New resources on climate economics

The E.P. Systems Group (EPSG) is pleased to announce the launch of

Lessons From Experience

a new section on our website, The section includes over 300 reports and articles on actual program and policy experiences, including coverage of:
Carbon Pricing Initiatives,
Energy Efficiency,
Energy, Employment and Economic Development,
Renewable/Alternative Energy.

Also, for those who missed it, a recording of the July 8 webinar, hosted by EPSG and the Center for Climate Strategies, is available on the website. The session, Cutting Residential, Commercial, and Industrial Energy Use: Tools that Work features:
Richard Sedano, Director and Principal, The Regulatory Assistance Project,
William Prindle, Vice President, ICF International,
Thomas Peterson, President and CEO, Center for Climate Strategies.

UNU Course on Climate Change Resilience

The UN University (UNU) has launched a call for applications for its postgraduate programme on building resilience to climate change, scheduled to take place from 13 September-1 October 2010, in Tokyo, Japan.

The three-week programme is organized by the UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP) and developed under the framework of the University Network for Climate and Ecosystems Change Adaptation Research (UN-CECAR). The courses will cover a range of issues on sustainability and adaptation to climate and ecosystems change, including: climate and atmospheric science; impacts assessment; climate and society; ecosystems resilience; risk and uncertainty; integrated solutions for mitigation and adaptation; and mainstreaming adaptation into development planning and community-based adaptation.

Students will also receive practical training in the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and in downscaling rainfall forecasts. The deadline for applying to the programme is 15 July 2010 for overseas applicants, and 31 July 2010 for students currently residing in Japan. [UNU-ISP Website]

Teaching Materials Available on Climate Change Law

I taught a class yesterday which started with a video of the impassioned speech of the Bolivian climate negotiator Angelica Navarro at Copenhagen in an address to delegates from developing nations, outlining her demand for developing countries to repay their climate debt for breach of Kyoto.

(This is worth watching just for her idea about capacity building for the North.) Then we analyzed the legal basis for the claims under international treaties (US did ratify the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change even though we repudiated Kyoto), and other sources of international law (a handy resource for this is Roda Verheyen’s very thorough Climate Change Damage and International Law: Prevention Duties and State Responsibility (2005)). We concluded that the United States may, indeed, have a potentially immense and increasing liability (not only moral but

legal) to developing countries if we do not reduce emissions drastically (below Kyoto levels) and soon. The later we wait the greater the potential liability. Of course there is no real enforcement in the international arena other than embargoes, nuclear exchanges, wrist-slap from ICJ, etc., but perhaps a realistic economic liability argument might persuade policymakers where other avenues have failed.

If anyone would like my Powerpoints I’d be happy to share them.

I’d also like to talk with others about creating and pushing a positive vision and serious draft legislation in aid of bringing about America’s carbon-neutral future.


Lin Harmon, J.D.

Associate Director, Environmental & Natural Resources Law Program Director, International LL.M. & Visitor Programs Lewis & Clark Law School

10015 SW Terwilliger Blvd.

Portland, OR 97219

(503) 768-6882

Emergence of Business Biodiversity models: the case of forest certification

In the context of economic downturn and pressing environmental issues, the emerging Biodiversity Business sector seems to offer outstanding opportunities. However, while Biodiversity Business presents an enormous capacity to drive change, suspicions have hampered its development. On one hand, as is the case for all sectors, risks to adopt new business models are important and in the case of Biodiversity Business models, even greater. In fact, biodiversity is mainly viewed by business as a risk or liability, rather than a potential profit centre. On the other hand, not exploring what this market can deliver is no longer an option. Besides, at a fundamental level, all economies and all businesses depend, directly or indirectly  on biodiversity and its component resources.

In this regard, this article seeks to provide a successful Biodiversity Business case study based on the certification scheme in the forest sector.

Experts agree that one major hurdle facing all biodiversity businesses is developing practical indicators for measuring negative impacts and positive contributions to biodiversity. That is the reason why certification schemes have emerged in recent years to become an innovative and significant element for measurement. Particularly, schemes in the forest are  of interest as they are among the most advanced of the sustainability labelling initiatives.

In 1993 one the most famous institutions in this sector, Forest Stewardship Council, was founded by the WWF and other environmental NGOs, timber traders, indigenous peoples’ groups, etc. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an independent, non-governmental, not for profit organization established to “promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world’s forests.  “Environmentally appropriate” meant practices that ensured the maintenance of “the forest’s biodiversity, productivity, and ecological processes.” “Socially beneficial” meant that local people and society as a whole would commit to long-term management of forests.  “Economically viable” meant that profits would be generated without jeopardizing the forest resources, the ecosystem, or affected communities. Nowadays, the FSC is an international association of members and s represented in more than  countries in the world.

Nonetheless, from the beginning the FSC has been challenged by a number of critics,  particularly regarding the key role of the WWF in its creation, and the potential of environmental and social interests to understate economic interests.

As a matter of fact, several interest groups or industries responded by forming new schemes. In 1999 European forest owners joined together the Pan European Forest Certification (PEFC) to facilitate the mutual recognition of national schemes and provide them with a mutual ecolabel. In 2003, the PEFC went global and has firmly established itself as a competitor of the FSC. To date, with about 30 endorsed national certification systems and more than 220 million hectares of certified forests, the PEFC is the world’s largest forest certification system. Not surprisingly, competition between PEFC and FSC is fierce as their survival both depends upon two concomitant elements; firstly gaining acceptance from market players, in particular larger wood- and paper-product buyers and finance; on the other side of the spectrum attracting funding from charitable foundations, government donors and business contributions. As a result, pressures have been directed to assessing the differences across these schemes, but hitherto the distinctions are still elusive.

 The review above turns to the broader implications of certification. The act of competition suggests de facto the existence of an expected profit or prize, and accordingly, a certain performance in the sector. As a matter of fact, the certification scheme in the forest sector is a successful Biodiversity Business case study. Therefore, the core problem is not necessarily related to the biodiversity business sector performance but mostly to perceptions attached to it. 

Besides, while the schemes generate profit, this is not a panacea. The resources expended to certify operations and to support the various schemes’ managerial structures are resources that could be used for other ends. In this regard, the forest certification is an opportunity for many companies, but to be effective they have to manage forest resources in ways that optimise a range of benefits. Eg: ecotourism and other ‘green’ products and services.

The private sector has the power to stimulate biodiversity conservation. Nonetheless, to enable more widespread adoption of sustainable forestry, there is a need to address other policy issues, such as use rights and the decentralisation of forest management.  To do so, indicators and measurement tools to assess business biodiversity performance are required but are still in the early stages of development. In the future, in regard to major environmental threats faced worldwide these initiatives need to be fostered.

Rescuing Climate Science from Politics

Guest contribution – Professor Rosemary Lyster, Sydney Law School, University of Sydney & Director, Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law

‘Rescuing climate science from politics’

Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, will reprosecute the case for a carbon price following the elections. But first, she intends to build a community consensus for action. How hard is this likely to be? Earlier in the year, following ‘climategate’ and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s unsubstantiated finding that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035, many claimed the case for a carbon price had evaporated. What’s changed? Although I’m not a scientist, I can tell you about some of the reviews of these controversies. After all, community consensus on climate change will depend in large measure on the extent to which climate science is rehabilitated in the public’s mind.

Let’s start with ‘climategate’ where the leaked emails of Phil Jones at the Climate Research Unit, University of East Anglia allegedly showed: collusion among climate scientists to hide views contrary to their own; abuse of the peer review process; and a failure to respond to data access requests under the Freedom of Information Act. ‘Climategate’ has been subjected to three investigations – by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, by a Science Assessment Panel and an Independent Climate Change E-Mails Review. The Science Assessment Panel was established by Jones’ university in consultation with the Royal Society, the UK’s National Academy of Science. It comprised seven eminent scientists from prestigious universities around the world. I’ve read all of these reports. My synthesis of their findings must of necessity be brief.

The House Committee concluded that ‘there is independent verification, through the use of other methodologies and other sources of data, of the results and conclusions’ of CRU. Other data sources include the US National Climate Data Center (NDC) and the Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS), based at NASA. With CRU, these three organisations have collected direct temperature measurements on land and sea at weather stations around the world. NDC and GISS each use at least 7,200 stations. As to a conspiracy to hide contrary views, the Committee found that Phil Jones’ peer reviewed climate change publications clearly refute the allegation. No evidence of subverting the peer review process was found. The Committee found that CRU and the University showed an unacceptable culture of resisting disclosure of information to climate skeptics, even though 95% of the raw data is publicly available. It found that alleged breaches of the FOI Act need to be resolved but expressed sympathy for Jones who knew – or perceived – that the requests were intended to undermine his work. It concluded that climate scientists should make all of their data available online at an early stage.

The Science Assessment Panel saw ‘no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work’ of CRU. The Panel found the researchers to be ‘objective and dispassionate in their view of the data and their results, and there was no hint of tailoring results to a particular agenda.’ It did query, however, whether their research could benefit from closer collaboration with professional statisticians.

The Independent Climate Change E-Mails Review, released on 6 July, found that the rigour and honesty of CRU scientists are not in doubt and there is no evidence of biased temperature data selection and bias, or of subverting the peer review process. The implication that CRU’s work should not be trusted or relied upon cannot be supported. The Review found that tree ring data compiled by CRU to demonstrate temperature change and presented in the 2007 IPCC Report was not misleading, although failure in 1999 to disclose the reconstruction and splicing of such data had been misleading. Allegations that CRU had misused the IPCC process could not be upheld. CRU’s failure to respond to FOI requests was ‘unhelpful’ and the University management was criticised for failing to assess the risk of the data access controversy to its reputation.

So what is the way forward? The pressure placed on climate scientists is not new and, moreover, it’s inevitable. The authors in Wendy Wagner and Rena Steinzor (eds) Rescuing Science from Politics: Regulation and the Distortion of Scientific Research show how whenever science interfaces government regulation – tobacco, asbestos, pharmaceutical drugs, pollution – scientists’ work is deconstructed and dissected. Research time is taken up responding to requests for access to data while the essential underpinnings of a study’s methodology and findings are queried. Scientists are reported to their universities for ‘scientific misconduct’ while others are engaged to counter the science being relied upon by regulators. Such conduct has led to ‘civil conspiracy’ litigation against tobacco companies which were sued for conspiring to deceive the public about the dangers of smoking. Similar litigation was recently brought against ExxonMobil for misleading the public about climate science. As Wagner notes ‘these trends and their complex interactions have multiplied the opportunities for destructive collisions between the worlds of law and science.’ While scientific inquiry is premised on disinterestedness and collaboration, the policy- and law-making process has the potential to render affected stakeholders either winners or losers.

What is new, however, is the power of the blogosphere, as the E-Mail Review acknowledges. Here ‘unmoderated’ comment stands alongside peer reviewed climate science. Consequently, as James Hansen, the world’s leading climate scientist at NASA, observed recently ‘the gap between what is known by scientists and what is understood by the public has widened.’

If Julia Gillard wants to build consensus on climate change then climate scientists and regulators must tell the public honestly what is known about climate science and where the uncertainties still are. The $30 million in the Budget for public climate science education, and other strategies, should go some way to facilitating a mature debate here about the government’s proper response to climate change.

As to the IPCC, the InterAcademy Council, an organisation of the world’s science academies, will review its procedures and deliver a peer-reviewed report to the UN by 30 August.

Finally, a question for the media. Just why is it, as Dr Lesley Cannold, a researcher and medical ethicist, reported recently, that Lord Monckton, a climate change denier, appeared in the media 455 times during his Australian visit while the visit by James Hansen, referred to earlier, warranted only 61 mentions?

New Climate Finance Policy Brief

New climate finance policy brief by ODI and the Heinrich Boell Foundation: Climate finance additionality: emerging definitions and their implications.

This is the second paper in a series of policy briefs which provides independent commentary on current themes associated with the international debate on climate finance. The papers are prepared by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Heinrich Boell Foundation and posted on the climate funds update website (

Commonwealth Club’s Climate One Series

For instructors who like to mix it up with some media “reading” assignments, an excellent source is the Climate One series of the Commonwealth Club of Northern California. The podcasts post on the Climate One site are comprised of both panels and individual presentations on an array of pertinent climate issues, with a focus on law and policy issues. One of the my recent favorites was a panel discussion entitled “Cap and Charade,” a spirited debate between proponents of cap and trade as a mechanism to address climate change and Michael Shellenberger, President of the Breakthrough Institute, who argues that the optimal approach is a focus on development of innovative technologies to replace fossil fuels. Most of the presentations are from 1 hour to 1.15 hours.

Drowning Nations Conference at Columbia: Call for Participation

Many low-lying island states exist at or just a few meters above sea level, and in the coming decades as a result of sea level rise and other factors some of them may face population relocation, loss of water supply and vital infrastructure, disruption of marine resources and agriculture, and other impacts. The government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands has approached Columbia Law School’s Center for Climate Change Law to explore creative approaches to the legal issues facing these nations. Among the legal questions that need to be explored are the implications of the loss of inhabitable physical territory for statehood, for maritime governance, for property, fishing and mineral rights, and for the legal status of displaced persons.  International law, human rights law, environmental law, and admiralty law are just a few of the fields that may be implicated.

We will be hosting a conference to explore these issues at Columbia Law School in the spring of 2011.  We request legal scholars and practitioners who may wish to write papers for the conference to send me abstracts by September 1, 2010.  Details are in the linked Call for Papers.

Michael B. Gerrard
Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice
Director, Center for  Climate Change Law
Columbia Law School
435 West 116th Street
New York, New York 10027
Tel: 212-854-3287
Fax: 212-854-7946

Poor science, poor policy?

In order to properly understand climate change law, it is important to understand the science on which the policy is based. If the science is incomplete, compromised or confused, the resulting policy is also likely to be low quality. In recent times, there have been a number of interesting articles about how interest groups (both environmentalists and industry) seek to influence the policy-making process in order to advance their own agenda. This may be leading to a distortion of the policy-making process. Here is one example, discussing the recent “Climategate” controversy and other events, which could be a starting point for a good discussion of the resulting flaws in the final legislative process.

Ocean Acidification, Sooner Rather Than Later …

While many of the studies on the potential impacts of ocean acidification focus on potential impacts from approximately twenty years from now to the end of the century. However, a recent study emphasizes that in the Arctic Ocean, the manifestations of acidification may be just around the corner, Michiyo Yamamoto-Kawai, et al., Aragonite Undersaturation in the Arctic Ocean: Effects of Ocean Acidification and Sea Ice Melt, 326 Science 10981100 (2009) (subscription required).

Many studies have predicted that surface waters in higher-latitude oceans will become udnersaturated first in terms of carbonate ions (primarily aragonite and calcite, with aragonite being more soluble). Carbonate ions are required by marine calcifying organisms to produce calcium carbonate shells and skeletons.

Among the take-aways from this study in the Canada Basin of the Arctic Ocean:

  1. The Southern Ocean is projected to become undersaturated with respect to aragonite-type calcium carbonate by 2030 and the North Pacific by 2100. However, model simulations of the Arctic Ocean project that Arctic surface waters will become undersaturated with aragonite within a decade;
  2. The Canada basin is the first deep ocean where surface undersaturation of aragonite has been observed. It’s anticipated that surface waters in the Basin will exit the Arctic Ocean within a decade, which may contribute to undersaturation in northern North Atlantic waters.

One of the most frightening aspects of the imminent manifestations of ocean acidification in ocean ecosystems is that our understanding of potential impacts, as well as potential adaptation responses remains extremely rudimentary. The Arctic is rapidly emerging is as the cutting edge of the “grand geophysical experiment” associated with burgeoning greenhouse gas emissions.