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Estimating the Value of Public Water Data

Public water data, such as river flow from stream gauges or precipitation from weather satellites, produce broad benefits at a cost to the general public. This paper presents a review of the academic literature on the costs and benefits of government investments in public water data. On the basis of 21 studies quantifying the costs and benefits of public water quantity data, it appears that the median benefit-cost ratio across different economic sectors and geographic regions is 4:1. But a great deal of uncertainty attends this number; very few studies empirically quantify or monetize the costs, the benefits, or both of water information with sound economic methods, and no studies have quantified the value of water quality information. This review is part of an ongoing effort by the Nicholas Institute of Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University and the Aspen Institute to develop the foundations of an Internet of Water by quantifying the potential value of open and integrated public water data. 

Authors: John Gardner, Martin Doyle, and Lauren Patterson

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Water Policy

Working Papers

Resolving the Inherent Uncertainty of Carbon Taxes

This introduction to symposium essays in the Harvard Environmental Law Review describes the role of pricing carbon in contemporary climate change policy (with a summary of experience with carbon tax and cap-and-trade policies around the world) and points out similarities of carbon tax policies and cap-and-trade policies based on the academic literature. But it focuses on how a tax and cap-and-trade schemes differ in terms of their economic and emission outcomes in light of the uncertainty characterizing the markets and economies in which these instruments are used. These differences have potentially important economic, environmental, and political economy implications for U.S. climate change policy. Finally, the article highlights the proposals and key findings of each of the symposium essays, including Increasing Emissions Certainty under a Carbon Tax.

Authors: Joseph E. Aldy, Marc Hafstead, Gilbert E. Metcalf, Brian C. Murray, William A. Pizer, Christina Reichert, and Roberton C. Williams III

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Carbon Tax

Climate and Energy

Environmental Economics

Journal Articles

Increasing Emissions Certainty under a Carbon Tax

Various organizations and individuals have proposed that the United States consider use of a carbon tax as the primary federal policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A carbon tax establishes a fixed fee per unit of emissions and thereby provides a certain price incentive to cut emissions. However, one concern regarding a carbon tax is that it does not ensure that the nation will achieve a specific emissions goal because the economy’s response to such a tax is unknown in advance. Ultimately, there is an underlying tradeoff between certainty about emissions and certainty about prices and costs. Mechanisms that balance emissions and cost uncertainty can be viewed as a way to structure a more careful compromise between cost concerns and environmental interests. Under a carbon tax, mechanisms that can increase mitigation action may allow environmental constituencies to agree to what they may view as an environmentally risky tax with the assurance that further steps will be taken should emissions become too high. This symposium essay in the Harvard Environmental Law Review discusses a range of mechanisms that could increase emissions certainty under a carbon tax. It draws from recent discussions between the authors and other policy experts, and its goal is to define a set of options for deeper exploration. It begins with a discussion of how to measure emissions performance, or what it means to be achieving or not achieving an emissions goal, which could provide the basis for pursuing remedial mechanisms. Next, it presents a taxonomy of such mechanisms and the challenges and opportunities of each. Finally, it discusses ideas for initiating these mechanisms, either through some automated or discretionary procedure, and summarizes areas for additional research.

Authors: Brian C. Murray, William A. Pizer, and Christina Reichert

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Carbon Tax

Journal Articles

Measuring the Human “So What” of Large-Scale Coral Loss

Recent mass bleachings of coral reefs highlight the need to evaluate the human consequences of such large-scale coral damage—but scientists lack accurate, global, and empirical baseline data on the human dimensions of coral reefs. This article in Biodiversity explores this challenge.

Authors: Linwood Pendleton and Peter Edwards

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Ocean and Coastal Policy

Journal Articles

When Ecosystems and Their Services Are Not Co-located: Oceans and Coasts

Local, regional, and global policies to manage protect and restore our oceans and coasts call for the inclusion of ecosystem services (ES) in policy-relevant research. Marine and coastal ES and the associated benefits to humans are usually assessed, quantified, and mapped at the ecosystem level to inform policy and decision-making. Yet those benefits may reach humans beyond the provisioning ecosystem, at the regional or even global level. Current efforts to map ES generated by a single ecosystem rarely consider the distribution of benefits beyond the ecosystem itself, especially at the regional or global level. In this article, we elaborate on the concept of “extra-local” ES to refer to those ES generating benefits that are enjoyed far from the providing ecosystem, focusing on the marine environment. We emphasize the spatial dimension of the different components of the ES provision framework and apply the proposed conceptual framework to food provision and climate regulation ES provided by marine and coastal ecosystems. We present the different extents of the mapping outputs generated by the ecosystem-based vs. the extra-local mapping approach and discuss practical and conceptual challenges of the approach. Lack of relevant ES mapping methodologies and lack of data appeared to be the most crucial bottlenecks in applying the extra-local approach for marine and coastal ES. We urge for more applications of the proposed framework that can improve marine and coastal ES assessments help fill in data gaps and generate more robust data. Such assessments could better inform marine and coastal policies, especially those linked to equal attribution of benefits, compensation schemes and poverty alleviation.

Authors: Evangelia G. Drakou, Linwood Pendleton, Micah Effron, Jane Carter Ingram, and Lida Teneva

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Ocean and Coastal Policy

Journal Articles

Internet of Water: Sharing and Integrating Water Data for Sustainability

This report from the Aspen Institute Dialogue Series on Water Data lays out a vision for a national policy framework that addresses institutional barriers to increasing the integration of water data and information to support sustainable water management. In the United States, data to manage water supplies and pursue innovative solutions to meet water management challenges are lacking or are not in a format that is easily accessible or understandable, and there are often strong disincentives, fears, and concerns about sharing the data. To address this challenge, the Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Program in partnership with the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Redstone Strategy Group convened the Aspen Institute Dialogue Series on Water Data. The report highlights the dialogue’s principle-based blueprint recommending a three-step plan to design and launch an “Internet of Water”—a network of interconnected data producers, hubs, and users—that will enable real-time collection and transmission of water-related data and information—a prerequisite for revolutionizing how water resources are managed and situated to address prevalent water problems such as extreme flooding, scarcity, and contamination as well as for restoring aquatic systems. The report makes three key findings: (1) the value of open, shared, and integrated water data has not been widely quantified, documented, or communicated; (2) the most necessary step in using water data for sustainability is making public water data open by default, discoverable, and digitally accessible; and (3) water data could be most effectively integrated through an internet of water. The report recommends facilitation of open water data, integration of existing public water data and development of tools to connect data producers and users as well as regional-data-sharing communities that can address near-term water management problems for key sectors.

Authors: Lauren Patterson, Martin Doyle, Kathy King, and David Monsma

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Aspen-Nicholas Institute Water Forum

Water Policy

Reports

Sustainable Ocean Economy, Innovation, and Growth: A G20 Initiative for the 7th Largest Economy in the World

The authors of this G20 Insights policy brief say that the G20 should initiate a global ocean governance process, and they call for ocean economy dialogues, strategies, and regional cooperation to ensure that investment and growth in ocean use become sustainable and reach their full potential. They note that the ocean is the largest and most critical ecosystem on Earth, with many interactions between the ocean Sustainable Development Goal (SDG14) and other SDGs. Though potentially the largest provider of food, materials, energy, and ecosystem services, the ocean is stressed by increasing demand for resources, technological advances, overfishing, climate change, pollution, biodiversity, and habitat loss. Moreover, inadequate stewardship and law enforcement are contributing to the ocean’s decline. As a standing agenda item for the G20, and with associated good governance, a sustainable ocean economy can improve the health and productivity of ocean ecosystems. Better governance, appreciation of the economic value of the ocean, and “blue economy” strategies can reduce conflicts among uses; ensure financial sustainability, ecosystem integrity, and prosperity; and promote long-term national growth and employment in maritime industries.

Authors: Martin Visbeck, Kristian Teleki, Mia Pantzer, Michael K. Orbach, Patrick ten Brink, John Virdin, Julian Rochette, Anna-Kathrina Hornidge, Andrew Farmer, Daniela Russi, Torsten Thiele, Rajni Bakshi, Rajiv Bhatia, Benjamin Boteler, Miguel Heredia, R. Andreas Kraemer, Ina Krüger, Grit Martinez, Akshay Mathur, Linwood Pendleton, Tiago Pitta e Cunha, Cyrus Rustomjee, and Scott Vaughan

Filters

Blue Economy

Ocean and Coastal Policy

Policy Briefs

On Morals, Markets, and Climate Change: Exploring Pope Francis’ Challenge

This article in Law and Contemporary Problems explores the contrast between the movement toward environmental markets, characterized by the emergence of new carbon markets across the globe, and the renewed opposition to markets manifested in the pope’s encyclical and the views of some environmental advocates. It considers the arguments raised by these latter critics, explores alternative views of their concerns, and examines how market-based climate policies could be designed to alleviate these concerns. Others have examined the moral and ethical dimensions of market-based climate policies, but this article contributes to the literature by providing a contemporary examination of the papal encyclical’s prominent questioning of the use of markets to address climate change. It also speaks to issues that more than 190 countries now face under the Paris Agreement and that forty-eight U.S. states face under the Clean Power Plan as they decide what role, if any, market-based instruments will play in their pursuit of the greenhouse gas reductions. And it explores options for designing a market-based instrument to address climate change in ways that could ease some of the moral criticisms, and discusses some of the tradeoffs involved in those design choices. Part 2 reviews how market-based mechanisms are being designed for climate change policy. Part 3 examines the pope’s encyclical and the moral issues it raises regarding carbon markets. Part 4 assesses in more detail the moral objections to using market-based mechanisms for climate change policy and offers counterpoints to these arguments. Part 5 discusses possible ways to reconcile these viewpoints by designing market-based climate policies in ways that resolve or reduce the critics’ concerns and discusses the tradeoffs associated with each approach. Part 6 offers specific insights into the decisions faced and tradeoffs presented by market-based climate policies.

Authors: Jonas J. Monast, Brian C. Murray, and Jonathan B. Wiener

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Climate and Energy

Clean Air Act

Environmental Economics

Journal Articles

A State Policymaker’s Guide to Power Sector Modeling

In a new report, the Bipartisan Policy Center and Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions explore the value, use, and limitations of economic modeling of the electricity sector. The report presents a suite of recent analyses by different organizations, showing how economic modeling can be used to simulate possible policy, market, and technology changes as the electricity sector transforms due to growth of domestic natural gas, increased use for electric generation, the rapid progress of renewable technologies, and environmental regulations.

It is meant to be a guide for state policymakers who have both the benefit and challenge of unpacking modeling results and figuring out how best to learn from diverse findings. It provides them with both an understanding of how to best utilize economic models and interpret their results as well as explores key modeling structures often being deployed to model carbon regulations such as the Clean Power Plan and input assumptions that impact power sector modeling results.

Authors: Blair Beasley, David Hoppock, Jennifer Macedonia, Martin Ross, and Tracy Terry

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Climate and Energy

Clean Air Act

Environmental Economics

State Policy

Reports

Blue Carbon Financing of Mangrove Conservation in the Abidijan Convention Region: A Feasibility Study

Coastal vegetated ecosystems such as mangrove forests, seagrass meadows, and salt marshes have long benefited coastal communities and fisheries, and in recent years have been recognized internationally for their significant capacity to sequester and store carbon (“blue carbon”)—at rates that surpass those of tropical forests. Yet these ecosystems are being converted rapidly. Current annual mangrove deforestation has been estimated to emit 240 million tons of carbon dioxide. For this reason, financing mechanisms to pay those tropical countries that have significant blue carbon resources to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from deforestation have been explored as a means to fund mangrove conservation. This report by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Abidjan Convention Secretariat, and GRID-Arendal explores the potential of international carbon finance mechanisms to help fund mangrove conservation along the coast of West, Central, and Southern Africa that is covered by the Abidjan Convention—from the southern border of Mauritania to the northern border of Angola—and the scale of economic benefits that this conservation might provide for communities and countries in the region, including benefits not always recognized in traditional assessments or valuations. This report aims to increase knowledge about blue carbon stocks in West, Central, and Southern Africa and the steps that interested communities and countries in the region could take to secure international payments for their conservation and avoided GHG emissions.

Authors: John Virdin, Tibor Vegh, Connie Y. Kot, Jesse Cleary, Patrick N. Halpin, Christopher Gordon, Marie-Christine Cormier-Salem, and Adelina Mensah

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Blue Carbon

Blue Economy

Climate and Energy

Ocean and Coastal Policy

Environmental Economics

Reports

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