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Coral Reefs and People in a High CO2 World: Where Can Science Make a Difference to People?

Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere put shallow, warm-water coral reef ecosystems, and the people who depend upon them at risk from two key global environmental stresses: 1) elevated sea surface temperature that can cause coral bleaching and related mortality, and 2) ocean acidification. These rising CO2 levels may affect most of the world’s coral reefs and the populations which depend on them by 2050, according to a study the journal PLOS ONE. The study projects that countries in western Oceania would be amongst the first affected by CO2-driven coral reef stress, followed by Southeast Asian countries in the Coral Triangle such as Indonesia, which are highly dependent on coral reefs. Countries predicted to be most likely to experience severe ocean acidification are generally different from those predicted to experience the earliest onset of coral bleaching, with acidification projected to be worse for countries at the upper and lower latitudinal bounds of coral reef distribution such as Baja California (Mexico), Japan, China, and southern Australia. Unfortunately, many of the countries that are most dependent upon coral reefs are also the countries for which data are least robust, and the authors note that international and regional efforts will be needed to overcome obstacles to obtaining good data globally.

Authors: Linwood Pendleton, Adrien Comte, Chris Langdon, Julia A. Ekstrom, Sarah R. Cooley, Lisa Suatoni, Michael W. Beck, Luke M. Brander, Lauretta Burke, Josh E. Cinner, Carolyn Doherty, Peter E. T. Edwards, Dwight Gledhill, Li-Qing Jiang, Ruben J. van Hooidonk, Louise Teh, George G. Waldbusser, and Jessica Ritter

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Climate and Energy

Ocean and Coastal Policy

Ecosystem Services

Journal Articles

Ecosystem Service Concepts in Practice

Economists have long embraced the idea that services provided by nature have inherent economic value. Ecologists, other scientists, and many in the environmental advocacy community have more recently come to focus on the connection between natural systems and economic value. The broadening interest in the economic value of nature over the last two decades led to the emergence of the interrelated and now commonly used terms ecosystem services and natural capital. To inform Canadian policy, this article in a special issue of the journal Canadian Public Policy discusses some of the efforts that have been enacted elsewhere, with particular emphasis on those in the United States, and why some have been more successful than others.

Author: Brian C. Murray

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Climate and Energy

Ecosystem Services

Environmental Economics

Journal Articles

The Paris Agreement and Beyond: International Climate Change Policy Post 2020

While the Paris Agreement sets forth an innovative and potentially effective policy architecture, a great deal remains to be done to elaborate the accord—to formulate the many rules and guidelines required and to specify more precise means of implementation. Governments, other stakeholders, and researchers also need to think about constraints on the effectiveness of the Paris Agreement—and identify organizations and processes that could complement the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process more broadly. In July 2016, the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements hosted a research workshop at the Harvard Kennedy School, the purpose of which was to identify options for elaborating and implementing the Paris Agreement—and to identify policies and institutions that might complement or supplement the Paris-Agreement regime. Participants, which included Nicholas Institute researchers Brian Murray and Billy Pizer, subsequently prepared the briefs that are included in this volume, based largely on their presentations at the workshop, addressing opportunities for—and challenges to—elaborating, implementing, and complementing the Paris Agreement. 

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Climate and Energy

Environmental Economics

Reports

North American Climate Policy Forum: Exploring Cooperation between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico, June 22–23, 2016—Post-Conference Discussion and Summary Report

Canada, the United States, and Mexico have begun to recognize opportunities for harmonization on climate change policy as a way to decrease costs and increase the efficiency of actions to address climate change and to help all three countries achieve their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals pledged under the 2015 Paris Agreement. Although significant progress has been made at the sub-national level on climate policy innovation in North America, more work is needed to understand how increased coordination on climate change policies in North America could address concerns such as competitiveness, emissions leakage, and policy consistency in the region. To begin the conversation on the potential for and impacts of climate policy harmonization in North America, The University of Ottawa’s Sustainable Prosperity (now Smart Prosperity Institute) and Duke University organized the first annual North American Climate Policy (NACP) Forum, June 23-24, 2016, in Ottawa, Canada. The forum brought together prominent climate policy makers, business leaders, and researchers to discuss policy options to mitigate climate change and stimulate innovation for low-carbon technology solutions, to initiate conversation about whether climate goals and policies could and should be harmonized across the region, and to highlight the potential challenges and advantages of such harmonization ahead of the 2016 North American Leader’s Summit, also in Ottawa, where joint energy and climate change policy goals were announced by Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, President of the United States Barack Obama, and President of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto. This report presents an overview of how existing regulatory approaches to climate change as well as recently announced joint emissions reduction targets lay the groundwork for climate policy harmonization. It then describes four issue areas that present potential opportunities and challenges for climate policy harmonization: alignment with trade policy, carbon pricing, clean innovation policy, and climate change adaptation policies. For each area, it reviews relevant insights from discussion at the forum, occasionally expanding on them by drawing on relevant literature. The report concludes with opportunities for future research that can further illuminate the issues raised at the conference and in the literature.

Authors: Emily Pechar, Mercedes Marcano, Acacia Paton-Young, Brian Murray, and Geoff McCarney

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Climate and Energy

Environmental Economics

Reports

Increasing Emissions Certainty under a Carbon Tax

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, some groups have proposed that the United States consider use of a carbon tax. But whether the nation will achieve a specific emissions goal is uncertain because the economy’s response to such a tax is uncertain. Ultimately, there is an underlying tradeoff between certainty about emissions and certainty about prices and costs. To reduce uncertainty about whether a tax will achieve specific emissions goals, additional mitigation measures could be called on if emissions exceed those goals by a given amount. However, such additional measures introduce uncertainty about costs. At the extreme, a commitment to achieve emissions targets at all costs would imply that costs could be quite high. Discussions of policy mechanisms to increase price and cost certainty under several current cap-and-trade programs confronted this same dilemma: how much uncertainty about emissions outcomes is acceptable given reciprocal uncertainty about costs? Viewed through a slightly different lens, mechanisms that balance emissions and cost uncertainty can be viewed as a way to structure a more careful compromise between economic and environmental interests. This policy brief discusses 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 introduce ideas for further 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. This performance would presumably provide the basis for pursuing remedial mechanisms. Next, the brief turns to a taxonomy of such mechanisms and the challenges and opportunities of each. It discusses ideas for initiating these mechanisms, either through some automated or discretionary procedure. The brief concludes with areas for additional research. The brief intentionally raises more questions than it answers—questions will be important to explore in ways that can provide guidance to policy decisions and design.

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

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Carbon Tax

Climate and Energy

Environmental Economics

Policy Briefs

Illuminating the Energy Policy Agenda: Electricity Sector Issues Facing the Next Administration

The next president will take office during a period of rapid market and regulatory change for the U.S. electricity sector. Due to statutory deadlines, pending lawsuits, and agency rulemakings—if not by choice—the next president will tackle energy policy. To prepare policy makers for what promises to be a dynamic period in electricity law and policy, this report provides an overview of each of six key areas of federal policy and, for each area, identifies the decision points—in time or circumstances—that will force the next administration to make choices that shape the future of the grid. For each decision point, the report explores the next president’s options and the federal agencies and authorities that he or she could deploy.

Authors: Jonas Monast, Kate Konschnik, Ari Peskoe, Sarah Adair, and Christina Reichert

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Climate and Energy

Clean Air Act

Environmental Economics

Energy Sector

Reports

Transport of Hydraulic Fracturing Waste from Pennsylvania Wells: A County-Level Analysis of Road Use and Associated Road Repair Costs

Pennsylvania’s rapid unconventional oil and gas development—from a single well in 2004 to more than 6700 wells in 2013—has dramatically increased unconventional oil and gas waste transport by heavy trucks. In an article published in the Journal of Environmental Management, researchers at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the U.S. Geological Survey report that transportation of waste associated with the development of unconventional oil and gas in Pennsylvania increases the cost of road repairs not only in Pennsylvania but in counties in the surrounding states of West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, and New York. Between July 2010 and December 2013, the estimated cost to repair roads damaged by trucks transporting unconventional oil and gas waste ranged from $3 million to $18 million. Although the majority of these costs were concentrated in Pennsylvania (79 percent), Ohio counties absorbed some of them (16 percent). The study includes an interactive graphic for visualization of the data.   

Authors: Lauren A. Patterson and Kelly O. Maloney

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Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Use

Climate and Energy

Water Policy

Environmental Economics

State Policy

Journal Articles

Effect of Existing and Novel Policy Options on the Sustainable Development of Regional Bioenergy Systems: Lessons and Future Directions

What are the most appropriate policies to facilitate regional bioenergy systems in furtherance of environmental, social, and economic objectives? A multi-year research project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has attempted to answer that question for the southeastern United States. Project analyses found few policies targeted to the upstream portions of the supply chain in the region, suggesting that efforts to encourage sustainable bioenergy markets should be cognizant of the dynamics of feedstock production and use. Investigation of bioenergy market participation identified non-production objectives, structural and social constraints, and market-related attributes that could influence market participation decision making. It also suggested that policies specific to individual markets might be more effective than uniform national initiatives in encouraging participation. Modeling of potential policies to facilitate development of regional bioenergy systems suggested that feedstock dynamics play a critical role in outcomes. A region-wide renewable portfolio standard—a policy characterized by few restrictions on the location of feedstock production and use—led to increases in forest carbon and decreases in greenhouse gas emissions at multiple scales. Forcing feedstock production and use to occur in particular locations might have the opposite outcome. The effectiveness of regional bioenergy systems will depend on the responsiveness of policy to social, economic, and resource conditions.

Authors: Christopher S. Galik, Tibor Vegh, Robert C. Abt, and Gregory Latta

 

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Climate and Energy

Regional Bioenergy

Environmental Economics

Modeling

Working Papers

Ongoing Evolution of the Electricity Industry: Effects of Market Conditions and the Clean Power Plan on States

The electricity industry is evolving as changes in natural gas and coal prices, along with environmental regulations, dramatically shift the generation mix. Future trends in gas prices and costs of renewables are likely to continue moving the industry away from coal-fired generation and into lower-emitting sources such as natural gas and renewables. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) is likely to amplify these trends. The CPP rule regulates emissions from existing fossil generators and allows states to choose among an array of rate-based and mass-based goals. The analysis in this paper uses the electricity-dispatch component of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions’ Dynamic Integrated Economy/Energy/Emissions Model to evaluate electricity industry trends and CPP impacts on the U.S. generation mix, emissions, and industry costs. Several coordinated approaches to the Clean Power Plan are considered, along with a range of uncoordinated “patchwork” choices by states. The model results indicate future industry trends are likely to make compliance with the Clean Power Plan relatively inexpensive; cost increases are likely to be on the order of 0.1% to 1.0%. Some external market conditions such as high gas prices could increase these costs, whereas low gas or renewables prices can achieve many of CPP goals without additional adjustments by the industry. However, policy costs can vary substantially across states, and may lead some of them to adopt a patchwork of policies that, although in their own best interests, could impose additional costs on neighboring states.

Authors: Martin T. Ross, David Hoppock, and Brian C. Murray

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Climate and Energy

Clean Air Act

Environmental Economics

Energy Sector

State Policy

Working Papers

Cost Distribution Impacts of Clean Power Plan Compliance Pathways

Under the Clean Power Plan, different utilities and power producers are likely to be in different positions: some will benefit from the rule, and others will face high compliance costs. This cost distribution may lead to monetary transfers—redistributions of money, income, or value from one party to another that are not necessarily driven by a change in the corresponding cost of production—among utilities and other power producers, between generators and consumers, and among consumers of different utilities. The regulatory system for each state’s electric utilities and the strength of regional electricity markets will play a major role in determining how the cost distribution and potential transfers play out, especially for ratepayers. This policy brief explores the cost distribution impacts for electricity producers of rate-based and mass-based compliance, respectively. It also considers how wholesale markets may mediate these producer impacts of rate- and mass-based compliance. It then turns to the implications for electricity consumers under various market and regulatory structures. Finally, it identifies opportunities to address distributional impacts if states wish to do so. It finds that states adopting a mass-based compliance approach can use allowance allocation to largely control monetary transfers within a state. States adopting a rate-based compliance approach lack this direct control mechanism.

Authors: David Hoppock and Sarah Adair

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Climate and Energy

Clean Air Act

Environmental Economics

Energy Sector

State Policy

Policy Briefs

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