Each week, we’re compiling the most relevant news stories from diverse sources online, connecting the latest environmental and energy economics research to global current events, real-time public discourse, and policy decisions. Here are some questions we’re asking and addressing with our research chops this week:
How can global leaders at COP26 balance efforts to reduce emissions with concerns from developing countries that such efforts may hinder their economic growth?
Indonesia is already walking back its commitment to end deforestation in a pledge that it signed alongside more than 100 other countries, including forest-rich countries like Brazil and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at the beginning of COP26. Indonesia’s minister of environment and forestry indicated on social media that the pledge, which aims to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030, is at odds with the country’s economic pressures to clear trees for agriculture and new roads. In Indonesia, a temporary pause in plantation licenses has helped curb deforestation—last year was the country’s lowest rate of deforestation since the 1990s—yet the government’s approved development plans nonetheless are likely to lead to further forest shrinkage. Meanwhile, replanting efforts primarily involve oil palm trees and could decrease biodiversity. The announcement underscores the economic challenges that make it difficult for developing countries to commit to climate action—a key consideration at COP26 this year.
On a new episode of the Resources Radio podcast, Chief Economist at Environmental Defense Fund Suzi Kerr details the tensions that arise as developing countries aim for both economic development and environmental protection. Kerr explains that Indonesia might have bristled at the deforestation agreement because of its difficulties in finding alternative strategies to achieve economic growth that are more lucrative than the nation’s current approach, which allows for some clearing of trees. To reduce undue burdens on countries like Indonesia, Kerr indicates that developed countries could step up their support for climate finance and consider the financial, political, and technical needs of developing countries. Kerr adds the caveat that discussions around climate finance can be sensitive: “I find it problematic when we talk about the countries who will be providing some of the extra money as ‘donors.’ It suggests something about the power relationships between the countries,” she says. “New Zealand will not be transferring money to a country like Chile just out of altruism—we will be doing that because … it’s to the mutual benefit of everybody in the world.”
Related research and commentary:
How can a contemporary Civilian Climate Corps work to address climate change and learn from the history of a similar New Deal–era program?
Late last month, President Joe Biden released a framework of provisions that are expected to feature in the reconciliation bill that’s still being negotiated on Capitol Hill. Included among the plans are funds for a Civilian Climate Corps—a program based on the New Deal–era Civilian Conservation Corps—that aims to put thousands of Americans to work addressing the threat of climate change and maintaining America’s public lands. But key details remain unclear: Biden initially requested $10 billion for the program, but Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO)—who chairs the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands—has indicated that the program could receive closer to $30 billion. And while the historical Civilian Conservation Corps was managed jointly by four federal departments, policymakers have not publicly agreed on where the Climate Corps should be housed; discussions to date have largely addressed the degree to which the existing Americorps program and federal departments, like Interior, should be involved.
In an article from the new issue of Resources magazine, which is based on a Resources Radio podcast episode, RFF’s Kristin Hayes talks with Neil Maher, a professor of history at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University–Newark, about lessons that policymakers can learn from the Civilian Conservation Corps. In some ways, the New Deal–era program was more ambitious than anything Democrats are proposing now; the program gave jobs to over three million men at a time of historic economic precarity in the country. But Maher also emphasizes that women were excluded, Black Americans were housed in segregated camps, and Native Americans were employed by a separate program. Maher recommends that a new corps be focused not only around conservation but also the pressing threat of climate change. “A new corps could help communities adapt to climate change by building climate-resilient infrastructure, like restored wetlands or green stormwater systems,” Maher says. “It could also help mitigate climate change by developing solar and wind energy systems.”
Related research and commentary:
What are the environmental impacts of ridesharing companies?
Tesla, Hertz, and Uber are collaborating on a new corporate partnership that could speed the adoption of electric vehicles around the country. Under the terms of the agreement, Hertz will purchase 100,000 Tesla Model 3 sedans by the end of 2022 and will lease as many as 50,000 of them to interested Uber drivers. Uber plans to incentivize drivers to rent these electric vehicles by providing discounts on certain charging stations, promising to eventually reduce weekly rental fees, and offering an extra dollar for each Uber trip taken with a leased Tesla. Uber, which has long faced scrutiny for its contributions to transportation emissions, has eyed electric vehicles as a path to achieve net-zero emissions—even promising that all of its US vehicles by 2030 will be electric and lobbying for a more expansive electric vehicle tax credit in the reconciliation bill. Without increased deployment of electric Uber vehicles, evaluating ridesharing companies’ ultimate impacts on the environment remains a complex calculation.
A new working paper from Luis Sarmiento and Yeong Jae Kim, researchers at the RFF-CMCC European Institute on Economics and the Environment, considers how the introduction of Uber has impacted air quality across the United States. While other studies have suggested that ridesharing can sometimes increase emissions, Sarmiento and Kim look at the US Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality index to find that, by 2017, Uber’s presence in 521 American counties was linked to a decrease of about 1,094 instances of poor air quality per year. The effects were most pronounced during the summer, leading Sarmiento and Kim to hypothesize that Uber’s presence in an area contributes to a decrease in ground-level ozone, which tends to be highest during warmer months. While the scholars do not reach any conclusions about why exactly Uber’s presence is correlated with improvements in air quality, they note that the introduction of Uber has previously been shown to increase the number of rides taken with newer, more efficient vehicles and to decrease cold-start emissions when a car engine is first turned on.
Related research and commentary:
The concerns of low-lying island nations have animated discussions at COP26. Our #FactOfTheWeek explores the risks these countries face as sea levels rise.
Romaine W / Shutterstock
Tuvalu’s foreign minister delivered a pre-recorded speech for COP26 while standing in the salt water that’s slowly engulfing the low-lying island nation. The highest point in Tuvalu is 4.5 meters above sea level, making the country especially vulnerable to climate change impacts.