Blog Archives

Restoring the Everglades


The 2000 Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) law signed by President Bill Clinton called for a $7.8 billion dollar 30-year effort to restore the Everglades. Implementation was hindered in a number of ways, mainly lawsuits and stakeholder disagreements. Eleven years after CERP was implemented, a new coalition, led by the Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District, initiated the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEEP). Devon Neary MP’16’s thesis evaluates CEEP. Devon argues that this plan successfully integrates certain mitigation measures and emphasizes resiliency as well.

If you are interested in learning more about ecosystem resilience, make sure to download Devon’s thesis here.

Climate Change Adaptation Planning: the experience of sixteen cities across the U.S.


Hannah Payne, MCP’16, compared the way sixteen cities have tried to engage the public in climate adaptation planning. She identifies three common approaches: 1) including the public in the formulation of broad adaptation strategies, 2) educating the public about climate risks, and 3) promoting collaborative problem-solving for specific climate resilient projects. According to Hannah’s findings, the third approach is the least used. More important, cities are really struggling to implement even the first two less ambitious approaches. In some cases, cities have postponed any commitment to a participatory and inclusive approach to adaptation planning. Hannah has identified the most common barriers that cities have overcome.

To read the complete stories of what has happened in these cities and Hannah’s recommendation you can download her thesis here.

Can you put a price on nature? The prospects for ecosystem services markets.

ImageThe great variety of services that natural systems provide is rarely recognized. From water filtration to flood prevention to carbon sequestration, these ecosystem services are crucial to supporting both natural and human life. The cost of preserving these services is often far eclipsed by the cost of replacing them mechanically should they be lost, a point that is rarely appreciate economic markets. What can be done to correct this and ensure that natural systems continue to provide their much-needed benefits?

In his dissertation, Tijs van Maasakkers (PhD ’13) examines one solution that has been eagerly advanced in environmental circles: the ecosystem services marketplace. Similar to other environmental markets like carbon cap and trade schemes, ecosystem services markets are based on the idea that a developer who is likely to damage the ability of natural systems to provide their full benefits would have to pay for improvements elsewhere to offset these impact. In an early example, increases in water temperatures in Oregon’s Tualatin River threatened the survival of a number of local salmon species, a problem often corrected at great expense mechanically by chilling wastewater before releasing it. Instead, the local water utility opted to offer incentives to local landowners to plant shade trees along the river’s banks, cooling the river naturally, effectively, and at a lower cost.

If implemented well, ecosystem services markets could allow for continued economic progress without sacrificing natural systems. But, as Tijs shows in his study of efforts to create ecosystem services markets in the Willamette River basin and in the Chesapeake Bay, such markets are difficult to develop and face three important structural obstacles.

First, people care deeply about particular places, and tend not to view the services that are provided in one place as transferrable to another. Second, metrics that account for ecosystem services are not yet consistent, comprehensive, and universally accepted. Third, it has been difficult to establish a consensus among effected stakeholders about what these markets should look like.

These obstacles limit the potential of ecosystem services markets, and if they cannot be addressed, it is difficult to imagine how markets can be scaled up. Read more about the promises and pitfalls of ecosystem service marketplaces in Tijs’ dissertation.

Governing International Climate Risk in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Ntondo Village WomenClimate change is expected to have particularly adverse effects on developing countries for a host of reasons. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for example, where MCP ’12 Ian Gray did his thesis research, people are at risk because of the high percentage of the population that is subject to subsistence living and complete dependence on forest resources for survival.

The DRC, along with other countries facing similar challenges, is expected to grow its economy and stabilize carbon emissions at the same time. While the country works to develop policies that meet each objective individually, Ian argues that they tend to fall into a process that Sheila Jasanoff calls “co-production,” or a dialectic in which efforts to change the natural order depend on unquestioned ideas about the social order, and vice-versa.

After spending three months doing ethnographic work in the DRC’s Ministry of Environment, Ian came to the conclusion that the instrumental goals of making carbon governable in the DRC ran a high risk of reproducing embedded inequities found at the local level. Ian argues that if REDD* architecture is to live up to its stated goal of protecting forests while improving livelihoods, it must engage in more explicit co-productionist politics of carbon management. He says this means developing overt mechanisms that provide more continuous interactions between different epistemic communities in the REDD eligible countries (including international experts, national administrators, land users and local communities) and linking local level institutions with larger scales of administration to set rules for carbon management. Ian also suggests strengthening community control of resources so local groups play a larger role in defining for whom, and for what, carbon sequestration is good. Read Ian’s full thesis here and share your thoughts on this topic in the EPP Facebook Group.

*UN-REDD is the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries

Waste Pickers, Middlemen and Informal Recycling Systems in Indonesia

It has been estimated that up to 2% of the world’s urban population depends on waste either directly or indirectly for their income. Informal recycling systems reduce negative impacts on the environment, as well as provide the poor in developing countries with jobs, supply industries with raw materials, and reduce the stress on municipal infrastructure, such as collection and landfills.

Photo credit: Danumurthi Mahenra

In his 2012 masters thesis, Mike Tuori found that the informal recycling supply chain in Bandung, Indonesia operates with a high level of efficiency, but the system fails to address issues of the protection and promotion of the workforce involved. He argues that policies have focused on the waste pickers, but have ignored the “middlemen” in the chain. Mike presents a framework for evaluating informal supply chains based on the perspectives of all stakeholders involved, taking into consideration aspects of both efficiency and social concerns, and evaluating each against a given set of metrics.

His policy recommendations include investments in health and safety infrastructure and promotion of corporate social responsibility initiatives. Mike suggests the relevance of his findings are not limited to recycling, but applicable to various informal economic systems. Read Mike’s full thesis here.

Share your opinions on this topic in the EPP Facebook Group!

A Way Forward for Hydroelectricity in South America

In recent years, governments in South America have turned to large-scale hydropower as a cost-effective way to improve livelihoods while addressing the energy “trilemma:” ensuring that future energy technologies provide effective solutions to climate change, environmental degradation, and supply security.

Patricio Zambrano-Barragan (MCP ’12) explored the rapidly-changing context for hydropower in South America by looking at three flagship projects: Ecuador’s Coca-Codo-Sinclair (1,500MW), Chile’s HidroAysén (2,750MW), and Perú’s Inambari (2,000MW).

Photo credit: Jorge Uzon

Patricio makes three claims:
1) Large-scale hydropower projects are evaluated against a small universe of alternatives. The projects are not considered among a variety of potential plans, but rather with respect to one plan’s possible iterations vis-à-vis a specific political goal, such as security and sovereignty, fast GDP growth, or regional integration. This approach has resulted in considerable social and environmental conflict.

2) State mediation of conflict has been further complicated by the presence of new sources of financing for large infrastructure development – what Patricio calls “south-south development ventures” – through which national governments spearhead domestic infrastructure development that does not rely on “traditional” financing sources from multilateral organizations. The prominence of these money sources denotes a clear historical departure away from universal standards and toward bilateral management of decision-making processes.

3) Regardless of the regulatory framework governing energy planning, the state creates makeshift regulatory or judicial solutions to deal with the overlap of diverse ecosystems and settlements on and around hydropower sites. Public opposition resulting from these solutions reveals clear inadequacies in the way these countries plan and develop high-interest infrastructure projects.

The implication in Patricio’s findings is that opportunities exist to make hydropower a credible option to meet the energy trilemma if state actors are willing to think beyond the “decide-announce-defend” model of decision-making, and if South American countries can set up a regional, independent, third-party oversight body to mediate between the state, project sponsors, and civil society actors. Read more in Patricio’s thesis.

Collaborative Adaptive Management in the Southwest

Since the 1970s, some natural resource practitioners and academics have argued that natural resource management should be collaborative and should be adaptable over time in the face of new information and changing environmental and social conditions. Collaborative adaptive management, or CAM, is a natural resource management approach in which a diverse group of stakeholders iteratively plan, implement, monitor, evaluate and adjust management actions to reduce uncertainty and improve decisions over time. While promising in theory, few examples of successful CAM have been identified in practice.

Photo credit: Bruce Chackerian

Jenna Kay (MCP ’12) looked at three relatively effective CAM efforts in the southwestern United States to find out what CAM looks like in practice and what is enabling these efforts to be successful over time. Specific tools, such as the use of a trained mediator and joint fact-finding, were introduced in the cases to address process deficiencies interfering with the group’s ability to collaborate or test management strategies. Factors such as effective long-term leadership, committed and enthusiastic participants, and strong organizational partnerships have also promoted the implementation of these programs.

More lessons from Jenna’s research in the field can be found in Jenna’s thesis.

Do Renters Miss Out on the Benefits of Energy Efficiency?

Increasing energy efficiency is a popular notion. It garners support from environmentalists to economists to every person who pays a utility bill. But when it comes to retrofits, more homeowners are benefiting from energy efficiency than renters. Patrick Coleman (MCP 2011) thinks this a problem worth looking into.

To do this, Patrick analyzed local city ordinances that aim to enhance the energy efficiency of rental properties in California, Wisconsin, Vermont, and Texas. He found that the barriers to energy efficiency improvements are significant, but the potential in rental housing looms large. The lack of information, fragmentation of housing and energy markets, and misaligned incentives, however, challenge retrofits. Also, the diversity of property owners, from individuals to multinational corporations, presents policymakers and program administrators with varied motivations and interests and makes coordination of resources extremely difficult.

Despite this, Coleman found that well-designed ordinances can 1) establish a minimum standard of energy efficiency in rental properties, 2) enable energy efficiency program administrators to focus their attention beyond basic measures to deeper retrofits, and 3) facilitate the valuation of energy efficiency in housing markets.

Coleman recommends partnerships between local governments, community-based organizations, and utility companies to motivate better energy efficiency in rental units. You can read more by checking out Patrick’s thesis.