Resources Magazine: Targeting Forest Conservation Investments

The Forest Conservation Targeting Tool maps areas that will have the highest (red) to lowest (blue) return on conservation investment, as defined by the user’s particular budget and goals.

An Interview with Allen Blackman

Researchers at RFF are developing a free, Web-based interactive decision tool to help policymakers in Mexico, Central America, and the Dominican Republic decide where to invest scarce forest conservation resources. The tool uses rich spatial data on deforestation risk, forest ecosystem services, and the cost of conservation to map trade-offs in conservation investments.

During the past two years, a prototype has been used by The Nature Conservancy to help target conservation investments for the US Agency for International Development’s $29 million program, Mexico Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (MREDD). RFF Thomas Klutznick Senior Fellow and project director Allen Blackman recently talked with Resources about how the tool empowers conservation decisionmakers.

RESOURCES: What was the impetus for developing the Forest Conservation Targeting Tool?

ALLEN BLACKMAN: Deforestation and degradation continue to be severe problems in developing countries. They cause all kinds of local and global environmental problems, from soil erosion and flooding to biodiversity loss and climate change. But resources available to address those problems are scarce. That means it is critically important that the resources we devote to forest conservation have the biggest bang for the buck possible.

Juha Siikamäki [RFF associate research director and senior fellow] and I conceived of the Forest Conservation Targeting Tool to do that. The goal is to help decisionmakers choose locations where conservation has the greatest payoff. Building the tool has been a team effort, and I think Juha and I have put together a really good one. RFF Research Assistant Len Goff is responsible for programming the model, and it looks good and works well because of him. Jessica Chu is our geographical information systems expert. We’ve just hired a post-doc named Joe Maher who will play a big role over the next couple of years. And Matt Hansen and Peter Potopov at the University of Maryland are creating our forest loss data using satellite images.

The targeting tool is actually one of two forest conservation decision tools we’re developing as part of a larger project funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s SERVIR program and the Moore Foundation. While the targeting tool can be used to plan future conservation investment, the other tool is for evaluating the effectiveness of specific policies, such as protected areas and payments for ecosystems, that already are in use.

Looking ahead, we hope to combine these two approaches. We want to enable policymakers to get answers to questions such as, “Where are payments for ecosystem services likely to be particularly effective?” and “Where are protected areas likely to work best?”

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This Week in the RFF Library Blog

Each week, I review the papers, studies, reports, and briefings posted over at the RFF Library Blog.

The Transfer of Public Lands Movement: Taking the ‘Public’ Out of Public Lands

[AP] Utah’s push to wrest control of 31 million acres of federally controlled land would lead to less public access, less public involvement in land-use decisions and more drilling and strip mining, according to a new report by legal scholars. – via Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources & the Environment, S.J. Quinney College of Law,University of Utah / by Robert B. Keiter and John Ruple

Clean Power Plan Flexibility Means States Have Many Paths Toward Compliance: White Paper
Veteran air quality regulators at the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP) see significant opportunity for states to bring new approaches to air quality planning due to the unusual flexibility allowed under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act—the law underpinning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Clean Power Plan. In a new policy brief, It’s Not a SIP: Opportunities and Implications for State 111(d) Compliance Planning, RAP finds that states are not confined to the prescriptive federal requirements generally associated with state implementation plans (SIPs) under the Clean Air Act. Instead, states can craft their compliance plans based on state policy, and can even tailor their plans to achieve compliance more cost-effectively, meet other state public policy goals, and boost state employment and economic gains—as long as the plan meets EPA’s established greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets… – via Regulatory Assistance Project

Final EPA Report on Oil and Gas Drilling and Earthquakes
[From an Energy Wire article by Michael Soraghan, sub. req’d] U.S. EPA has issued its final report on man-made earthquakes related to oil and gas drilling activities after 3½ years. - via Distribution of Final Work Product from the National Underground Injection Control (UIC) Technical Workgroup: Minimizing and Managing Potential Impacts of Injection-Induced Seismicity from Class II Disposals: Practical Approaches

Quantifying the Impact of Climate Change on Extreme Heat in Australia
Washington Post] …the Australian summer of 2012-2013 provided a terrifying preview of a world under climate change. According to the country’s Bureau of Meteorology, a devastating heat wave in late 2012-early 2013 saw “records set in every State and Territory… – via Climate Council

Natural Gas Infrastructure Implications of Increased Demand from the Electric Power Sector
This report examines the potential infrastructure needs of the U.S. interstate natural gas pipeline transmission system across a range of future natural gas demand scenarios that drive increased electric power sector natural gas use. To perform this analysis, the U.S. Department of Energy commissioned Deloitte MarketPoint to examine scenarios in its North American Integrated Model (NAIM), which simultaneously models the electric power and the natural gas sectors. This study concludes that, under scenarios in which natural gas demand from the electric power sector increases, the incremental increase in interstate natural gas pipeline expansion is modest, relative to historical capacity additions.  Similarly, capital expenditures on new interstate pipelines in the scenarios considered here are projected to be significantly less than the capital expenditures associated with infrastructure expansion over the last 15 years. – via Deloitte MarketPoint for the US Dept. of Energy

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RFF ON THE ISSUES: Geoengineering; Hispanics’ views on climate; Climate mitigation payments

In this edition:

  • An upcoming RFF event on geoengineering
  • New results from the New York Times/RFF/Stanford University poll: Hispanics’ views on climate
  • A discussion on the willingness of individuals to pay for climate mitigation measures


Last week, the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released two assessments of techniques for managing climate change, including reflecting sunlight and removing and sequestering carbon dioxide.  In a seminar next week co-hosted by RFF and the Forum for Climate Engineering Assessment, a panel of experts will review both NAS geoengineering reports. They will discuss the political and economic implications of the findings, as well as the opportunities and dangers posed by climate engineering decisions. Register now to attend the event or watch the live webcast.

Read More

Resources Magazine: Mapping the Value of Ecosystem Services in Latin America and the Caribbean

Targeting ecosystems services for conservation reveals broader gains than a traditional focus on biodiversity might, according to work by RFF’s Juha Siikamäki, Peter Vail, Rebecca Epanchin-Niell, and Francisco Santiago-Ávila.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, biodiversity and ecosystems are among the region’s most valuable assets and of strategic importance for attaining long-term sustainable development. But traditional conservation approaches that focus only on biodiversity may miss oppor­tunities to provide benefits in the form of ecosystem services to the people living in the region.

Latin America and the Caribbean cover vast areas on both sides of the equator, including a wide range of tropical, subtropi­cal, and temperate ecosystems, and even the icy waters off Antarctica. The region contains close to 800 million hectares of forested areas, 570 million hectares of wild savannas, 700 million hectares of produc­tive lands, and 27 percent of the planet’s available drinking water.

The region is known for its exceptional biodiversity. South America alone accounts for half of the global terrestrial biodiversity. Some of the world’s most biologically diverse countries are situated in the region, including Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela. More than half the Caribbean flora cannot be found anywhere else on the globe.

At the same time, the region is rapidly changing in ways that put pressure on biodiversity. Between 1950 and 2010, the population in Latin America and the Carib­bean grew by more than 250 percent, and the last 20 years have seen a near doubling of the GDP. As the countries in this region become wealthier, the urban and middle class populations grow. So, too, does the demand for energy, water, food, forest products, land, and minerals. Now at a crossroads, the region faces an enormous opportunity and challenge to ensure that ecosystems are managed sustainably to provide the services needed to meet this demand.

Traditionally, conservation efforts tend to focus on areas unique in biodiversity, such as those with the greatest number of species. But a more comprehensive approach is becoming popular that consid­ers broader ecosystem benefits in addition to biodiversity. Conservation funding can be seen as an investment with measurable returns—often in biophysical quanti­ties, such as the number of species, but sometimes also in dollars. At its core is the concept of ecosystem services (see the box below).

Despite the fact that many ecosystem services are not readily transacted and valued by the market, they are still economically valuable. Over the last several decades, economists have developed differ­ent approaches to determine the value of non-market benefits so that they can be considered alongside market values in the management and protection of ecosystems. Estimates of the value of ecosystem services in various parts of Latin America and the Caribbean are sparse, but what information we do have offers cues about the drivers of the value of ecosystem services.

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Understanding President Obama’s Arctic Development Plans

The landscape in the Arctic is changing, and in more ways than just ice cover. Over the last month, the Obama administration has made a number of significant announcements on Arctic policy. Leaving aside the one that has elicited the strongest response—the wilderness designation for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—a presidential memo directed the Department of the Interior to permanently remove 9.8 million offshore acres of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas from oil and gas development. Contrary to charges that this was a dramatic departure from previous policy, this announcement comes out of a complex, scientific, and still developing process to develop a new, adaptive management approach that features an Arctic-specific targeted leasing model. At the same time, this announcement appears to us to violate procedural expectations and internal consistency by jumping ahead of the plan from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to likely defer development of this acreage in the 2017-2022  period—a plan released on the same day. Read More

EPA’s New Source Review Program: A Look at Permit Processing Time

CoverDelays in the permitting of manufacturing, energy, and infrastructure projects have been a continuing focus of concern for industry, Congress, and the Obama administration. The President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness included in its recommendations steps to streamline Federal agency permitting processes. The Obama administration has also targeted delays in the permitting of industrial and infrastructure projects as part of its effort to promote economic growth, including the proposal in the 2015 budget for a new Interagency Infrastructure Permitting Improvement Center to be housed at the Department of Transportation.

A long and difficult approval process for development, infrastructure, or plant generation can delay or cancel capacity additions and upgrades, ultimately discouraging progress. In a new RFF discussion paper, “EPA’s New Source Review Program: Evidence on Processing Time, 2002-2014,” my colleagues (Mike Neuner of Louisiana State University and Peter Vail of RFF) and I analyze data on the actual time it takes to assess gas- and coal-fired plant permits through the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) New Source Review (NSR) program. Read More

Resources Magazine: Wood Energy in Developed Economies: An Overlooked Renewable

(source: Neil Howard / flickr)

“Wood energy represents the leading source of renewable energy in many developed nations across North America and Europe.” (source: Neil Howard / flickr)

Though it is often ignored in national conversations about renewables, wood energy dominates renewable energy portfolios in many developed countries—and is poised for exponential growth. Francisco Aguilar sets the record straight about this salient energy source.

Considered to be the first form of energy harnessed by humans, wood was long the primary source of heat and illumination for people in every corner of the globe. Today, it is estimated that more than 2 billion people in developing countries rely primarily on wood and other forest products for their daily cooking and heating needs, causing the public to associate the use of such resources with tropi­cal deforestation and poverty. Meanwhile, energy headlines in developed economies have been dominated by stories about coal and oil since the mid-1800s, making it easy to forget that the exploitation of those fossil sources by humans has been a relatively recent development.

Both ideas—that energy derived from forests is used primarily in developing nations and that its importance in the energy portfolios of developed economies is negligible—fail to capture the reality of current energy markets. Wood energy represents the leading source of renewable energy in many developed countries across North America and Europe. And in the United States, wood energy accounts for 25 percent of renewable energy consump­tion, second only to hydropower and more prominent than wind and solar energy. This high level of generation has been achieved thanks to healthy forest resources supported by a combination of recent market and policy developments.

Wood Energy in the Twenty-First Century

The term “wood energy” refers to energy derived from solid, liquid, and gaseous wood fuels, including raw firewood, processed charcoals, pellets, briquettes, residual fibers, and black pulping liquors. Some of these fuels can be sourced directly from forests or indirectly as by-products from the wood processing and pulp industries, whereas others can be created from processed wood products that are recovered and repurposed at the end of their consumer life cycles. About 58 percent of wood fuels across the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) region—a group of 56 countries that includes the United States, Canada, European nations, the Russian Federation, and the Commonwealth of Independent States—come from indirect sources. The rest are attributed to direct sources (32.9 percent), recovered wood (3.8 percent), and unspecified supplies (5.4 percent).

Wood fuels are ultimately converted to energy through combustion using one of three main processes. Direct firing or co-firing with other fuels—such as coal—is likely the method most familiar to consumers and requires the least amount of pre-processing in order to render fuels usable. Woody feedstock can also be biochemically transformed (using chemicals or enzymes) into sugars for the production of biofuels, or thermochemically transformed (using heat, pressure, and catalysts) into biofuels and other co-products.

The wide range of feedstocks and conversion processes available today allows for a diversity of sectors that manu­facture and use wood energy. Forest-based industrial producers, such as pulp and paper manufacturers, burn wood-based fuel to generate electricity or heat used internally to support production. So do plants designed to generate electricity or combined heat and power to sell to third parties. And residential consumers use wood-burning fireplaces or pellet stoves for home heating. Technological progress has allowed an increase in energy output while reducing the amount of associated pollution, including particulate matter, that limited wider adoption in the past.

Modern Wood Energy Markets

One of the most comprehensive sources of information about wood energy markets in developed countries comes from the Joint Wood Energy Enquiry, a survey of wood energy consumption in the UNECE region. The most recent results, from a 2011 Joint Wood Energy Enquiry answered by 27 UNECE member countries, revealed that wood energy accounted for 3.3 percent of the region’s total primary energy supply (Figure 1). Although absolute wood energy consumption tends to fluctuate in the United States and Canada, the European Union has experienced an increase in consumption of more than 104 percent in the last two decades. Notably, the share of wood used for energy jumped during the recent recession, suggesting that energy production may have provided an alterna­tive market for wood fibers while demand for more traditional products, such as paper and cardboard, declined.

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RFF ON THE ISSUES: Federal budget and taxes; California carbon permits

In this edition:

  • Analysis on how to revise the tax code to address climate change
  • Examining California’s climate policy

Federal Budget and Taxes

The White House’s recent $4 trillion annual budget request included a number of proposed changes aimed at addressing climate change through the US tax code. The plan would “strip an estimated $44 billion tax breaks over a decade” from oil and gas producers, while also permanently extending tax credits for wind and solar-energy systems.

Policymakers can also use the tax code to mitigate climate by imposing a carbon tax. Such a tax would reduce harmful emissions while raising “billions of dollars each year,” according to RFF’s Marc Hafstead and Stanford University’s Lawrence Goulder. This revenue can “serve a wide range of purposes” such as financing energy efficiency investments, financing payments to negatively affected households or firms, or reducing the federal deficit. Hafstead also notes that the revenue could be used to finance corporate tax reform to “discourage corporate tax inversions.” Read More

This Week in the RFF Library Blog

Each week, I review the papers, studies, reports, and briefings posted over at the RFF Library Blog.

Decarbonizing Pipeline Gas to Help Meet California’s 2050 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goal
[Green Car Congress]  A new study by Energy Environmental Economics (E3) consulting suggests that low-carbon gas fuels are a viable option for meeting California’s greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals and can simultaneously help achieve pollution emission reduction targets. – via Energy Environmental Economics (E3)

2013 Renewable Energy Data Book
The newly released 2013 Renewable Energy Data Book illustrates United States and global energy statistics, including renewable electricity generation, renewable energy development, clean energy investments, and technology-specific data and trends. The Data Book is produced and published annually by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on behalf of the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy… – via National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

Historical Hydraulic Fracturing Trends and Data
Two new U.S. Geological Survey publications that highlight historical hydraulic fracturing trends and data from 1947 to 2010 are now available… – via USGS

The Guidance Manual on Valuation and Accounting of Ecosystem Services for Small Island Developing States
The global net loss of the coral reef cover will cost the international economy an estimated US$ 11.9 trillion, with SIDS [small island developing states] especially impacted by the loss. – via United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Map of US Dam Removals 1936-2014
Few things have such a fundamental impact on a river as a dam. Dams block a river’s flow and can harm clean water, fish and wildlife, and recreation opportunities. American Rivers has pioneered a science-based approach to the removal of outdated dams. – via American Rivers

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A Challenge for the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement

This post originally appeared on Robert Stavins’s blog, An Economic View of the Environment.

At the recent climate negotiations at the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP-20) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Lima, Peru, a very important issue was left on the table, unresolved: Will the 2015 Paris Agreement (scheduled to be signed in December of this year at COP-21) facilitate – or at least avoid inhibiting – international linkage of national (and for that matter, sub-national) climate policies?

Brief History

In the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, adopted by COP-17 in 2011, negotiators agreed to develop a new legal instrument “under the Convention applicable to all Parties,” for adoption at COP-21 in December, 2015, in Paris. With the Lima talks now behind us, it appears that the 2015 agreement will reflect a hybrid climate policy architecture—one that combines top-down elements, such as for monitoring, reporting, and verification, with bottom-up elements, including “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs), describing what a country intends to do to reduce emissions, based on domestic political feasibility and other factors. (I wrote about this in Assessing the Outcome of the Lima Climate Talks, posted on December 14, 2014.)

Can the Aggregation of INDCs be Cost-Effective?

A major question facing negotiators is how can the new hybrid policy architecture encourage greater ambition, while remaining true to the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” A key answer to that question is to allow for the linkage of heterogeneous national policy instruments. Why do I say that?

Here’s the reason. An attribute of the Paris architecture that will encourage greater ambition over time is cost-effectiveness. (Another key attribute to encourage greater ambition is comparability of INDCs, a topic on which we’re also working at the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, about which I will write in the future.) To enhance the cost-effectiveness of the new system, a key feature will be linkages among regional, national, and sub-national climate policies. By linkage, I mean formal recognition by a greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation program in one jurisdiction (a regional, national, or sub-national government) of emission reductions undertaken in another jurisdiction for purposes of complying with the first jurisdiction’s mitigation program.

Linkage can be straightforward, as with the bilateral recognition of allowances under two cap-and-trade regimes, but – importantly — linkage can also take place among a heterogeneous set of policy instruments, such as between systems of performance standards, carbon taxes, and cap-and-trade.

Linkage in the Paris 2015 Agreement

In a new paper that was released by the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements at a packed “side event” in Lima, my co-authors – Daniel Bodansky of Arizona State University, Seth Hoedl of Harvard Law School, and Gilbert Metcalf of Tufts University – and I analyze theoretical issues relating to linkage among heterogeneous climate policy instruments and apply this analysis concretely to the 2015 Paris agreement. In “Facilitating Linkage of Heterogeneous Regional, National, and Sub-National Climate Policies Through a Future International Agreement,” we examine how the agreement can help facilitate the growth and operation of a robust system of international linkages of regional, national, and sub-national policies, as well as how inappropriate or excessive rules could obstruct effective, bottom-up linkage. Importantly, both economic and legal perspectives are represented in this research (which was supported by the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) and six of its member companies: Chevron, GDF-Suez, Global CCS Institute, Rio Tinto, Shell, and TransCanada)

Key Findings from Research

I encourage you to take a look at the full paper or, at least, its executive summary, but here – in very brief form — are the key findings.

First, there are a number of design elements the 2015 agreement should avoid, because they would inhibit linkage. These include “supplementarity requirements” that require parties to accomplish all or most of their emissions-reduction commitments within their national borders. The 2015 agreement also should avoid including detailed linkage rules in the core agreement; an agreement with more flexibility would allow rules to evolve on the basis of experience.

Second, to advance linkage, the 2015 agreement should: define key terms, in particular the units that are used for compliance purposes; establish registries and tracking mechanisms; and include default or model rules, from which nations are free to deviate at their discretion.

The most valuable outcome of the Paris Agreement regarding linkage may simply be including an explicit statement that parties may transfer portions of their emissions-reduction contributions to other parties—and that these transferred units may be used by the transferees to implement their own commitments.

It sounds simple, but a small but vocal set of (largely socialist) countries – including Bolivia, Venezuela, and Cuba – have vehemently opposed in the climate negotiations anything that looks remotely like a market, and will try hard to prevent such provisions from appearing in the 2015 agreement.

Next Steps

As the negotiating teams from 195 countries prepare to meet this month in Geneva, Switzerland, and in June in Bonn, Germany, the question remains of whether the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement will allow for and indeed facilitate international linkage of national and sub-national policies, and thereby encourage cost-effectiveness and greater environmental ambition. Over the next several months, the answer to this question will become clear.