly be replaced with natural gas power plants, not renewable energy sources, because renewables would not be able to keep pace with lost nuclear capacity. In fact, retiring any of the nation's 99 nuclear power plants would make it extremely difficult to meet the EPA Clean Power Plan's emissions reductions targets of a 32 percent cut below 2005 levels, the group found. Nuclear power currently provides 20 percent of U.S. electricity and 63 percent of its emissions-free power.
19 Aug 2015:
Muslim Scholars Issue Call
To End Fossil Fuel Use and Protect Climate
Prominent Muslim scholars have urged world leaders to end the use of fossil fuels and have asked the planet's 1.6 billion Muslims to consider it their religious duty to slow global warming. The declaration was presented
this week during the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium in Istanbul. It says that governments of wealthy nations, including oil-producing countries, should be "phasing out their greenhouse gas emissions as early as possible and no later than the middle of the century." The declaration includes harsh criticism of developed nations, which the scholars blame for delaying a comprehensive, global agreement on climate change. “Their reluctance to share in the burden they have imposed on the rest of the human community by their own profligacy is noted with great concern,” the document says. Earlier this year, Pope Francis also issued a major statement calling on world leaders and the 1.2 billion Catholics to take better care of the planet.
28 Jul 2015:
Roughly 40 Percent of World
Unaware of Climate Change, Survey Says
Roughly 40 percent of adults worldwide have never heard of climate change, according to an analysis
of global climate change awareness and risk perception published in Nature Climate Change
. The percentage of people unaware of climate change rises to more than 65 percent in developing countries such as Egypt, Bangladesh, and India, whereas only 10 percent of the public is unaware in North America, Europe, and Japan. The findings indicate that strategies for securing public engagement in climate issues will vary from country to country, the researchers say, because different populations perceive climate-related risks very differently. In many African and Asian countries, for example, climate risk is most strongly perceived through noticeable changes in local temperatures. "The contrast between developed and developing countries was striking," said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and co-author of the study.
27 Jul 2015:
President Obama Announces
Major New Limits on Interstate Ivory Trade
President Obama has announced strict new limits
aimed at stemming the global ivory trade which, when implemented,
FWS crushed illegal ivory trinkets in Times Square.
would nearly ban all ivory trade within the United States. The measures also include new restrictions on when ivory can be exported to other countries. “We’re proposing a new rule that bans the sale of virtually all ivory across state lines,” Obama said at a press conference in Kenya on Saturday. Current laws in the U.S. are aimed at controlling the import and export of ivory, while allowing some legal trade among states — a loophole that many illegal ivory dealers have used to their advantage. The new regulation, expected to be finalized later this year, would restrict ivory trade between states to items that are over 100 years old or contain only very small amounts of ivory. The U.S. is estimated to be the world's second largest ivory market, with sales outpacing all nations except China.
16 Jul 2015:
Most States Have Curbed
Power Plant Emissions Ahead of EPA Rule
A large majority of U.S. states — 42 of 50 — have already cut power plant carbon emissions ahead of the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, whose rules will be finalized next month, according to
an analysis published this week. The plan requires each state to limit emissions from its power plants; to do this, many states have closed coal-fired plants and replaced them with natural gas power plants, which release less carbon dioxide. In fact, the report found, the 42 states that have already lowered power plant carbon emissions did so by an average of 19 percent between 2008 and 2013. The report was conducted by the sustainability advocacy group Ceres, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Bank of America, and four large utilities. “Most parts of the country are firmly on the path toward a clean energy future, but some states and utilities have a longer way to go, and overall the carbon emissions curve is not bending fast enough,” Ceres’ president, Mindy Lubber, said.
13 Jul 2015:
Australian Government Curbs
Investments in Wind and Solar Energy
The Australian Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), a government-funded organization that invests in renewable energy, will no
Rooftop solar panels in Western Australia
longer invest in wind technology and small-scale solar projects, the government announced Sunday
. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that the CEFC should invest in new and emerging technologies, and that wind and small-scale solar projects
should instead be supported by the free market. Currently, one-third of CEFC funding, which totals roughly $10 billion, goes to solar projects, the majority of which are small-scale. The funding ban could increase prices for small-scale solar projects such as rooftop photovoltaic panel installations, especially for low-income households, renters, and public housing tenants. The ban on these investments is the latest in a series of actions by the Abbott government to make cuts in environmental initiatives, including two failed attempts to abolish the CEFC.
Interview: How to Get People
To Care About Climate Change
Per Espen Stoknes, a Norwegian psychologist and economist, has been doing a lot of thinking about a question that has
Per Espen Stoknes
bedeviled climate scientists for years: Why have humans failed to deal with the looming threat posed by climate change? That question is the focus of his recent book, What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming
, in which he analyzes what he calls the psychological barriers that have made it difficult to deal realistically with the climate crisis. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Stoknes talks about these barriers and about how the discussion of climate change needs to be reframed. “We need a new kind of stories,” he says, “stories that tell us that nature is resilient and can rebound and get back to a healthier state, if we give it a chance to do so.”
Read the interview.
Interview: How an Indian Politician
Became an Environmental Hawk
Jairam Ramesh was a self-described “economic hawk” when he became India’s environment minister in 2009, figuring that the
country’s ecological problems could wait as India lifted its people out of poverty. But by the time he left his post in 2011, he had become an environmental hawk after witnessing how India’s rapidly expanding economy and soaring population had caused widespread pollution and destruction of the environment. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Ramesh — an economist, parliament member, and author of a new book — talks about why a “grow-now, pay-later” philosophy is unsuitable for India and discusses his own brand of GDP, which he calls Green Domestic Product. “In the mad rush to economic growth ... we are destroying foundations of ecological security,” he says.
Read the interview.
23 Jun 2015:
Linking Disasters to Climate
Makes Skeptics Less Likely to Donate
Linking natural disasters to climate change makes global warming skeptics less likely to donate money to relief efforts, says a study
by psychologists at the University of Massachusetts. They asked study participants to read an article about a drought-related famine; one version of the article attributed the droughts to climate change, and the other version made no mention of climate. The researchers then asked the participants why they would or would not donate money for relief, and about their climate change beliefs. Participants who were skeptical about global warming gave more justifications for not helping the victims when the disaster was attributed to climate change than when it was not, the study found. “What our work suggests is that when a disaster occurs and organizations are appealing to the public for aid, it is best to minimize the inclusion of heavily politicized topics,” lead author Daniel Chapman told ClimateWire
18 Jun 2015:
Pope Calls for Global Action on
Climate Change and Environmental Problems
Pope Francis released today
his highly anticipated encyclical, which is largely focused on halting climate change and
environmental degradation and emphasizes the importance of protecting impoverished communities from the worst effects. This is the first such letter from a leader of the Catholic Church to address environmental issues, analysts say. “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political,” Pope Francis wrote. “It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” Industrialized countries are responsible for most of the damage, he said, and are obligated to help developing nations cope with the looming crisis. Within the document, he delves deeply
into both climate science and economic development policies, and chides climate change skeptics for their "denial."
16 Jun 2015:
Human Data Can Improve
Ecosystem Service Models, Study Says
Protected forests in Brazil, Costa Rica, Indonesia, and Thailand have prevented the release of more than 1 billion tons
Aerial view of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.
of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, an ecosystem service worth at least $5 billion, Georgia State University economists found
. Their conclusion about the monetary benefit of those forest protections is based on a new method they derived for valuing services such as carbon capture, conservation, and improvements in air and water quality. Instead of relying on modeling alone, the new method uses interviews and on-the-ground data to see how conservation programs affect human behavior and impact ecosystems. By combining the two types of information — environmental models and social science data — public officials can gain more realistic insights into how a particular policy might affect the environment and the people who interact with it, the researchers write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
12 Jun 2015:
National Renewable Energy
Targets Quadrupled Since 2005, Study Says
The number of nations with renewable energy targets on the books has quadrupled in the past decade, rising from 43 countries
Nations with renewable energy targets in 2015.
in 2005 to 164 countries today, according to a report
from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Developing and emerging economies account for an overwhelming majority of those renewable energy targets — 131 — and two additional countries, Canada and the United Arab Emirates, have set targets at provincial or regional levels. Most national targets are aimed at the electricity sector — 150 countries have renewable electricity targets — but transportation targets have more than doubled, from 27 to 59 nations, and heating and cooling commitments have increased from two countries in 2005 to 47 today, the report says.
11 Jun 2015:
Deep Sea Coral Canyons off
Atlantic Coast to Gain Fishing Protections
A stretch of ocean that includes more than two dozen undersea coral canyons will become the largest protected area ever
A Paragorgia coral from one of the canyons.
established in U.S. Atlantic waters, after a vote
yesterday by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. The 38,000-square-mile zone encompasses waters at the edge of the continental shelf, from Virginia to Massachusetts, and includes 27 deep sea canyons, some of which are nearly 100 miles long and are as deep as the Grand Canyon. Their steep walls are excellent habitat for a rich array of coral species that thrive in cold Atlantic waters. The new protections will shield rare, vulnerable, and ecologically important coral communities from bottom fishing and trawling — a highly destructive practice that involves dragging nets along the ocean floor, often destroying thousand-year-old coral communities in the process.
01 Jun 2015:
Six Major Fossil Fuel Companies
Call for Governments to Set Carbon Price
Six leading oil and gas companies have called on
governments to enact a carbon-pricing system, saying this would be the most effective way to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The chief executives of Total, Statoil, Royal Dutch Shell, BG Group, BP, and Eni, in a joint letter to the head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said that governments should use regulatory measures to discourage carbon-intensive energy options and to level the playing field for all energy sources, both renewables and fossil fuels. The executives said the companies are willing to do their part, but that governments need to provide a clear, stable, and long-term policy framework. Total chief Patrick Pouyanne said in a news conference that a carbon price of roughly $40 per ton is needed to spur the replacement of coal-fired power stations, which produce twice as much CO2 as those that use natural gas. And a price of $80 to $100 per ton, he said, would justify investing in carbon capture and storage systems.
29 May 2015:
Ozone Benefits of Montreal
Protocol Already Widespread, Study Says
The planet's protective ozone layer is in far better shape today thanks to the United Nations' Montreal Protocol, which came
Ozone hole without the Montreal Protocol
into force in 1987 and restricted the use of ozone-depleting substances such as CFCs, according to a new study in Nature Communications
. The researchers used 3D atmospheric chemistry modeling to look at what might have happened to the ozone layer had the treaty not been implemented. The findings suggest that the Antarctic ozone hole would have grown by an additional 40 percent by 2013 and, had ozone-depleting substances continued to increase, the ozone layer would have become significantly thinner over other parts of the globe. A very large ozone hole over the Arctic would have occurred during the exceptionally cold Arctic winter of 2010-2011 — colder temperatures cause more loss — and smaller Arctic ozone holes would have become a regular occurrence.
27 May 2015:
Power Plant Emissions to Drop
To 1980s Levels Under U.S. Clean Power Plan
The Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to regulate power plant emissions will cut carbon pollution to its lowest
Big Bend coal power plant in Florida
level since the 1980s, reducing CO2 emissions from power plants by 1.6 billion tons per year, according to an analysis
by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The Clean Power Plan, which was proposed last June, sets goals for reducing carbon emissions from existing power plants by 2030. Under the plan, power sector CO2 emissions are projected to fall 25 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 34 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, the EIA analysis found. That would bring CO2 emissions from the power sector down to levels not seen since the early 1980s, the report notes.
26 May 2015:
Officials Uncover “Mass Graves”
Of Illegal Timber in Malaysia Forest Reserve
Malaysian authorities have uncovered timber “mass graves”
where illegal loggers attempted to conceal valuable timber
A "mass grave" containing illegally logged timber.
following a government crackdown on unlawful logging that started in February. The sites, located in the Belum-Temengor forest reserve, were revealed after the recent excavation of patches of land roughly the size of football fields, beneath which an estimated two stories of felled trees were stacked. “We believe that about 400 tons of logs worth more than RM1 million ($250,000 USD) were buried at the three locations and the culprits are waiting for the right time to dig them out and sell them,” says Anuar Mohd Noh, assistant commissioner for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), which conducted a joint operation with the country’s forestry department to track down illicit logging activities.
15 May 2015:
Indonesia Extends Major Logging
Moratorium, Which Critics Decry as Weak
Indonesia has extended a major logging moratorium
aimed at preserving the archipelago's vast swathes
Deforestation for a palm oil plantation in Indonesia.
of tropical rainforest, but environmentalists say the logging ban does not go nearly far enough. The country, home to some of the world's most biodiverse rain forests and endangered species such as tigers and elephants, first enacted the moratorium in 2011, banning new logging permits for primary and virgin forests and peatlands. The moratorium was first extended until 2015, and now has been extended again, to 2017. Environmental groups have criticized the moratorium, however, saying that it still allows deforestation for ventures deemed in the national interest, such as infrastructure projects and agricultural plantations. Indonesia is the largest economy in Southeast Asia and third-largest carbon emitter in the world. Huge swathes of its forests have been chopped down by palm oil, mining, and timber companies.
Interview: How British Columbia
Gained by Putting Price on Carbon
Earlier this month, Ontario announced it will join the carbon cap-and trade-program that Quebec and California participate in.
British Columbia, in 2008, became the first jurisdiction in North America to adopt an economy-wide carbon tax. Stewart Elgie, a professor of law and economics at University of Ottawa, has analyzed the results of that tax and describes them as “remarkable.” In a Yale Environment 360
interview, Elgie says the tax has significantly reduced British Columbia’s fossil fuel use without harming its economy. Citing the lack of support for a carbon tax at the federal level in Canada as well as in the U.S., Elgie warns that “we’re moving toward a global economy that will reward low-carbon, innovative, resource-efficient production. And if we don’t prepare ourselves for that, other countries are going to eat our lunch.”
Read the interview.
29 Apr 2015:
California Governor Orders
Tough New Greenhouse Gas Emissions Target
California will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent compared to 1990 levels over the next 15 years, according to an
California Governor Jerry Brown
issued today by Governor Jerry Brown. The state already has an ambitious climate law on the books, requiring emissions cuts of 80 percent from the 1990 benchmark by 2050. Brown says the new order sets a tough interim target that will be important for ensuring the state meets its 2050 goal. The state's 2030 and 2050 emissions goals build on a law enacted under former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that requires the state to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. California is on track to meet, and possibly exceed, that mark, officials say. Governor Brown has been positioning California as a world leader in efforts to curb climate change ahead of the United Nations climate talks in Paris at the end of this year.
Interview: Oklahoma’s Clear Link
Between Earthquakes and Energy
In recent years, Oklahoma has experienced a stunning increase in the number of earthquakes. Yet despite numerous
studies to the contrary, state officials have remained skeptical of the link between this seismic boom and oil and gas activity. That ended last month with the announcement by the Oklahoma Geological Survey that oil and gas wastewater injection wells were, indeed, the “likely” cause of “the majority” of that state’s earthquakes. Oklahoma geologist Todd Halihan, who has examined this issue, welcomed the announcement. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Halihan outlines some ways that the abnormal seismic activity in Oklahoma might be tamped down. But he also explains why he believes the problem has no quick or easy fixes.
Read the interview.
22 Apr 2015:
Yale Plans to Charge University
Departments for Their Carbon Emissions
Yale University has announced
that it will enact a novel carbon-pricing mechanism in the next academic year in hopes of curbing its greenhouse gas emissions. Devised by a committee led by economist William Nordhaus — an expert on the intersection of climate change and economic policy — the program will operate in a pilot phase for three years before possibly going into full effect, the university said. According to the committee's report, departments within the university would be charged based on how much their carbon emissions deviated from average levels in the past. The report recommends a price of $40 per ton of carbon dioxide, which is based on current federal legislation and the government's estimates for the social cost of carbon. "We didn't see anything like this" when reviewing other institutions' carbon-pricing schemes, Nordhaus told E&E News
, saying he believes Yale's program is the first and most comprehensive of its kind.
21 Apr 2015:
Australia Could Attain
100 Percent Renewables by 2050, Study Says
Australia could reduce its greenhouse emissions significantly and transition to an economy
Windy Hill wind farm in Queensland, Australia.
predominantly fueled by renewable energy for very little cost, according to
an analysis by the Australian National University and WWF. The country could generate 100 percent of its electricity from renewables and have zero net emissions by 2050 because wind and solar technologies have fallen rapidly in price in recent years and Australia is the world's sunniest and windiest continent. Any progress, however, will depend on the government's willingness to set clear, long-term policies and regulations encouraging renewable energy use, the authors note. Under conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Australia's current climate action plan calls for only a five percent cut in emissions from 2000 levels over the next five years.
Interview: For Buddhist Leader,
Religion and Environment Are One
Ogyen Trinley Dorje, spiritual leader of a 900-year-old lineage of Buddhism, says his deep concern for environmental issues
His Holiness the 17th Karmapa
stems from his boyhood living close to the land on the Tibetan plateau. Now, as His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, he is promoting a program that seeks to instill good environmental practices in Buddhist monasteries in the Himalayan region. In an interview with Yale e360
, the Karmapa talks about how ecological awareness fits with the Buddhist concept of interdependence, why the impacts of climate change in the Himalaya are so significant, and what role religion can play in helping meet the world’s environmental challenges. “The environmental emergency that we face is not just a scientific issue, nor is it just a political issue,” he says. “It is also a moral issue.”
Read the interview.
10 Apr 2015:
Coal Power Plant Closings
To Spur Large CO2 Cut in U.S. in 2015
Thanks to the closing of a record number of coal-fired power plants, emissions from the U.S. power sector in 2015 are expected to fall 15 percent below 2005 levels
, according to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The report said that seven percent of the U.S.’s coal-fired power capacity will be shut down this year, and that on the basis of emissions per-unit-of-power-generated, 2015 will be the cleanest year in more than 60 years. The loss of coal-fired power is being made up by cleaner natural gas-fired plants and by rapid growth of renewable energy, Bloomberg noted. U.S. solar power installations are expected to hit a record 9.1 gigawatts, led by California, and wind power installations should hit 8.7 gigawatts, led by Texas. “In 2015 we’ll take a giant, permanent step towards decarbonizing our entire fleet of power plants,” said analyst William Nelson.