Policy & Politics
Five Questions for Robert Bullard
On the Flint Water Crisis and Justice
In Flint, Michigan, a city of 100,000 whose population is 56 percent African American, a state cost-cutting measure to begin drawing drinking water supplies from
Texas Southern University
Robert D. Bullard
the Flint River has led to a public health crisis. The corrosive waters of the river have leached lead out of Flint’s aging water pipes, causing thousands of children to ingest dangerously high levels of lead — a problem that was ignored for months. Yale Environment 360
asked Robert D. Bullard — dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University and the man widely considered the first to fully articulate the concept of environmental justice — five questions about how the situation in Flint reflects on environmental inequality in the United States. Read more.
27 Jan 2016:
Rush to Electric Vehicles
Is Worsening Air Pollution in China
The push by the Chinese government and the country’s automakers to expand production of electric vehicles is actually worsening air pollution
and carbon emissions because most of China’s electricity is still produced by coal-fired power plants, new studies show. Thanks to government incentives, production of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles is expected to grow six-fold to two million cars and trucks by 2020. But studies by researchers at Tsinghua University show that electric vehicles charged in China with coal-fired power produce two to five times as many particulates and other pollutants as gasoline cars. The Tsinghua studies call into question the government policy of promoting deployment of electric vehicles while the vast majority of the country’s electricity still comes from coal. “International experience shows that cleaning up the air doesn’t need to rely on electric vehicles,” said one analyst. “Clean up the power plants.”
Interview: Finding a New Politics
For Our New Environmental Era
In an age defined by humankind’s unprecedented influence on the environment, how do do we begin to
reverse our increasingly disruptive impacts on the planet’s fundamental natural systems? Author Jedediah Purdy maintains that the times require a new politics to address the urgent global issues now confronting the planet, a vision he lays out in his new book, After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene
. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Purdy concedes that it’s difficult to discern the specifics of the “democratic Anthropocene” he’s calling for, but it has fundamental underpinnings: being less beholden to Big Money, attaching a moral value on climates and landscapes, and placing more emphasis on our responsibility to future generations. “We only have one way of collectively pivoting the direction in which we're taking that world, and that is political.”
Read the interview.
23 Dec 2015:
Congressional Tax Credits
Expected to Further Boost U.S. Renewables
The renewable energy sector in the United States is finishing 2015 on a high note as Congress has voted to approve significant extensions for tax credits
for renewable energy, and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has reported a surge in wind power installations.
Ending uncertainty about the fate of tax credits for the wind and solar industries, Congress has voted to extend investment tax credits for solar power and production tax credits for wind energy through 2022 and 2020, respectively. Renewable energy companies and analysts praised the extensions, saying that, coupled with rapidly falling prices for wind and solar energy technologies, the tax credits virtually guarantee a boom in the production of renewables in the U.S. Earlier this week, the AWEA said U.S. wind energy production has reached a milestone, with 50,000 turbines providing a generating capacity of 70 gigawatts — enough to power 19 million homes.
16 Dec 2015:
Five Questions for Bill McKibben
On the Paris Climate Agreement
Activist Bill McKibben was a visible presence during the climate conference in Paris, urging for strong action. Yale Environment 360
caught up with McKibben, the founder of 350.org
, after an agreement was reached and asked him five question about Paris and the road beyond. While the Paris accord “didn’t save the planet,” McKibben says, “it may have saved the chance to save it – that is, it didn’t foreclose the possibility. Actually getting anywhere will now require massive organizing to hold leaders to their promises.”
15 Dec 2015:
China Anti-Pollution Efforts
Lead to Steep Drop in Sulfur Dioxide Levels
Emissions of sulfur dioxide, a toxic gas that threatens human health and causes acid rain, have dropped sharply in the last decade
China's sulfur pollution has decreased in recent years.
in China, thanks to aggressive air pollution control initiatives by the Chinese government. As these NASA images show, levels of sulfur dioxide in China fell significantly from 2005 to 2014, while emissions of the gas increased in India during the same period. From 2012 to 2014, Chinese SO2 emissions fell especially sharply, by 50 percent. The steady drop in emissions of the noxious gas, released during the burning of coal and other fossil fuels, can be attributed to pollution control measures enacted before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the widespread installation of flue gas desulfurication devices on power plants, the switch to coal with a lower sulfur content, and the closing of coal-fired power plants in favor of less-polluting energy sources such as natural gas, wind, and solar power. India’s sulfur dioxide emissions have risen because of the rapid expansion of coal-fired power plants.
10 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21: An Unexpected Move
Toward Global Target of 1.5 Degrees
It is the big surprise of the Paris talks: the growing acceptance of a call from small nations most vulnerable to climate change
for the conference to declare warming should be halted at 1.5 degrees Celsius. Even a few months ago, this seemed unimaginable. Two degrees was the only target on the table. But here it has gained momentum with more than 100 nations, including the U.S. and the EU, agreeing it should be in the final agreement. With more than a day of talks remaining, inclusion is far from a done deal. But it has strong support. A 1.5-degree target “looks much more scientifically justifiable,” said Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Institute.
08 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21: Amid Optimism, Key
Issues Remain on Negotiating Table
The centerpieces of a potential climate deal in Paris are the 180 national emissions pledges for the period up to 2030, which
Delegates draft text for the proposed agreement.
were submitted ahead of the conference. What is at issue now are the rules for their implementation, including funding of pledges from poor nations, and whether a procedure can be agreed for upgrading them later to give the world a chance of meeting its two-degree Celsius temperature-rise target. To do all that in the final few days of the conference, negotiators are considering a 48-page draft text that contains numerous brackets, which denote alternative options and text yet to be agreed on. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he expected the final deal to include a review of emissions targets every five years to determine how they are playing out and to allow for increasingly ambitious goals that could secure the two-degree target.
07 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21 — How ‘Landscape
Carbon’ Can Be Part of a Solution on Climate
A group led by the World Resources Institute has unveiled plans in Paris for a grand restoration of Africa's landscapes that includes
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Nigerian finance minister
replanting forests and reviving soils. The group, which includes the World Bank and the African Union's New Partnership for Africa's Development are seeking $2 billion a year to restore 100 million hectares of Africa by 2030 — an area three times the size of Germany. The plans were announced to some 3,000 delegates attending a Global Landscapes Forum in Paris on Sunday. "We need landscape restoration for development and for climate," said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister. Some African countries said they are already at work. Ethiopian ministers told the forum they had restored a million hectares of farm soils in the drought-hit Tigray region and elsewhere in the past 20 years, through terracing, irrigation and other activities.
03 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21 — Regular Reviews
Of Carbon Emission Cuts Likely to Be Adopted
An important point of contention at the Paris climate talks — whether to regularly review nations’ pledges on emissions cuts, in
U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres
the hopes of stimulating further reductions — may be close to being resolved. U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres says there is a growing consensus that emissions-reduction pledges should be reviewed every five years
, a stance supported by the U.S., China, and the European Union. Other nations, such as India, have been reluctant to commit to such reviews. Figueres, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and other top officials at the Paris talks are urging delegates to begin resolving issues
such as emissions-pledge reviews, as the 50-page draft climate treaty
now contains four to five alternative versions of disputed points. Fabius has given negotiators until Thursday night to deliver a streamlined draft and has set a deadline of noon Saturday to come up with a close-to-final draft.
03 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21: Is India the Main
Stumbling Block at Climate Talks?
By some measures India has offered a lot to the Paris neogitations. Its pledge on future emissions includes perhaps the
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
most ambitious renewable energy program in the world, with 175 gigawatts of green power, including 100 megawatts of solar panels, by 2022. But many nonetheless see India as the biggest single threat to curbing CO2 emissions in the next few decades. The problem is coal. The speed of India's current industrialization is so fast that, even with a huge surge in solar energy, it still plans the world's fastest rate of construction of coal-fired power stations. India's continued reliance on coal will increase its CO2 emissions by 60 per cent by 2030. And that addiction to coal is making enemies among countries that India would normally count as its friends – poor nations most at risk from climate change.
02 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21: China’s About-Face
Fuels High Hopes for Paris Talks
China has changed everything. After years of sulking about climate change, China is right now diplomatically and technologically
A worker installs solar panels in eastern China.
transforming the chances of slowing global warming. President Barack Obama might wish for a deal here at U.N. climate negotiations in Paris to be his own crowning legacy. But the truth is that this is China's ball. Nobody personifies the transformation better than the head of the Chinese climate delegation for the past nine years, Xie Zhenhua. He spent years pretending climate change was a developing-world problem that the rich nations had to sort out, and he was widely blamed for scuppering the 2009 Copenhagen climate negotiations. But here in Paris he is quietly confident a deal is about to be done that will be in China's and the world's interests. "China is entering a new normal of energy and resource conservation,” he said. "We can seek a different way [through] ecologically driven wealth generation."
01 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21 — Business Leaders
Announce 'Breakthrough Energy Coalition'
A group of leading business people and technology entrepreneurs — including Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Facebook founder
Global leaders announced 'Mission Innovation.'
Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and Jack Ma of China’s Alibaba Group — have announced in Paris a new initiative to spur investment
in low-carbon energy technologies. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition
says it will work closely with governments and research institutions to “mobilize investment in truly transformative energy solutions for the future.” The coalition will work closely with governments to invest in and develop the technologies, and at the Paris conference the leaders of 21 nations announced the formation of a Mission Innovation
initiative to make clean energy available worldwide.
01 Dec 2015:
Paris COP21: To Save Forests,
A Combination of Carrots and Sticks
Forests must be saved and restored if the world community hopes to slow global warming. That's a given at the Paris climate
Indigenous leaders at a forestry session in Paris.
conference. But how? It's a tough issue for many environment ministers, who know that back home their agriculture, mining, and even forestry ministers have other plans for forest lands. In nations such as Peru and Indonesia, the gap between aspirations for slowing deforestation and the reality on the ground is huge. How to close that gap is a major topic of discussion in Paris, with countries, business groups, and conservationists proposing a combination of carrots and sticks to spur reform. And advocates say that returning many forests to indigenous groups is a key part of any solution.
Complete Coverage of the Paris COP21
Climate Talks From Yale Environment 360
30 Nov 2015:
Paris COP21: For the Poorest
Nations, Questions of Compensation
In a series of side events on the first day of the Paris climate conference, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the
Initiative on Resilience, a program designed to help the world’s poorest countries, which are especially vulnerable to the ravages of global warming. Finance to help developing nations adapt to climate change is potentially the dealbreaker in Paris. Developing nations expect a Green Climate Fund, which would cover adaptation and the cost of moderating their greenhouse gas emissions, to contain $100 billion a year by 2020. If the money is not on the table, they may ditch their promises on emissions — and scupper the deal. Germany, France, and other developed nations promised help in Paris. But the president of Angola, chairing a group of 48 African nations vulnerable to climate change, said $5 billion of such projects were already on hold for want of cash.
30 Nov 2015:
Paris COP21 — Obama, Xi Vow to
Lead In Climate Fight as Paris Talks Open
Joining leaders from 150 nations in Paris, President Barack Obama acknowledged the U.S.’s special responsibility as the major historical emitter
U.N. climate chief Figueres greets President Obama
of greenhouse gases and vowed that the U.S. would take a leading role in fighting climate change, which he called the central challenge of the 21st century. “The United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it,” Obama said at the opening of United Nations climate talks. He vowed that the U.S. and other developed nations would provide aid for renewable energy development and climate adaptation to developing nations, which he said had “contributed little to climate change but will be the first to feel its most destructive effects.” Chinese President Xi Jinping said that his country would meet its goal of hitting peak emissions by 2030
, with steady declines thereafter.
23 Nov 2015:
In Major Shift, Alberta
Adopts New Plans to Fight Climate Change
In a sharp reversal from the previous government, Alberta’s recently elected premier has announced a host of new climate measures
, including a tax on carbon, the phase-out of coal emissions by 2030, a transition to
renewable energy sources, and CO2 emissions limits on the province’s massive tar sands industry. Premier Rachel Notley said Sunday that the province will adopt an economy-wide carbon tax of 20 Canadian dollars in 2017, increasing to 30 dollars in 2018. She vowed that two-thirds of the electricity now produced by coal-fired power plants will be replaced with renewable energy. And she said Alberta will impose a carbon emissions limit on the oil sands industry of 100 megatons; the industry currently generates 70 megatons of carbon annually. “This is the day we step up, at long last, to one of the world’s biggest problems: the pollution that is causing climate change," Notley said.
Interview: Why Brazil’s Pledges On
Carbon Emissions Are Not Enough
In recent years, Brazil has been widely praised for reducing deforestation in the Amazon by 75 percent from 2005 to 2014.
Maria Fernanda Gebara
But analysts are now taking a closer look at Brazil’s pledges to cut deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions, with some saying there is less there than meets the eye. One of the more outspoken critics of the country’s CO2-reduction policies is Brazilian political scientist Maria Fernanda Gebara. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Gebara, a research associate in the Department for International Development at the London School of Economics, says Brazil’s policies will do little more than stabilize emissions for the next 15 years, will fail to clamp down on illegal logging, and will continue the nation’s dismal record of developing solar and wind power.
Read the interview.
16 Nov 2015:
U.S. Cities Vary Widely in Climate
Preparation Due to Politics, Study Says
Portland, Boston, and Los Angeles are further along than many U.S. cities in planning for extreme weather events linked to global
Downtown Tampa, Florida
warming, according to a study published in the journal Global Environmental Change
. The report found that Tucson, Arizona, and Raleigh, North Carolina, are in the middle-to-early stages of planning, while Tampa, Florida — which is at the highest risk for hurricanes in the U.S. and is located very near sea level — largely dismisses climate change and has done little to plan for it. The study is the first to look at societal factors, such as a city's political environment, and how those factors affect action on climate change. Interviews with 65 local policymakers in each of the six cities revealed three factors that play a role in how well city planners prepare for climate change: the risk of extreme weather in a given area, public acceptance of climate change, and how aggressively a city's residents engage in public policy.
11 Nov 2015:
Renewable Diesel Production and
Demand Growing Worldwide, Report Finds
A new type of renewable, non-petroleum-based diesel fuel is on the rise worldwide, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration
with demand driven by mandates in multiple countries. Unlike other biofuels, renewable HEFA biofuels — the acronym stands for hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids, and the fuels are known as "renewable diesel" in the U.S. — are nearly indistinguishable from their petroleum counterparts, meaning they can serve as "drop-in" fuels, readily substituting for traditional diesel. For example, they can be used in diesel engines without the need for blending with petroleum diesel fuel. Worldwide, more than a billion gallons of HEFA fuels were produced in 2014. Ten plants worldwide now produce renewable diesel, and five additional projects are in development. Alaska Airlines, KLM, and United Airlines have demonstrated the use of HEFA biojet fuel on commercial flights since 2011.
10 Nov 2015:
New Online Tool Maps Lands
Managed and Protected by Indigenous People
Indigenous people have historically demarcated their ancestral lands in a variety of ways, from rudimentary agreements and maps to,
A new online tool maps native lands.
more recently, drone surveys. But until now, there has been no systematic way of recording the actual boundaries and legal status of each swath of land managed by native peoples, who, as research shows, often do a better job of protecting their lands than local or national governments. LandMark
, a new tool launched today by a broad partnership including the World Resources Institute (WRI), is the first online, interactive platform for mapping lands managed by native communities. It was created to fill a critical gap in indigenous and community rights and make clear that these lands are not vacant, idle, or available to outsiders for exploitative development such as mining, palm oil plantations, or timber concessions. But Abdon Nababan, secretary general of the Indonesia's Indigenous Peoples' Alliance, cautioned that “these maps do us no good unless they become public knowledge and indigenous rights are recognized by all who have ambitions to grab our lands.”
09 Nov 2015:
Globe Is Set to Cross 1 Degree C
Temperature Increase Threshold in 2015
The United Kingdom’s Met Office says that 2015 will be the year when average world temperatures rise more than 1 degree C
Globaly, 2015 is expected to be warmer than 2014.
above pre-industrial levels. That is halfway to the 2 degrees C temperature increase threshold that scientists say could dangerously destabilize the planet’s climate system. The Met office reported that from January to September this year, global temperatures hit 1.02 degrees C above pre-industrial averages and that temperatures for the full year are virtually certain to be above the 1 C level. Meanwhile, the World Meteorological Association (WMO) reported that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 in 2014 averaged 397.7 parts per million
and that average 2015 concentrations could surpass the 400 ppm mark. “We are moving into uncharted territory at a frightening speed,” WMO Secretary General Michel Jarraud said.
06 Nov 2015:
Obama Rejects Keystone XL
Pipeline, Ending a Seven-Year Battle
President Barack Obama has rejected a Canadian company’s request
to build the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would have carried 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The decision is a major victory for climate and conservation groups and burnishes Obama’s legacy in the battle to slow global warming. Obama’s announcement, made after a seven-year review by the U.S. State Department and other agencies, comes just weeks ahead of key United Nations climate talks in Paris. In remarks at the White House, Obama said that the economic benefits of building the pipeline were outweighed by the high environmental costs of helping move to market tar sands crude, whose production is among the most carbon-polluting on the planet. “The pipeline would not make a meaningful long-term contribution to our economy,’’ Mr. Obama said in remarks at the White House.
06 Nov 2015:
Austria’s Largest State Now
Generates All Electricity from Renewables
The electricity supply in Lower Austria, the largest state in Austria, is now fossil-free,
state officials have announced. The state in northeastern Austria, which has a population of 1.65 million, now gets 63 percent of its electricity from hydroelectric power, 26 percent from wind energy, nine percent from biomass, and two percent from solar. While hydroelectric power has always generated a large portion of the state’s electricity, Premier Erwin Proell said that $3 billion in investments since 2002 in utility-scale solar and other renewables had helped the state reach the 100 percent renewables target. Proell said the expansion of renewables has created 38,000 green jobs in the state, with the aim of generating 50,000 jobs in the renewables sector by 2030. Throughout Austria, 75 percent of electricity generation now comes from renewable energy sources.
05 Nov 2015:
Pope Francis Has Swayed
U.S. Public Opinion on Global Warming
A sizable percentage of Americans, and an even larger number of U.S. Catholics, say that Pope Francis’s teachings on climate change have influenced their views on the issue. A survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication
showed that 17 percent of Americans and 35 percent of Catholics say that their views on global warming have been swayed by the Pope’s messages of concern about climate change, delivered in an encyclical and in a September visit to the U.S. The researchers polled a sampling of Americans months before the pope’s encyclical and after. Those surveys showed the percentage of Americans worried about global warming rose from 51 percent in March to 59 percent in October, and that concern among U.S. Catholics grew from 53 percent to 64 percent in that period. The percentage of those who believe climate change will harm people here and abroad also grew modestly, as did the number of people who consider climate change a moral and social fairness issue.
04 Nov 2015:
New York State Warns
To Prepare for up to 6 Feet of Sea Level Rise
New York State is telling developers and homeowners in New York City and coastal towns that they should prepare for up to 75 inches of sea level rise
by 2100. The sea level rise projections, based on recent scientific studies by NASA and Columbia University, are part of the New York Community Risk and Resiliency Act passed after the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The state says it is creating new sea level rise regulations
requiring coastal planners, developers, and builders to expect seas that could rise up to six feet and to build more resilient homes and other structures. New York officials said 500,000 people live in areas that lie less than six feet above the mean high tide line in the state. The studies took into account increased melting of ice sheets and glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica.
28 Oct 2015:
Global Warming Could Be
Limited To 3 Degrees C With Current Pledges
National climate pledges submitted so far by 155 countries — responsible for around 90 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — could limit the planet's long-term temperature increase to around 3 degrees Celsius
, according to an assessment by the European Commission Joint Research Center (JRC). The climate pledges, submitted to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change ahead of December's climate negotiations in Paris, are officially known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs. Analysis of unconditional INDCs concludes that, if fully implemented, they could set global emissions growth at around 17 percent above 2010 levels by 2030. Combining unconditional and conditional INDCs — those that would rely on such mechanisms as international climate financial support — JRC found that global carbon emissions could peak shortly before 2030 at 12 percent above 2010 levels, then decline enough to hold temperature increases to 3 degrees C.
Interview: ‘Third Way’ Technologies
Could Help Turn the Tide on Climate
Massive seaweed farms that suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and counteract ocean acidification. The widespread adoption of carbon
fiber technology that extracts CO2 from the air and turns it into cars and other industrial products. Concrete manufacturing that is carbon-negative rather than the energy-guzzling Portland cement used today. These and other ideas represent what Australian scientist Tim Flannery calls “third way technologies” — safe methods to reduce carbon dioxide levels that could be adopted in concert with large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Flannery explains that unlike risky geo-engineering schemes, these approaches “strengthen Earth’s own self-regulatory system by drawing CO2 out of the atmosphere in ways the planet naturally does already.”
Read the interview.
23 Oct 2015:
Powerful Foreign Companies
Behind Much of Laos' Illegal Deforestation
Industrial-scale illegal logging is routine in Laos, a southeast Asian nation which has seen its dense forest cover decline from
Illegal logging in Laos by a large Vietnamese company
29 to 8.2 percent over the past decade, and the practice is gaining momentum under the guise of special infrastructure projects, according to information obtained
by the London-based advocacy group Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). In 2013, Laos exported 1.8 million cubic yards of timber to Vietnam and China — more than 10 times the country’s official harvest, EIA found. Trade data also show that in 2014 China received $1 billion in illegal timber from Laos — a 22-fold increase from 2008. The high figures imply that the bulk of this timber is composed of valuable rosewood species, which are supposedly protected under Lao law. Virtually all logging operations are linked to infrastructure projects, especially hydropower dams, roads, mining, and agricultural plantations, EIA says.