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. 

Use of Preservation in North Carolina Wetland and Stream Mitigation

To better protect the nation’s wetlands and streams, the Clean Water Act allows use of compensatory mitigation to replace the benefits of lost wetlands and streams. This paper summarizes North Carolina’s use of preservation for compensatory mitigation by private mitigation banks and a state-operated in-lieu fee (ILF) program. Within private mitigation banks, preservation activities have generated 5.6% of wetland credits and 9.1% of stream credits since 2008. Within the state in-lieu fee program run by the Division of Mitigation Services, 45.0% of wetland credits and 6.2% of stream credits have resulted from preservation. However, a majority of the wetland credits generated by preservation in the ILF program came from one site described as unusually large by program staff. Since 2008, North Carolina’s ILF program and mitigation banks have continued to use preservation at relatively low rates for both wetland and stream mitigation. 

Integrating Large-Scale Planning into Environmental Markets and Related Programs: Status and Trends

Building on earlier efforts, guidance from the federal government on mitigation for environmental impacts recommends the use of large-scale plans, preferably carried out in advance of impacts, to steer both development and mitigation. The idea is that advanced planning can improve site selection for proposed projects and increase the return on investment for mitigation while helping to provide greater predictability for project proponents, increase the efficiencies of project review, reduce permitting times, and support better environmental results. This paper explores progress in integrating large-scale, spatially explicit planning into environmental markets and programs in the United States. Through interviews with experts and a literature review, it identifies examples of large-scale planning in these programs. It describes how the planning is guiding decisions about impact avoidance and compensatory mitigation, whether the planning is required or optional, and if the planning incorporates co-benefits or other regulatory-driven priorities. 

Sharing Groundwater: A Robust Framework and Implementation Roadmap for Sustainable Groundwater Management in California

This working paper offers a framework and roadmap for development of a robust groundwater-sharing system consistent with California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which requires communities in priority areas to prepare groundwater sustainability plans. The proposed system draws on global experience. Robustness is its signature feature. Opportunities are maximized by a suite of robust local governance, allocation, and administrative arrangements. Additionally, the proposed system incentivizes innovation, stimulates investment, and facilitates low-cost adjustment to changes in groundwater demand. 

Benefits, Costs, and Distributional Impacts of a Groundwater Trading Program in the Diamond Valley, Nevada

In Nevada’s Diamond Valley, unsustainable groundwater pumping has decreased the aquifer’s water level, raising irrigators’ pumping costs and threatening the viability of existing wells and springs. Continued extraction in excess of natural recharge will trigger a legally required curtailment of water rights in the valley, which was recently declared a critical management area (CMA). The extent of rights curtailment is not mandated, but it could be as high as 64%, the amount required to reach the estimated natural recharge rate. The default policy for curtailment of water rights will occur according to the principle of prior appropriation, whereby rights are revoked in reverse order of their date of issuance. Rights granted most recently will be canceled first, and the revocation will proceed in order of increasing seniority until the government’s desired level of total water extraction is reached. Nevada law requires this intervention to occur within 10 years of the CMA declaration. This report analyzes the economic outcomes of sudden and alternative curtailment policies, using a hydro-economic model tailored to conditions in the region.

A Review of the Use of Early-Action Incentives in U.S. Environmental Markets

Early action can refer to activities undertaken prior to a regulatory program or the generation of a particular service before its use to mitigate an impact elsewhere. In U.S. environmental markets, early action can result in multiple benefits. One benefit is facilitation of market function by helping to generate a sufficient supply of viable, low-cost credits to buyers and gain momentum in new markets. Another benefit is providing advance mitigation, which can speed the delivery of ecosystem services. As markets emerge and mature, early action can help reduce lags in environmental performance, improve outcomes, and encourage innovation in mitigation approaches. Multiple tools have been proposed for encouraging early action in ecosystem services markets. To varying extents, these tools have also been deployed, providing valuable experience and insight into their functioning. This paper presents several case studies of how these tools have been used in wetland and stream mitigation, species and habitat banking, greenhouse gas emissions reduction and sequestration, and water quality trading. A revised version of the paper appears in the journal Land Use Policy.

Engaging Large Forest Owners in All-Lands Conservation: All-Lands and Large Ownerships—A Conversation to Advance Engagement Workshop, March 8, 2016, Washington, D.C.

Successful landscape-scale forest conservation and management efforts must engage a wide variety of forestland owners. Owners of large areas of forestland (more than 10,000 acres) have a particularly important role to play in the attainment of landscape-scale goals. Their cooperation increases opportunities for attaining conservation benefits at significant scale. On March 8, 2016, a group of large private landowners was for the first time brought together with federal, NGO, and academic thought leaders to generate ideas for improving engagement on landscape-scale conservation goals. The dialogue was designed to identify barriers to and options for that engagement. These proceedings summarize the dialogue of meeting participants in addressing an “all lands” approach to conservation whereby landowners and stakeholders collaborate on identifying long-term, mutually beneficial goals for the landscapes they share. It includes a profile of large institutional forestland owners and details the results of a survey conducted to measure their current engagement in conservation activities. Participants identified barriers to engaging large forest landowners in conservation. They include the absence of an inclusive vision for the future of forest management, insufficient leadership for building diverse coalitions to address forest threats, lack of alignment of existing federal programs with respect to large ownership structures, limited understanding of the public benefits provided by large privately owned forests, and lack of markets to sustain these benefits. Participants recognized the need to define a shared conservation vision, to build leadership for a broad coalition of stakeholders, and to execute a national strategy recognizing the value of and providing incentives for large private landowners to cooperatively address forest threats. Much discussion centered on building the business case for conservation and on recognizing new values and expanding markets. Participants also considered opportunities for aligning the incentive-based approaches of funding agencies with the needs and interests of forestland owners. A steering committee was formed to consider developing specific strategies to incentivize engagement of large forestland owners and to work toward a collaborative vision for attaining conservation objectives across varied ownerships.


Contributions of LiDAR to Ecosystem Service Planning and Markets: Assessing the Costs and Benefits of Investment

Municipalities are increasingly interested in using light detection and radar (LiDAR) technology to support a variety of markets, services, and planning processes. Consequently, they are contemplating how best to justify investments in improved data when not all of the investments’ costs and benefits are amenable to quantitative estimation. They are also contemplating who benefits from the investments and how to address any inequities in either costs or benefits. This paper reviews the drivers and co-benefits of expanded LiDAR data investment by local government entities and presents a case study of forest carbon markets in California to illuminate how this investment compares to investment in the acquisition of field sampling and other data. The study suggests that LiDAR can be cost-competitive with traditional field-sampling approaches under certain conditions or assumptions, and it may offer advantages and some benefits that may not accrue from field-based approaches. In addition, the study reinforces the conclusion of other research that conditions, approach, and assumptions strongly influence analysis outcomes, in turn reinforcing the need to tailor analyses to the research question at hand. Although the case study lends insight into the tools available for assessing the costs and benefits of LiDAR data acquisition, several uncertainties remain, including how LiDAR and other improved data fit into national policy dialogues and program funding discussions.

Assessing County and Regional Habitat Conservation Plan Creation: What Contributes to Success?

Habitat conservation plans (HCPs) are a means for private landowners to comply with the Endangered Species Act. It has become increasingly common for county and regional governments to create region-wide HCPs that cover development from multiple projects in the entire region. Local governments recognize that these plans can increase economic certainty for residents, increase development, and potentially increase conservation. However, region-wide plans are time and resource intensive, and they sometimes are not completed. What factors and processes lead to the successful completion of an HCP at the regional and county level? This paper presents the results of five case studies on county or regional HCPs. It finds that several factors contribute to successful HCP creation: (1) a cooperative relationship between the county or region and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and between the local governing body and the USFWS; (2) local community and political involvement, especially early stakeholder engagement; (3) determination of the covered species by a scientific advisory committee or a consultant; (4) primary funding through USFWS Section 6 grants; and (5) utilization of the county or region’s own reserve lands to most efficiently use mitigation funds and provide the best species habitat. By identifying these factors that contribute to HCP success, this analysis allows stakeholders to anticipate needs and potential barriers, benefitting individuals with diverse interests in counties and regions where a large-scale HCP is possible.

Authors: Chelsea L. Baldino, Lydia P. Olander, and Christopher S. Galik

Building Carbon in America’s Farms, Forests, and Grasslands: Foundations for a Policy Roadmap

In the United States, land carbon offsets nearly 15 percent of economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to half of emissions from the transportation sector. However, the future of this sizable "carbon sink" is uncertain. The latest U.S. assessments disagree on whether land will be a sink or a source in the coming decades, which could make all the difference in whether future climate targets are reached. Despite significant research, a complete understanding of policy or market tools capable of bending the trajectory of the carbon sink remains elusive. This report by Forest Trends and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions—the first product of the Land Carbon Policy Roadmap Initiative—launches a process for understanding the most significant drivers of land carbon change and the policy tools critical for managing land carbon into the future. It offers new analysis to support a long-term roadmap for enhancing the U.S. land carbon sink, ensuring that healthy and productive landscapes contribute to greenhouse gas reduction goals.