Policy & Politics
Interview: What Lies Behind the
Surge of Deforestation in Amazon
Ecologist Philip Fearnside has lived and worked in the Brazilian Amazon for 30 years and is one of the foremost authorities on
deforestation in the world’s largest tropical forest. A professor at the National Institute for Research in the Amazon, Fearnside is now watching with alarm as, after a decade of declining deforestation rates, the pace of cutting in the Amazon is on the rise again. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Fearnside explains the factors behind the resurgence in deforestation and warns that the Amazon will sustain even graver losses if Brazil’s newly re-elected President Dilma Rousseff — who is backed by large landowners and agribusiness interests — doesn’t change course.
Read the interview.
06 Mar 2015:
Los Angeles City Council Says
Vegetables Can Be Grown Along Sidewalks
The Los Angeles, California, City Council voted
this week to allow residents to grow fruits
Planting in a parkway in Los Angeles, Calif.
and vegetables in the small strips of city-owned land between the sidewalk and street. Doing so used to require a $400 permit, essentially preventing lower-income residents from using the green spaces, which are also known as parkways. Community groups have been pushing for many years to do away with the permit fee in hopes of improving low-income communities' access to healthy foods, and the council has been working on the ordinance change for almost two years. The mayor is expected to approve the change next week, and if he does, the ordinance will go into effect in 30 days.
20 Feb 2015:
Wind Produced 10 Percent of
Texas Electricity in 2014, Grid Operator Says
More than 10 percent of the electricity used in Texas last year came from wind turbines, according to
General locations of wind plants in Texas.
Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state's electric grid. Wind's share of the Texas electric mix grew from just over 6 percent in 2009 to 10.6 percent in 2014. During that period, wind power generation actually doubled — rising from 18.8 million megawatt-hours to 36.1 million — while total electricity generation in Texas also rose by 11 percent. The share of electricity generated by wind power in Texas is more than double the U.S. figure of 4.4 percent. The growth in wind generation in Texas is a result of new wind plants coming online and grid expansions that have allowed more wind power to flow through the system to consumers, the council said.
Interview: Why Ocean Health Is
Better, and Worse, Than You Think
In a recent groundbreaking study in Science
, a group of marine experts — including lead author Douglas
McCauley — delivered a sobering message: The world’s oceans are on the verge of major change that could cause irreparable damage to marine life. While ocean ecosystems are still largely intact, the marine world is facing unprecedented disturbances, including ocean acidification and habitat destruction from deep-sea mining, oil and gas drilling, development, and aquaculture. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, McCauley discusses the parallels of the loss of wildlife on land and at sea and explains why creating marine reserves and establishing international ocean zoning regulations would help blunt the damage from a looming “marine industrial revolution.”
Read the interview.
11 Feb 2015:
Learning About Geoengineering
Spurs More Agreement on Climate, Study Says
Geoengineering, an experimental series of technologies aimed at counteracting the effects of climate change, could potentially diminish political polarization over global warming, according to new research
. Roughly 3,000 participants in a study displayed more open-mindedness toward evidence of climate change and more agreement on the significance of such evidence after learning about geoengineering technologies, according to a study conducted by researchers at Yale and other universities. Participants became more polarized when they were told that curbing climate change would require reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the researchers report. The findings come after a report this week from the U.S. National Research Council
recommended limited government-sponsored research into the use of sulfate aerosols, a potential geoengineering strategy known as albedo modification.
As Arctic Ocean Ice Vanishes,
Questions About Future Fishing
With the steady retreat of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean opening up vast areas of this long-frozen marine basin, a key resource
A Russian fishing vessel trawls the Arctic Ocean.
issue is now emerging: the future of fisheries, especially in central Arctic waters. What species are migrating into the region as sea ice disappears? And could the heart of the Arctic Ocean sustain a commercial fishery in the coming decades? These issues were central to a discussion at a recent conference on the fisheries of the central Arctic Ocean. With more southerly fish species migrating into warmer and increasingly ice-free regions of the Arctic Ocean, officials from the U.S. and Canada say it’s important to negotiate an international agreement on fishing before allowing fisheries to open.
Read the article.
Interview: Giving Local Women
A Voice in Grass-Roots Conservation
The roles of women in traditional societies can be quite different from men’s, and their knowledge of the
natural world and the way in which conservation projects affect them may also be different. But these variables aren’t necessarily taken into account when developing such projects. The results can range from missed opportunities to project failure. Earlier this year, Conservation International began piloting guidelines to help integrate gender considerations into its community projects — an initiative that Kame Westerman, the "gender advisor" for that organization, helped develop. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Westerman discusses these guidelines, as well as the perils of ignoring gender when planning conservation initiatives.
07 Jan 2015:
Federal Judge Halts Hunting
And Trapping of Great Lakes Gray Wolves
A federal judge has stopped
the hunting and trapping of gray wolves in the Upper Midwest,
following their removal from the U.S. Endangered Species List in 2012 by the Obama administration. In the ruling, which affects gray wolf populations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan — the so-called Great Lakes wolf population — the judge called the delisting of the wolves “arbitrary and capricious” and said it violated the Endangered Species Act
. The order came roughly three years after federal protections for the wolves were dropped by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Since then, the states have each held hunting seasons, resulting in 923 gray wolves killed in Minnesota, 654 in Wisconsin, and 22 in Michigan for a total of 1,599 killed. Researchers estimate that roughly 3,700 gray wolves live in the Great Lakes region.
Beyond Lima: Major Investors
Must Fund Global Green Initiatives
Much of the discussion at the recent U.N. climate talks in Lima, Peru, was about the financing that
Climate talks in Lima stretched into Sunday.
will be needed to decarbonize the world’s energy supply, improve efficiency, and redesign cities and transportation systems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As journalist Isabel Hilton reports for e360
from Lima, moving the broader financial markets toward green investments is critically important in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The key, Hilton writes, is to get major institutions to invest in sustainable growth, particularly renewable energy, and to get major companies and the industrial sector to understand that they must revise their strategies to address the risks of climate change.
Read Hilton's analysis.
15 Dec 2014:
Draft Climate Accord Reached
In Lima Leaves Many Doubts in Its Wake
While lead negotiators at the Lima climate talks hailed a hard-fought climate agreement forged over the weekend, many critics say the accord does not go nearly far enough in forcing meaningful reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions. The accord marks the first time that all nations, rich and poor, have agreed to submit plans outlining how they will reduce carbon emissions.
But the Lima Accord, intended to lay the groundwork for crucial climate talks next December in Paris, does not include legally binding requirements that countries cut their emissions by a specific amount. As the negotiations dragged on for an additional two days, an agreement was reached on Sunday only after China and other nations killed a provision
that would have required all countries to submit readily comparable emissions data. Still, many climate officials praised the plan because it marked the first time that nearly 200 nations agreed to submit blueprints on how they plan to reduce greenhouse gases.
12 Dec 2014:
Majority of Americans Support
Climate Actions and Negotiations, Poll Says
Most Americans want the United States to be a world leader in combating global warming and to be participating in international climate negotiations, according to
a poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Sixty-one percent of Americans think the U.S. should lead other nations on climate change, even if it means taking action when other countries do not. A majority of both Democrats and Republicans support some specific policies intended to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., the poll found, such as funding research for clean energy and regulating CO2 emissions. Less than 20 percent of people polled think such protections would harm the economy long-term, while 60 percent say they would improve economic growth and provide jobs.
11 Dec 2014:
India and Australia Are
Focus of Attention in Lima Climate Talks
As United Nations climate talks in Lima, Peru, near an end, negotiators and observers are looking at India and Australia to see whether they will support a draft agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With China and the U.S. having agreed last month to reduce carbon emissions, India — the world’s third largest emitter of CO2 — has said its emissions will continue to rise as it pulls its people out of poverty. But India’s environment minister said in Lima yesterday that the country would spend $100 billion
on clean energy and climate adaptation projects and would play its part in cutting CO2 emissions. Australia — whose Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has weakened the country’s climate laws — is playing a constructive role at the talks and may support a draft emissions-reduction agreement that could be ratified next December in Paris, observers said. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Abbott said that any climate agreement “must [move] past the developed-developing country divide
that puts a brake on real action.”
10 Dec 2014:
Draft Agreement in Lima Talks
Calls for Emissions Cuts by All Nations
A draft agreement calling for all nations to commit to greenhouse gas emissions cuts is circulating among climate negotiators in Lima, Peru, The New York Times
reports. The proposed text calls for each of the 196 countries involved in negotiations to publicly commit to its own plan for reducing emissions. Those individual plans, however, will be driven by national politics and economic concerns, rather than by what scientists say is needed to curb the worst effects of climate change, critics say. Historic pledges by the U.S. and China last month to cut emissions catalyzed the new draft text, negotiators say, because the two nations — the world's largest greenhouse gas emitters — had been spoilers in previous climate talks. “It’s a breakthrough, because it gives meaning to the idea that every country will make cuts,” said Yvo de Boer, the former executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change. The goal for the Lima talks is to settle on a draft text, which could become the basis for a deal signed by world leaders in Paris next December.
09 Dec 2014:
As Ministers Arrive,
Lima Climate Talks Face High Hurdles
With government ministers and UN secretary General Ban Ki-moon arriving at climate negotiations in Lima, Peru, large gaps remained
between developed and developing countries over the issues of formalizing aid to poorer countries to adapt to climate change. Climate negotiators in Lima are drafting a negotiating outline for key climate talks in Paris next December, which many governments hope will lead to a binding global treaty to slash carbon emissions. The U.S. and the European Union want the focus of any treaty to be on emissions cuts, or mitigation, while developing nations are seeking written guarantees from wealthy nations to provide financing and other assistance to developing countries for climate adaptation. Ban Ki-moon has said he is confident that this divide can be bridged before the Lima talks end on Friday. Delegates from the Philippines, a country hit hard recently by typhoons and other weather-related disasters, said in Lima that they will push hard for a new deal requiring all nations, including developing countries, to slash emissions.
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.