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Stories for April 2021
Resilience Roadmap Charts Path for U.S. to Prepare
for Climate Change's Effects
On April 22–23, President Joe Biden met with more than 40 world leaders at a virtual summit to discuss how they could take stronger action on climate change. While tackling the causes of climate change drew the most attention at the summit, the Biden administration is also working to address its effects.

The Resilience Roadmap is a nonpartisan project convened by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Susan Bell & Associates to recommend actions the federal government can take to improve national resilience and help communities plan for the present and future of climate change. The project released its initial, high-level guidance for the administration ahead of the summit.

As part of U.S. Climate Action Week, the Resilience Roadmap hosted a virtual conversation with a panel of resilience leaders inside the administration, as well as from tribes and regional voices.
From Transforming Nature to Transforming Humankind’s Relationship with Nature
On April 8, the Duke Center for International and Global Studies (DUCIGS) welcomed Joyce Msuya, deputy director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and UN assistant secretary-general, as part of its UN75 Webinar Series. The series explores prominent topics identified by a global survey as part of the UN's 75th anniversary.

The conversation with Msuya was an opportunity to reflect on the role of environmental diplomacy in tackling a rather complex agenda in an increasingly uncertain future. Examining the means available for the implementation of the environmental agenda and in particular the agency’s ambitious plans, it is evident that this year’s multiple activities constitute a litmus test for UNEP's global leadership role as it celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2022.

Elizabeth Losos, senior fellow at the Nicholas Institute, and William Pan, associate professor of global environmental health at the Duke Global Health Institute moderated the discussion. The event was organized and hosted by DUCIGS, in partnership with the Nicholas Institute and the Duke Global Health Institute.
Join New Webinar Series to Put
Sustainable Infrastructure Principles into Practice
Sustainable Infrastructure: Putting Principles into Practice is a new monthly interactive webinar series for the sustainable infrastructure community.

On the second Wednesday of every month, join a 75-minute discussion to:

  • Exchange state-of-the-art knowledge on how to plan and build sustainable infrastructure;
  • Participate in an interactive forum to learn from other practitioners as they present case studies, including best practices and pitfalls; and
  • Connect with a community of individuals and organizations engaged in the sustainable infrastructure sphere.

Technical and case study presentations will focus on one of 10 principles from the UN Environment Programme's International Good Practice Principles for Sustainable Infrastructure. The presentations and discussions will be interdisciplinary and cross-cutting. Experts and practitioners from all geographies and professions (engineering firms, government agencies, financial institutions, civil society organizations, academia) are invited to learn and share knowledge and experiences.

The first webinar, scheduled for Wednesday, May 12, at 8 a.m. EDT, will include an introduction to UNEP’s 10 good practice principles for sustainable infrastructure and an interactive discussion of the case study approach that will be used throughout the series. Registration is required.
International Seminar Sparks Dialogue
on Climate Litigation as Governance Tool
U.S. courts have heard hundreds of public and private climate litigation cases—contributing to the development of climate policy and governance—yet, the most significant breakthroughs have come from European and Asian courts finding their governments guilty of failing to act sufficiently to address climate change. These cases have spurred important debates about the role of litigation in holding emitters and governments accountable and about the legal basis for such actions in various legal frameworks throughout the world. Since those legal systems vary, there is still a lack of cross-jurisdictional comparison and global academic dialogue about the role that litigation already plays and could play in climate change governance.

Duke Kunshan University hosted a seminar on October 24 that brought together 29 international and Chinese scholars and legal practitioners with first-hand experience in climate litigation to discuss these issues. Through case studies and cross-country analysis spanning the American, European, and Asian continents, speakers discussed the potential and limitations of climate litigation as a new channel to combat climate change. Chinese stakeholders had a unique opportunity to exchange with international counterparts and share their perspective on domestic environmental litigation. A dedicated website is aimed at making all this material available in English and Chinese to wider audiences.
Webinar Explores How Coastal Habitats Contribute to Coastal Protection, Blue Carbon Storage
Lydia Olander and Katie Warnell of the Nicholas Institute's Ecosystem Services Program joined The Pew Charitable Trusts' Coastal Habitat Learning Series on April 19 to present their recently completed mapping work in six eastern seaboard states (NC, VA, MD, DE, NJ, and NY) detailing how coastal habitats contribute to coastal protection and blue carbon. The project also looks at how sea level rise will impact salt marshes and carbon storage over the next century.

Following Olander and Warnell's presentation, Chris Baillie, a postdoctoral researcher at East Carolina University, and Casey Knight, a coastal habitat biologist with the North Carolina Department of Marine Fisheries, spoke about their experiences integrating the mapping work into updates to North Carolina’s Coastal Habitat Protection Plan.

Drew R. Michanowicz, Jonathan J. Buonocore, Katherine E. Konschnik, Shaun A. Goho, and Aaron S. Bernstein

In 2012 Pennsylvania's legislature increased the unconventional natural gas (UNG) well-to-building setback requirement from 200 ft to 500 ft through Act 13. To evaluate this policy, the authors identified all setback incident locations where a UNG well was within 500 ft of a building both before and after the implementation of Act 13. Using an interrupted time series design, they found that Act 13 did not significantly alter how wells were sited in relation to nearby buildings. Of the 1,042 wells that contained a building within 500 ft—equating to ~10.1% of UNG wells (n = 11,148) and ~14.7% well pads (n = 479)—a total of 371 well setback incidents occurred after Act 13, likely due from the existing well pad exemption (35%) and a combination of landowner consent and regulatory variances rather than encroaching building construction. Overall, this study suggests that exemptions are an important and underappreciated aspect of oil and gas well setback rulemaking and highlights the relevance of other health-protective regulatory tools often promulgated alongside setbacks. New or amended setback regulations should revisit exemption procedures and where warranted, impose additional mitigation measures to ensure setback regulations provide adequate protections for health and safety as intended.

Scott Bechler

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides critical financial assistance to millions of vulnerable low-income families who are struggling to pay their energy bills. These families, a majority of whom live around or below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), rely on this aid for assistance year after year. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the hardships faced by low-income and minority families and individuals especially, putting them at heightened risk of illness and job loss. As a result, households that were already unable to make ends meet are now facing increased health care costs and a reduced or lost income. LIHEAP funds are an essential form of relief for those forced to make difficult decisions around how to pay for energy, food, healthcare, housing, water, or other essentials. This policy brief examines the history of LIHEAP and how it operates, the program’s response during periods of crisis, and how it is carried out in Southeast states. The brief concludes with research opportunities for extending the reach of this vital source of energy bill assistance.
Upcoming Virtual Events
  • GEMS Metrics: Planning, Monitoring, and Funding. This three-part webinar series will share results of the Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Service Logic Models and Socio-Economic Indicators (GEMS) project. The Nicholas Institute's Ecosystem Services Program will discuss the models, metrics, protocols, and web-based tools that were developed throughout this project with input from a large group of experts and stakeholders. Thursday, April 29, 11 a.m.–12 p.m. CDT; Friday, April 30, 11 a.m.–12 p.m. CDT; Monday, May 3, 12–1 p.m. CDT.
  • Sustainable Infrastructure: From Principles to Practice. This first webinar in the series will include an introduction to UNEP’s 10 good practice principles for sustainable infrastructure and interactive discussion of the case study approach that will be used throughout the webinars. Wednesday, May 12, 8–9:15 a.m. EDT.
  • Different Methods, Different Values: How the Choice of Ecosystem Service Valuation Methods can Affect Cost-Benefit Analysis and Prioritization Decisions. In this presentation, Bonnie Keeler (University of Minnesota) will synthesize the results of over a decade of ecosystem services valuation work in Minnesota. Presented by the National Ecosystem Services Partnership. Tuesday, May 18, 2–3 p.m. EDT.
  • GEMS Project and Products. This webinar will share results of the Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Service Logic Models and Socio-Economic Indicators (GEMS) project. The Nicholas Institute's Ecosystem Services Program will discuss the models, metrics, protocols, and web-based tools that were developed throughout this project with input from a large group of experts and stakeholders. Tuesday, May 25, 3—4 p.m. CDT.
  • The Interplay between the VCEA and Federal and State Policies, including the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Kate Konschnick, director of the Nicholas Institute' Climate and Energy Program, will participate in this panel discussion exploring the role of the Virginia Clean Economy Act in the broader framework of Virginia and federal energy policies, including Virginia's participation in RGGI. Part of the 38th Annual National Regulatory Conference on May 26–27. Wednesday, May 26, 11:15 a.m.–12:15 p.m. EDT.
In the News
Professional Opportunities
The Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) is a global coalition of industry and policy-making leaders from across the energy landscape who are working together to develop a strategy for decarbonizing the global economy.

The Nicholas Institute is hiring a director to launch the new Secretariat for ETC's United States branch. The director will build the ETC effort in the U.S. by recruiting membership and developing U.S.-specific analysis and recommendations.