Environmental Economics Program News

Ways Forward for Duke on Climate Neutrality

“The university can lead by not just focusing on reducing emissions but by emphasizing things that catalyze change outside the university,” said Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions during a climate forum on Duke's progress toward its commitment to becoming climate neutral by 2024. The forum explored the major steps still to be taken toward the goal. The most promising of steps include fueling on-campus steam plants with directed biogas from North Carolina swine farms.

Kate Konschnick Portrait with Quote

Expert Available for Comment on Virginia Carbon Emission Regulations

The public comment period for Virginia’s draft regulations to cut carbon emissions from power plants ends April 9. The draft plan aims to cap emissions from the state’s electricity sector beginning in 2020 and to reduce them 30 percent by 2030.

New Grants Will Advance Collaborative Research by 11 Groups of Duke Faculty

Nicholas Institute staff members are among six groups of Duke faculty that have been awarded multiyear Research Collaboratory grants. Part of the Together Duke academic strategic plan, these new grant opportunities provide flexible, immediate resources to strengthen Duke’s intellectual communities and help research groups move forward on both fundamental inquiry and solutions for real-world problems. Recipients include the Nicholas Institute’s Billy Pizer for the project Decisions, Risks, and Governance Geoengineering; and Martin Doyle and Amy Pickle for Innovations in Infrastructure.  

Crossing Boundaries to Meet Our Energy Needs

Duke University has become a force in energy research, education, and engagement. Philanthropy from donors has continued the momentum of cultivating collaboration among more than 100 different kinds of energy researchers and cross-training students as energy innovators. Recently, electric utility Duke Energy’s former CEO Jim Rogers and his wife, M.A., gave $1.5 million to found the Energy Access Project, a partnership between the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, the Duke University Energy Initiative, Sanford School of Public Policy, the Nicholas School of the Environment and Bass Connections at Duke. Faculty, staff and students across disciplines seek to develop actionable solutions to the challenge of the billions of people worldwide living with little to no access to electricity or lacking access to modern cooking technologies. “Whether and how the billions of people on the planet lacking modern energy gain access to it in the coming years has massive implications for global security, public health, and the environment,” said the Nicholas Institute's Jonathan Phillips, director of the Energy Access Project. “Duke’s full engagement on this issue is a shining example for how its service to society and interdisciplinary collaboration missions are coming together to develop solutions to one of the hardest, most important challenges of our time.”

Study by Konschnik Among Journal's Most Significant of 2017

An article on underground natural gas storage facilities published in the journal Environmental Research Letters and co-authored by Kate Konschnik, director of the Climate and Energy Program at Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, was among the journal's top 30 articles of 2017. The articles in the "Highlights of 2017" collection were chosen on the basis of reviewer and editor endorsement, significance, scientific impact, and breadth of appeal.

President Xi Supersizes Environmental Agency ($)

China has consolidated and strengthened its environmental regulatory bureaucracy in a "superagency," a move environmentalists say will support its domestic greenhouse gas rules and help deliver China's current commitment to the Paris climate accord. The change came last week as part of an overhaul of China's government aimed at elevating the priorities of President Xi Jinping, who recently became president for life. The government hopes to complete it this year. Jackson Ewing, a senior fellow with the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University, told a ClimateWire that Xi's objective in making the change was to signal again that China is entering a period of "cleaner, more balanced growth ... not as solely focused on economic growth, but rather on some steady but important environmental advances as part of his mandate and part of what he wants his legacy to be."

Beijing is Fundamentally Changing its Environmental Governance, but will it Work?

On March 13, China announced its most significant environmental governance reforms of this decade. Coming on the heels of President Xi Jinping securing the possibility of long-term presidential powers, the State Council presented draft plans to consolidate environmental policymaking in the newly formed Ministry of Ecological Environment. Jackson Ewing, a senior fellow at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and an adjunct associate professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy, writes in The Diplomat that the effectiveness of this new ministry will inform not only China’s environmental future, but also its stability, its socioeconomic ambitions, and global efforts to address environmental challenges.

We Can Reduce Methane Emissions. Here’s How.

In 2016 U.S., Canadian and Mexican leaders pledged to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector 40 to 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025. Canada is just beginning to propose regulatory limits on methane. But Mexico has made only nonbinding pledges, and the Trump administration is rolling back federal methane standards. Nevertheless, write the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Kate Konschnik and her co-author Sarah Jordaan in the News & Observer, states, industry, academics, and nongovernmental organizations are advancing methane measurement and mitigation efforts. They are acting despite deep uncertainty—the magnitude of leaks from oil and gas infrastructure remains disputed and insufficiently measured—and against a backdrop of rapidly evolving research. But to be effective, these actors need to work in concert, fully informed by the latest science. In a newly published article in Climate Policy, Konschnick and Jordaan suggest a North American Methane Reduction Framework to coordinate regulation, voluntary actions, and scientific developments. This approach could bridge the divide between science and policy, and drive new research that in turn can support better federal policies when governments are ready to act.

Jim Rogers

Duke University Introduces Energy Access Project in D.C.

Leaders from business, government, civil society and academia convened in Washington, D.C., on February 23 to explore one of the world's most pressing challenges at Accelerating Global Energy Access, the formal introduction to Duke University's Energy Access Project. Nearly a third of humanity lacks reliable electricity and three billion people are without clean fuels and technologies for cooking. At the event, Energy Access Project staff and sector leaders examined ways to tackle the energy access challenge in conversation on the use of renewables, so-called last mile electrification, and financing to support viable pathways to sustainable and modern energy solutions for all.

To Slow Climate Change, the U.S. Needs to Address Nuclear Power’s Dismal Economics

In late December 2017, the Georgia Public Service Commission faced a major decision: whether to cancel construction of two nuclear power reactors at Plant Vogtle, near Waynesboro, which had been plagued by delays and escalating costs. Now the only large-scale nuclear construction underway in the United States, nuclear advocates called the unanimous vote to allow construction at Vogtle to continue a win for the economy and the environment. In reality, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Director Tim Profeta writes in The Conversation, the decision says more about the challenges facing the nuclear industry in the 21st century. If nuclear power is to be part of a U.S. climate change strategy over the next century, policymakers must address its increasingly precarious economics.