Policy & Politics
02 Dec 2014:
New Proposal Outlines
Key Elements for a Global Climate Pact
Coinciding with U.N. climate talks in Lima, Peru, this week, a consortium of policy experts has released a proposal
Key components of a global climate pact
outlining the key ingredients of a comprehensive climate agreement in Paris next year. Three major components of such a pact, the group said, will be a long-term plan to phase out all greenhouse gas emissions as early as possible in the second half of this century; a long-term goal of reducing the vulnerability and building the resilience of communities facing climate impacts; and establishing five-year cycles for assessing and strengthening nations' actions to cut emissions and adapt to climate change. The proposal stresses "fairness, equity, and justice in climate actions," and suggests different timelines and responsibilities for developed and developing countries. The analysis, from experts at 10 research institutions, is based on interviews with climate negotiators and hundreds of government representatives.
Five Questions for Gus Speth
On His Environmental Evolution
In a career that has spanned founding major environmental organizations, heading the United Nations
James "Gus" Speth
Development Programme, and serving as dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, James "Gus" Speth has seen his own ideas about environmental issues change dramatically over the years. Yale Environment 360
asked Speth five questions about his new memoir, Angels by the River
; his growing recognition of the global nature of environmental problems; and his dissatisfaction with the state of the environmental movement in the United States.
01 Dec 2014:
Politics, Not Extreme Weather,
Shape Climate Perceptions, Study Finds
Climate extremes such as droughts and record temperatures are failing to change people’s minds about global warming, according to a recent study
led by Michigan State University sociologists. Instead, political orientation is the most influential factor in shaping perceptions about climate change, both in the short-term and long-term, the researchers found. Some previous studies suggested temperature patterns do influence perceptions about global warming, but none measured climatic conditions as comprehensively as the current research. The study analyzed 50 years of regional climate data and climatic storm-severity measures used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from all 50 states, along with 11 years of public opinion data from Gallup polls on climate change perceptions. Although advocates of climate change reduction efforts hope that experience with a changing climate will eventually convince the public of the reality and seriousness of the problem, the current findings do not bode well for that scenario, the researchers say.
Interview: Bringing Civility and Diversity to Conservation Debate
For the past few years, an acrimonious debate has been ranging between two camps of conservationists. One faction
advocates protecting nature for its intrinsic value. The other claims that if the degradation of the natural world is to be halted, nature’s fundamental value — what nature can do for us
— needs to be stressed. The tone of the rhetoric has led to a petition, published this month in the journal Nature
, that criticizes both sides for indulging in ad hominem attacks and unproductive arguments that have devolved into “increasingly vitriolic, personal battles.” In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Jane Lubchenco, former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, explains why she and her co-signatories are calling for a more “inclusive conservation” and why the bickering needs to stop. Read more.
12 Nov 2014:
U.S. and China Announce
Historic Emissions Reduction Pledges
In what could prove to be a momentum-setting piece of diplomacy, the United States and China — which together account for a third of the planet's greenhouse gas emissions — jointly announced
plans to pursue significant cuts in those emissions over the coming 10 to 15 years. Among the details of the joint pledges, unveiled as part of meetings this week between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama in Beijing, were commitments from the U.S. to cut its CO2 emissions by between 26 percent and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. China, meanwhile, pledged to halt emissions growth by 2030, or earlier, and to increase the nation's share of non-fossil energy sources to roughly 20 percent over the same time frame. The inability of the world's two most consequential economies to agree on an approach to emissions reductions has been a key stumbling block in international climate negotiations for nearly two decades, and the announcement was met with cautious optimism by many climate experts, who characterized it as an important first step toward a global treaty.
11 Nov 2014:
New Mapping Tool Highlights
Carbon-Trapping Forests in Peru
A new, high-resolution mapping technique can be used to help identify and prioritize tracts of forest land with the highest
Map of carbon storage potential of land in Peru
carbon-sequestering potential, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
. In the study, researchers with the Carnegie Institution for Science applied the technique, which integrated satellite imaging data and advanced, three-dimensional forest mapping information, to the 128 million hectares that comprise the nation of Peru. The analysis considered each landscape's unique climate, topography, geology, and hydrology to produce a map showing a range of landscapes with varying carbon densities — a potentially crucial tool as nations prepare to negotiate global forest protections as part of United Nations climate talks next month Lima, Peru.
10 Nov 2014:
Public Views of Climate Science Hinge on Solutions, New Study Finds
People often evaluate scientific evidence not on the basis of its perceived merits, but on whether they agree with the policy implications of the research, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
. Using issues like climate change and air pollution as test cases, Duke University researchers sought to determine if what they call a "solution aversion" bias could be detected among self-identified Republican or Democratic survey participants. In one example, participants were provided a scientific assertion that global average temperatures could rise as much as 3.2 degrees by the end of the century, after which they were presented with potential policy solutions. If that solution involved government regulation or increased taxes, just 22 percent of Republican participants expressed confidence in the initial scientific finding. But if the solution emphasized using market forces to curb temperatures, the percentage of Republicans accepting the initial temperature predictions rose to 55 percent. Self-identified Democrats displayed no difference in the same experiment, but liberal biases were clearly elicited on other issues, the researchers found.
07 Nov 2014:
Organized Chinese Crime Behind Tanzania's Elephant Slaughter, Report Says
Chinese-led criminal organizations have been conspiring with corrupt Tanzanian officials to traffic huge amounts
Poached elephant skull in Selous Reserve
of ivory — a trade that has caused half of Tanzania’s elephants to be poached in the past five years — according to a report
by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency. In some cases, Chinese military officials appeared to be complicit in the illegal activities, the report says, and in other instances, prominent Tanzanian businessmen and politicians helped protect ivory traffickers. Tanzania is the largest source of poached ivory in the world, and China is the largest importer of smuggled tusks, according to EIA. Tanzania’s famed Selous Reserve saw its elephant population plunge by 67 percent in four years, from 50,000 animals to 13,000. Tanzania appears to have lost more elephants to poaching during this period than any other country, EIA said.
06 Nov 2014:
Scientists Call For Greater Diversity of Viewpoints on Conservation
In a call to arms published this week in the journal Nature
, a group of more than 200 environmental scientists, academics and others involved in the fields of conservation research, policy and advocacy, condemned what they called a lack of diversity within their ranks and the philosophical polarization they say it has engendered. Spearheaded by Heather Tallis, lead scientist at the Nature Conservancy, and Jane Lubchenco, a professor of marine biology at Oregon State University and former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the commentary argues that a once-spirited but constructive debate between two conservation philosophies — one viewing nature as intrinsically valuable, the other connecting its value with its utility — was now mired in vitriol and acrimony. "We believe that this situation is stifling productive discourse, inhibiting funding and halting progress," the authors wrote, adding that the situation was being made worse because the "dispute has become dominated by only a few voices, nearly all of them men’s."
05 Nov 2014:
Norway Best Prepared Nation
For Climate Change, Global Index Shows
Norway is the best prepared country for climate change, and has been so for almost 20 years, according to
compiled by the University of Notre Dame. New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark rounded out the top five, while Chad, Burundi, Eritrea, Central African Republic, and Congo make up the bottom of the Global Adaptation Index. The rankings highlight the disparities between the world’s relatively wealthy, developed nations and its developing economies when it comes to dealing with climate change. Many of the highest ranking countries do face moderate exposure to climate change, the researchers said, but access to amenities such as electricity, sanitation, clean drinking water, and functional governance have left them better prepared. The economies of many developing countries, however, depend on natural resources, which makes their political and economic stability more susceptible to climate change. The index ranked 178 countries on their vulnerability and readiness to adapt to natural disasters associated with global warming.
Interview: Saving World’s Oceans Begins With Coastal Communities
Aggressively curbing overfishing, pollution, and development is something coastal communities
can do immediately to protect their ocean resources — and with dramatic results — says marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. As the executive director of the Waitt Institute
, an ocean conservation organization, Johnson recently put that approach to the test on the Caribbean island of Barbuda. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, she discusses how she helped Barbuda craft rules to protect its ocean resources and why she favors community-driven conservation efforts over more top-down approaches.
Read the interview.
03 Nov 2014:
Climate Impacts To Be Severe and Irreversible Without Emission Cuts, UN Says
Climate change will have “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” on society and the environment
The U.N. climate panel's synthesis report was released on November 2.
unless nations swiftly and drastically cut carbon emissions — a goal that, while difficult, still remains within reach, according to a comprehensive new United Nations climate report released this week. Failure to curb emissions by the end of the century will likely lead to food shortages, refugee crises, the flooding of major coastal cities and entire island nations, and dangerous yet routine heat waves, among other impacts, the analysis concluded. But the panel also said for the first time that combating climate change is economically feasible. The new U.N. report synthesizes the findings from a series of analyses released over the past year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the panel's first major update since 2007.
15 Oct 2014:
U.S. Climate Envoy Says All
Nations, Rich and Poor, Must Curb Emissions
The negotiating architecture that has governed the decades-long pursuit of an international climate
Climate Envoy Todd Stern
agreement is outdated, said Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change at the State Department and the nation’s lead climate negotiator. In remarks delivered at Yale University’s Law School on Tuesday, Stern reiterated the U.S. position
that all nations — both rich ones and developing ones — must be brought together under one agreement that includes pledges to cut emissions. "This split between developed and developing countries in the climate convention is the singular fault line in these negotiations," Stern said, "and has been from the beginning." Under the recently expired Kyoto protocol, developing countries like China and India were exempted from committing to emissions cuts. Climate talks are scheduled to resume in Lima, Peru later this year, with a goal of achieving a new and fully global treaty at a meeting in Paris in 2015. That pact, Stern argued, ought to require all nations to submit emissions reduction targets, tailored as needed to national interests and abilities.
Interview: A Call for Climate Goals Other Than Two Degrees Celsius
When international delegates meet in Paris next year to negotiate a new climate agreement, they'll be aiming to keep the global average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees
Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the maximum seen by many for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. But David Victor, a professor of international relations at University of California San Diego, argued in a recent controversial commentary in Nature
that the 2-degree goal is now unattainable and should be replaced by more meaningful goals. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Victor explains why he believes the 2-degree threshold has failed to position policy makers to take serious action on climate change and outlines the "basket of indicators" that he and his co-author are suggesting be used instead. Read the interview.
24 Sep 2014:
Nations Announce Agreement
To End Forest Loss by 2030 at UN Summit
The U.S., Canada, and the European Union agreed at yesterday's UN climate summit to cut global
Deforestation for palm oil in Malaysian Borneo
deforestation in half by the end of the decade and eliminate net forest losses entirely by 2030, marking the first time such a deadline has been set. If the goal is met, it will cut carbon emissions by an amount equal to taking 1 billion vehicles — every car on the planet — off the road, the UN said
. Notably missing from the list of committed countries was Brazil, which has been a key player in Amazon deforestation, because of concerns that the pledge would clash with national laws permitting managed deforestation. Critics say ending deforestation is nearly impossible without Brazil's cooperation. In addition to the 32 national governments that signed onto the declaration, 35 corporations, including Kellogg's, L'Oreal, and Nestle, pledged to support sustainable forest practices in their supply chains.
23 Sep 2014:
Food Security Issues Often
Neglected After Extreme Weather Events
Extreme weather events — the sort likely to arise with increasing frequency as the planet warms — took a heavy toll on Russia and East Africa in 2010 and 2011, in large part because governments and authorities were ill-equipped to address resulting food shortages and other fallout, according to researchers at the University of Oxford. Russia experienced a heat wave that led to food hoarding and price-fixing of staple crops by speculators, according to the report, which was commissioned by Oxfam
. A drought in East Africa in 2010 through 2011 was tied to an uptick in armed conflicts in the region, which interrupted international and domestic aid for six months. Crop prices reached record levels in several markets, including wheat in Ethiopia, maize in Kenya, and red sorghum grain in Somalia, the report notes. Investing in additional health facilities, establishing pre-positioned food supplies, and other tactics aimed at mitigating the effects of future heat waves, droughts, and floods, could help to blunt the effects of climate change on the poorest and most vulnerable populations, the researchers say.
19 Sep 2014:
Global Population on Track to
Reach 11 Billion by 2100, Researchers Say
A new analysis of United Nations global population data finds an 80-percent probability that the number of
people in the world, now 7.2 billion, will increase to between 9.6 and 12.3 billion in 2100. Published in the journal Science
, the study counters the widely accepted projection that global population will peak at roughly 9 billion by 2050, then gradually decline. The new study instead finds a 70-percent likelihood that population will grow continuously throughout the century to reach 10.9 billion by 2100. Researchers attribute the higher projections, in part, to increasing fertility rates in sub-Saharan Africa, where population growth had been predicted to continue slowing. The Guardian
notes that many widely cited global policy assessments, such as recommendations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, assume a population peak by 2050.
16 Sep 2014:
Tackling Climate Change Could
Pay Off in as Little as 15 Years, Report Finds
Limiting greenhouse gas emissions globally over the next 15 years is both economically feasible and likely to save money, according to a new report
from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. Between 2015 and 2030, nations are expected to invest roughly $90 trillion in urban land-use and energy infrastructure, the analysis estimated. Steering those investments toward renewable energy, efficiency improvements, and other low-emission technologies would make that global investment more costly, the panel of government and business leaders conceded. But these costs could eventually be offset by the lowered operating costs associated with renewable power, the report suggested. Although they are difficult to quantify, health care savings associated with improved air quality would also offset costs. According to the report, the biggest challenges for governments will be enacting stronger rules and policies that favor low-carbon development, such as cutting the $600 billion currently spent on fossil fuel subsidies.
08 Sep 2014:
U.S. Dietary Guidelines Would
Lead to Rise in Emissions, Study Says
Following U.S. federal guidelines for a healthy diet is likely to increase greenhouse gas emissions, even though the guidelines recommend a diet with less meat than the average American currently consumes, according to a recent analysis in the Journal of Industrial Ecology
. Compared to U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines, American's don't eat enough fruits, vegetables, seafood, and dairy, and they consume too much meat, eggs, nuts, soy, oils, solid fats, and added sugars. If the population were to shift its diet to match USDA guidelines, greenhouse gas emissions would actually rise by 12 percent, researchers found, because calories from meat, eggs, fats, and sugars would largely be replaced by dairy products. Methane emissions
from dairy and beef cattle contribute significantly to atmospheric greenhouse gas levels. The findings highlight a need to consider both environmental and health objectives when making dietary recommendations, the researchers say.
Interview: Calling for Moratorium
On Development of Tar Sands Oil
In a recent commentary in Nature
, aquatic ecologist Wendy Palen and seven colleagues were sharply critical of the way that Canada and the United States have gone
about developing Alberta’s vast tar sands deposits and the infrastructure needed to transport those fossil fuels to market. Rather than looking at the cumulative impact of this massive energy development on the climate and the environment, Palen and her co-authors wrote, major decisions have been made in piecemeal fashion. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Palen talks about why a moratorium on new tar sands developments is needed, how the decision-making process is biased in favor of short-term economic benefits, why the fate of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline is critical, and what can be done to begin factoring in the real costs of exploiting the tar sands.
Read the interview.
27 Aug 2014:
Obama Seeks Climate
Accord Without Congressional Approval
The Obama administration is aiming to forge a legally binding, international agreement that would cut fossil
fuel emissions and direct funds to poor nations dealing with climate change, without ratification from Congress, The New York Times
reports. The agreement would combine legally binding updates to an existing 1992 climate change treaty — allowing Obama to sidestep the constitutional requirement that treaties be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate — with voluntary pledges for specific emissions targets and aid to help poorer countries adapt to climate change. Nations would then be legally required to report progress toward their emissions targets at international meetings that would "name and shame" countries making slow or no progress, the Times
reports. Lawmakers from both political parties say that no climate agreement requiring congressional approval could be reached in the near future. Republican leaders are expected to oppose the agreement being worked on by the administration and say it would be an abuse of executive authority.
25 Aug 2014:
Health Care Savings Can Far
Outweigh Costs of Carbon-Cutting Policies
Implementing policies to curb carbon emissions dramatically cuts health care costs associated with poor air quality — in some cases, by more than 10 times the cost of policy implementation, according to
new research published in Nature Climate Change
. Policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions are as effective as laws targeting polluting compounds like ground-level ozone, also known as smog, and fine particulate matter, the MIT researchers say. An analysis of three climate policies — a clean-energy standard, a transportation policy, and a cap-and-trade program — found that savings from avoided health problems could recoup 26 percent of the cost of implementing a transportation policy, and up to to 10.5 times the cost of implementing a cap-and-trade program. A cap-and-trade program would cost roughly $14 billion to implement, whereas a transportation policy with rigid fuel-economy requirements could cost more than $1 trillion, according to the analysis.
19 Aug 2014:
Wind Energy Prices at
All-Time Low, According to U.S. Report
The cost of wind power in the U.S. is at an all-time low of 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour, according to a new report
from the U.S. Department of Energy, and utility companies are in some cases electing to use wind as an energy source over fossil fuels because of its low cost. Although wind power grew modestly in 2013 — installations were only 8 percent of those seen in the record year of 2012 — it now meets 4.5 percent of U.S. energy needs, producing enough electricity to power 16 million homes. The country ranks second only to China in installed wind capacity, the report says, and wind power accounts for 33 percent of all new U.S. electric capacity additions since 2007. That progress has been heavily dependent on federal, state, and local incentives, however, and wind power's growth could slow if those incentives expire. Its viability could also fall if natural gas becomes more affordable than wind, the report cautions.
11 Aug 2014:
Climate Effects of Keystone XL
Significantly Underestimated, Study Finds
The U.S. State Department's final environmental review of the Keystone XL Pipeline may have underestimated carbon dioxide emissions associated with the pipeline by as much as four times, according to
a new study published in Nature Climate Change
. The addition of Keystone XL crude oil to the market will drive global oil prices down, the authors say, which in turn will increase demand for oil worldwide — by as much as 0.6 barrels for every barrel of Keystone XL oil added to the market. The extra oil consumption could add up to 110 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere each year, an amount four times larger than the State Department's estimate of up to 27 million tons annually, according to the study. President Obama has said he will let the pipeline proceed only if it will not "significantly exacerbate" greenhouse gas emissions. The State Department's final review determined that the pipeline's effect on climate change would be negligible, but that analysis did not take into account the increase in crude oil demand that could be sparked by Keystone XL, the authors of the new study say.
08 Aug 2014:
China Added Large Amount
Of Solar Power in First Half of 2014
In the first half of 2014, China added 3.3 gigawatts of solar power — as much as is installed in the entire
Distributed solar in Kunming, China
continent of Australia — China's National Energy Administration reports
. The country now has 23 gigawatts of solar power installed, which is nearly twice that of the United States. China, the world's largest carbon emitter, has set a goal of 35 gigawatts of installed solar power by the end of next year. The nation's push toward solar energy will include distributed solar, such as rooftop and ground-mounted installations near homes and municipal buildings, Chinese officials say, and the government could announce distributed solar incentive programs later this month, Bloomberg News reports. Renewable energy, especially solar, has become a high priority for the Chinese government as major cities and industrial areas have experienced choking air pollution. Earlier this week, officials announced that Beijing would ban coal use by 2020.
31 Jul 2014:
U.S. Public and Congress Similarly
Split on Environmental Spending, Study Says
American citizens are increasingly divided over the issue of environmental protection and seem to be taking their cue primarily from Congress, according to
new research from Michigan State University. The gap between conservatives who oppose environmental protection and liberals who support it has risen drastically in the past 20 years, the study found. A national poll from 2012 (the most recent data in the study) with a question on environmental spending indicated that 68 percent of Democrats believe the country has spent too little on the environment, versus only 40 percent of Republicans. The polling data, which reach back to 1974, indicate the gap started growing particularly wide in 1992, a year after the fall of the Soviet Union. At that point, the researchers say, the conservative movement replaced the “Red Scare” with the “Green Scare” and became increasingly hostile toward environmental protection, a trend amplified in recent years by the Tea Party.
Interview: Making the Rights of
Farm Animals a Basic Green Issue
Conservation organizations have long sought to protect pandas, polar bears, and pelicans, but the welfare of
farm animals has largely been left to activist animal-welfare groups like the Humane Society of the United States
. For the past 10 years, that organization has been headed by the politically savvy Wayne Pacelle, who has greatly increased its visibility and influence. Under his leadership, the society has lobbied successfully to curb what it calls the worst excesses of “factory farms.” In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Pacelle talked about how treatment of farm animals is linked to greenhouse gas emissions, why his group is promoting “meatless Mondays,” and why consumers should be willing to pay more for products from animals that are sustainably raised.
24 Jul 2014:
Protecting Community Forests
Is a Major Tool in Climate Fight, Study Says
Expanding and strengthening the community forest rights of indigenous groups and rural residents can make a major contribution to sequestering carbon and
The Brazilian Amazon
reducing CO2 emissions from deforestation, according to a new report
. The World Resources Institute
(WRI) and the Rights and Resources Initiative
said that indigenous people and rural inhabitants in Latin America, Africa, and Asia have government-recognized rights to forests containing nearly 38 billion tons of carbon, equal to 29 times the annual emissions of all the world’s passenger vehicles. By enforcing community rights to those forests
, the study said, governments can play a major role in tackling climate change. In the Brazilian Amazon, for example, deforestation rates are 11 times lower in community forests than in forests outside those areas. In areas where community forest rights are ignored, deforestation rates often soar. The report made five major recommendations, from better enforcement of community forest zones to compensating communities for the benefits their forests provide.
21 Jul 2014:
India Doubles Coal Tax to
Fund Ambitious Clean Energy Initiatives
India's finance minister has doubled the tax on coal imported to or mined in the country, raising the tariff from $0.83 to $1.67 per metric ton, with plans to use the revenue to fund a host of renewable energy projects over the next decade, Clean Technica
reports. The revenue will be added to the National Clean Energy Fund, which was established to provide low-cost financing for renewable energy projects. The fund's scope will be expanded to include environmental projects as well as clean energy research and development, including a national wind energy program, four major solar power projects, and an initiative that aims to establish transmission corridors for distributing electricity from renewable energy sources. The revenue will also be used to fund a new, separate ministry focused on cleaning the heavily polluted Ganges River. The tax could raise as much as $1.2 billion in the first year, according to estimates.
18 Jul 2014:
Germany Tops Energy-Efficiency
Ranking and U.S. Scores Near Bottom
Germany tops a new energy efficiency ranking of the world’s major economies, followed by Italy, China, France, and Japan, according to
the American Council
for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The United States ranked 13th out of 16 nations, behind countries such as India, China, and Canada, although new carbon pollution standards proposed this June for existing power plants would be a major stride in the right direction, the ACEEE said. The group also admonished Australia, which ranked 10th, for demonstrating "a clear backward trend" in adopting energy efficiency measures. Germany took the top spot largely due to regulations it has imposed on commercial and residential buildings. And China, despite lax enforcement of building codes, uses less energy per square foot than any other country, the analysis found.