Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability logo

We've got a new name! Read the announcement. (A new website is under development.)


Building a Common Approach: Global Infrastructure Standards

Well-planned, -designed, and -built infrastructure projects are critically needed to improve economic productivity, transition to a low-carbon economy, mitigate environmental risks, and promote human rights and social inclusion. Investors lack a reliable, widely recognized global standard for identifying “bankable” infrastructure projects with low environmental, social, and governance risks; high debt transparency; and reliable economic returns. A new report compares three sets of standards under development and offers recommendations to reduce confusion and advance a common approach.

Setting Higher Standards: Striving for a Common Approach to Sustainable, Quality Infrastructure

A barrier to the development of high-quality, sustainable infrastructure is the lack of a global standard for identifying projects with low environmental, social, and governance risks; high debt transparency; and reliable economic returns. This policy brief focuses on two new initiatives being developed to meet this need—Blue Dot Network and FAST-Infra—and offers recommendations to reduce competition between them and promote the broadscale advancement of quality, sustainable infrastructure.

Customer Assistance Programs and Water Affordability

Water affordability is a growing concern, with inflation, aging infrastructure, source water protection, climate change, and other factors pushing up the cost of providing water. Customer assistance program (CAP) rate discounts provide needed assistance but may not be sufficient to ensure that water services are affordable. Rather than relying on one approach, such as CAPs, a combination of approaches might be optimal for addressing water affordability issues.

A Menu of State Actions to Promote Forest Carbon Sequestration and Storage

Across the U.S., states are developing policies and programs to help promote forest-based natural climate solutions. This effort is bolstered by a growth in forest carbon programs that aim to make entry into the voluntary carbon offset market accessible to all landowners. Here we present a “menu” of policy and program options (that we call action items) derived from existing state programs and policies that decision makers can leverage to promote forest carbon solutions.

Stakeholder Recommendations for Reducing Energy Insecurity in the Southeast United States

Energy insecurity—the inability to maintain energy services like heating and cooling—is one of the most pressing issues in the Southeast, where more than one out of every four households face access or affordability challenges. The Southeast Energy Insecurity Stakeholder Initiative facilitated broad, collaborative discussions among a range of regional stakeholders to identify opportunities for reducing energy insecurity in the region.

Two Years In: A Progress Update on the North Carolina Energy Efficiency Roadmap

Energy efficiency provides a least-cost option for meeting energy demand while also lowering energy bills and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2019, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions published the North Carolina Energy Efficiency Roadmap outlining 32 recommendations for enhancing energy efficiency in the state of North Carolina. This policy brief provides a two-year update on the status of those recommendations.

Tracking the Benefits of Natural & Working Lands in the United States: Dataset Evaluation and Readiness Assessment

Natural and working lands (NWL) in the United States provide many benefits, including food, climate mitigation, recreational opportunities, jobs, and many more. There is currently no coordinated approach in the United States to track how provision of these benefits is changing over time. This project begins to fill this gap by identifying datasets that can be used to track the status and trends of NWL benefits (i.e., ecosystem services), assessing their readiness for use in the near-term, and highlighting data gaps and limitations that need to be addressed for a national assessment.

The Evolving Global Plastics Policy Landscape: an Inventory and Effectiveness Review

Governments worldwide are increasingly adopting public policies, laws, and ordinances to reduce plastic pollution. To date, studies have not analyzed the content of, and trends in, these policies. Employing a content analysis and literature search, we set out to better understand: (i) governments responses to this problem over time, and (ii) the state of the available evidence on the effectiveness of policy responses.

A snapshot of the economic benefits from foreign bottom trawling in coastal West Africa: A mutually-beneficial trade in services, no winners or extractivism?

Large-scale fishing effort in the waters of tropical and lower income countries is predominantly driven by ‘distant water fishing fleets’ often owned by companies based in a small number of countries and has been associated with a range of negative environmental and social outcomes. West Africa is an example where such fleets are a dominant feature. In the waters of Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ghana, 75% of all licensed bottom trawl vessels in 2017 either registered (‘flagged’) or largely owned in China.

Pricing Plastics Pollution: Lessons from Three Decades of Climate Policy

Plastic is now the most widely used human-made substance on the planet, and plastics pollution impacts marine and coastal ecosystems, local economies, and human health. Local and national governments are increasingly responding by banning plastic bags and other specific plastic products, taxing the use of certain plastics, and improving waste management and recycling. These are important steps, but alone they will not result in a meaningful reduction in cumulative plastics pollution or encourage development of sufficient alternatives to plastic. Additional policy measures are necessary.