RFF ON THE ISSUES: Nuclear fleet costs; Climate geoengineering options

In this edition:

  • Insight into the costs associated with operating nuclear utility fleets
  • Commentary on the importance of studying climate modification techniques

Nuclear Fleet Costs

A bipartisan group of Illinois lawmakers, with the support of power company Exelon and others, recently rolled out legislation that would reward power generators “for producing environmentally friendly electricity.” Exelon said the initiative would allow nuclear plants in the state that are at risk of closing prematurely to “compete with other low-carbon power generators—including wind, solar, water, and clean coal” on equal footing. Read More

The IPCC at a Crossroads

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

Love it or hate it, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) plays a very important role in global climate change policy around the world. This is because its reports enjoy a degree of credibility that renders them influential for public opinion, and – more important – it is because the reports are accepted as the definitive source on all matters climate change by international negotiators working under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In previous essays at this blog, I have written both about problems with the IPCC process (Is the IPCC Government Approval Process Broken?, April 25, 2014) and about its significant merits (Understanding the IPCC: An Important Follow-Up, May 3, 2014; The Final Stage of IPCC AR5 – Last Week’s Outcome in Copenhagen, November 4, 2014).

The IPCC is now at a crossroads. Its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) is now complete and largely successful (see my previous essays cited above). But, like many large institutions, the IPCC has experienced severe growing pains. Its size has increased to the point that it has become cumbersome, it sometimes fails to address the most important issues, and – most striking of all – it is now at risk of losing the participation of the world’s best scientists, due to the massive burdens that participation entails.

The good news is that this is a moment of considerable opportunity for addressing these and other challenges, because the direction of future assessments is now open for discussion and debate. Indeed, as I write this, the 195 member countries of the IPCC are meeting in plenary in Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss – among other topics –the future of the IPCC.

A Potentially Important Meeting on Another Continent

Just one week before the Kenya IPCC sessions commenced, another, much smaller meeting took place about 4,000 miles northwest of Nairobi – in Berlin, Germany. Twenty-four participants with experience with the IPCC met in Berlin for a three-day workshop on the future of international climate-assessment processes, from February 18th through 20th. The aim of the workshop was to take stock and reflect on lessons learned in past assessments – including those of the IPCC – in order to identify options for improving future assessment processes.

Participants included social scientists who contributed in various capacities to AR5 and earlier IPCC assessments, users of IPCC reports (from national governments and intergovernmental organizations), and representatives of other stakeholder groups. Participants came from both developed and developing countries, and discussions were held under Chatham House rules, with no public attribution of any comments to individuals.

The workshop (titled “Assessment and Communication of the Social Science of Climate Change: Bridging Research and Policy”) was co-organized by four academic and research organizations based in Europe and the United States: Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM, Italy), the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements (USA), the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC, Germany), and the Stanford Environmental and Energy Policy Analysis Center (USA).

Possible Ways Forward for the IPCC

As I noted above, now is a moment of considerable opportunity, because the future of the IPCC is open for discussion and debate, including at the meeting taking place this week in Nairobi. In this context, two of my co-organizers – Carlo Carraro of FEEM and Charles Kolstad of Stanford – and I have written a brief memorandum, based on our reflections on the Berlin workshop discussion. We describe a set of specific challenges and opportunities facing the IPCC, and provide options for improving the IPCC’s process of assessing scientific research on climate change. The complete memorandum is available here for your reading, and so I won’t attempt to summarize the highlights in this blog post, but simply note that our analysis focuses on five areas:

  • Improving integration and coordination across IPCC working groups, and enhancing the interface between scientists and governments;
  • Enhancing the interface between the IPCC and various social scientific disciplines and communities;
  • Increasing efforts – in innovative ways – to facilitate contributions of expertise from developing countries;
  • Increasing the efficiency of IPCC operations and ensuring the scientific integrity of its work products through targeted organizational improvements; and
  • Strengthening outreach and communications.

I should also note that Carraro served as Vice-Chair, and Kolstad and I served as Coordinating Lead Authors, all of Working Group III of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, but our organizing of the workshop and our authoring of this new memorandum were carried out in our roles as researchers, and completely independently of our former official capacities with the IPCC.

The Path Ahead

The memorandum is only the first of several products that will be forthcoming from this initiative. Over the coming months, we will produce a comprehensive report from the workshop (in time for the IPCC’s next meeting in October of this year, as well as the subsequent UNFCCC meeting in Paris in December). When that report is available, I will be pleased to bring it to the attention of readers of this blog.

Examining the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and the Making of a Consumer Boycott

CoverInformation on consumer boycotts and their participants is highly relevant for many corporations. A 2005 survey found that 36 percent of consumers polled across 17 countries had personally boycotted at least one brand, a likely troublesome figure for marketers. But what makes a boycott worth noting for companies or observers? To help answer that question, my colleagues, Alvin Lee and Michael Polonsky of Australia’s Deakin University, and I created a model for market-level boycott intensity that distinguishes between the levels of egregiousness—an event’s severity—and the preferences consumers associate with them, something that the existing literature on consumer boycotts fails to address. In a new RFF discussion paper, “Egregiousness and Boycott intensity: Evidence from the BP Deepwater Horizon Spill,” we also explore the relationship between boycott intensity and media coverage, due to the latter’s ability to influence consumer awareness about egregious events.

In order to test our model empirically, we turned to data collected during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The spill represents a single significant event—but its egregiousness changed over time based on reported levels of leaking oil. It also provided us with an easy way to conceptualize the distinction between egregiousness levels and consumer perceptions—the oil spill’s overall severity didn’t change after it was stopped, but consumers’ negative feelings of the event declined over time. Using our market-level model, we determined an area’s boycott intensity by measuring decreases in BP brand’s market share across 257 US counties. 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.

Easing the Transition to a More Distributed Electricity System: The Changing Roles of Consumers, Utilities and Regulators Within the Regulatory Compact
Multiple compounding factors are driving national movement toward a more modern electricity grid, one that enables a cleaner energy future. This landmark report offers a unique look at easing that transition, and offers five insightful approaches for state utility regulators who, ultimately, will facilitate this transition through the rules and regulations that govern the electricity system and electric utilities. “IREC seeks to provide regulators with some practical pathways for consideration as they address the changing roles and interests of customers and utilities,” says IREC’s Regulatory Program Director, Sara Baldwin Auck. - Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC)

Building the Knowledge Base for Climate Resiliency: New York City Panel on Climate Change 2015 Report
[New York Magazine]  …According to the report:

  • Mean annual temperature increased 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit between 1900 and 2013.
  • Mean annual precipitation increased 8 inches between 1900 and 2013.
  • Sea levels in NYC have risen 1.1 foot since 1900.

And it’s only going to get worse… – Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (Jan. 2015)

The Integrated Grid: A Benefit-Cost Framework
[PennEnergy] In its new benefit-cost framework for an integrated grid, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) is laying out a transparent, consistent and repeatable process through which utilities and others can use the methodology to evaluate the benefits of distributed energy storage, for instance, throughout the entire power system, and equally calculate the cost, according to EPRI president and CEO Michael Howard. – Electric Power Research Institute

The Liquid Carbon Challenge: Evolving Views on Transportation Fuels and Climate
[From a Climate Wire article by Debra Kahn, sub. req’d] …University of Michigan research professor John DeCicco wrote a study finding that the current method of calculating the carbon emissions associated with transportation fuels is essentially meaningless. – John M. DeCicco

Two NAS Reports on Geoengineering Techniques for the Removal of Greenhouse Gases

[Dot Earth]  The panels’ overarching bottom line is straightforward:

There is no substitute for dramatic reductions in the emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases to mitigate the negative consequences of climate change, and concurrently to reduce ocean acidification.

There are no big surprises in the voluminous reports, but they do provide a great guide to both the scientific and societal issues attending using “climate interventions” — the reports’ phrase for geoengineering techniques — to counter humanity’s continuing intervention: the release of tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide a year. National Academy Press

Follow the RFF Library Blog via RSS feed or @ChrisClotworthy on Twitter.

RFF ON THE ISSUES: Satellite climate data; Arctic drilling approval

In this edition:

  • How using satellites can help reduce uncertainty about climate change
  • A look at the president’s arctic drilling plans

Satellite Climate Data

NASA is contemplating a series of space-based Earth observation and monitoring equipment worth several billion dollars, prompting speculation on the “approximate dollar sign on the information that would come from a state-of-the-art climate satellite system.” RFF’s Roger Cooke notes that improving the collection of such data is “always a question of reducing but not eliminating the uncertainty” in climate change projections. He explains more in an RFF blog post, “Why the Climate Problem Requires a New Generation of Uncertainty Analysis.”

Read More

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?”

Read the rest of this article.

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

Follow the RFF Library Blog via RSS feed or @ChrisClotworthy on Twitter.

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.

Read the rest of this article.

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