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Stories for February 2021
‘Ocean 100’: Small Group of Companies Dominates Ocean Economy
Most of the revenues extracted from use of the world’s oceans is concentrated among 100 transnational corporations, which have been identified for the first time by researchers at Duke University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University.

Dubbed the “Ocean 100,” these “ocean economy” companies collectively generated $1.1 trillion in revenues in 2018, according to a research paper published in the journal Science Advances. If the group were a country, it would have the world’s 16th-largest economy, roughly equivalent to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Mexico.

“Now that we know who some of the biggest beneficiaries from the ocean economy are, this can help improve transparency relating to sustainability and ocean stewardship,” said lead author John Virdin, director of the Nicholas Institute's Ocean and Coastal Policy Program.
Moratoria on Utility Shutoffs and Evictions Reduced COVID-19 Infection Rates, New Analysis Finds
Policies that helped financially struggling Americans stay in their homes and keep access to water and electricity during the COVID-19 pandemic also helped reduce the spread of the virus, according to a new analysis by Duke University researchers.

Eviction moratoria and relief from utility disconnections reduced COVID-19 cases by 8.2 percent from the onset of the pandemic through the end of November 2020, the authors found. The findings were published as a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. Newly inaugurated President Joe Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion relief package to provide rental and utility assistance for those hardest hit by the pandemic’s economic fallout.
Climate 21 Project Provides Recommendations for DoD Role in Addressing Climate Change
In an executive order issued in his first days in office, President Biden identified climate considerations as “an essential element of United States foreign policy and national security.” The Department of Defense is already dealing with the mounting and accelerating impacts of climate change. As Secretary Lloyd Austin explained, DoD has acknowledged since 2010 that climate change is having a “dramatic effect on missions, plans, and installations.”

To help meet the climate challenge, a new memo from the Climate 21 Project provides a wide range of solutions that DoD and its interagency partners can implement. The report shows how DoD "can deploy its formidable assets to meet this moment which calls for leadership, boldness, and creativity."
Roadmap Paves the Way to
a More Energy-Efficient South Carolina
Energy efficiency (EE) is widely considered a least-cost option for meeting energy demand while reducing energy costs and carbon emissions. While EE has experienced slow and steady growth in South Carolina, much more can be done to maximize the full potential of this least cost resource. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) estimates that South Carolina has 16,902 GWh of cost-effective electric energy efficiency economic potential by 2035.

To explore this opportunity, leading EE and energy experts—including academic experts, consumer advocates, environmental nonprofits, commercial entities, state agencies, and utilities—participated in a series of meetings to determine where and how to deploy EE at a significantly greater rate. A new report written by Jen Weiss, senior policy associate in the Nicholas Institute's Climate and Energy Program, summarizes 20 recommendations for increased and effective EE deployment in South Carolina.
Policies that Treat 'Fish as Food'
Could Help Solve World Hunger
Policies that more strongly recognize the value of sustainable seafood as a source of nutrition, not just a source of livelihoods, could strengthen global food security and help take a big bite out of world hunger, an analysis by an international team of experts shows.

Scientists, economists and policy experts from Michigan State, Duke and Harvard universities, the World Bank and Environmental Defense Fund, among others, contributed to the analysis.

"Fish have been an important source of food for humans for millennia, but seafood production and fisheries management are inexplicably still not viewed as key parts of global policies to fight hunger and promote food security. This needs to change, especially as food systems worldwide face increasing threats from climate change and the global development community falls further behind in meeting its goals for alleviating malnutrition,” said John Virdin, director of the Oceans and Coastal Policy Program at Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
New Book Offers Deep Dive into Stream Mitigation Banking and Why It’s Time to Rethink It
Market-based approaches to environmental conservation have been increasingly common since the early 1990s. Their goal is to reduce environmental harm not by preventing it, but by pricing it. A housing development on land threaded with streams, for example, can divert them into underground pipes if the developer pays to restore streams elsewhere. The good offsets the bad.

The new book, “Streams of Revenue: The Restoration Economy and the Ecosystems It Creates,” chronicles and analyzes the history, implementation, and environmental outcomes of stream mitigation banking, one of many widely used market-based approaches to conservation. The book is co-authored by Martin Doyle, director of the Water Policy Program at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and professor of river systems science and policy at the Nicholas School of the Environment, and Rebecca Lave, professor of geography at Indiana University.
Bonnie Joins Biden-Harris Administration in Climate Role at USDA
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on January 20 that Robert Bonnie will join the agency as its deputy chief of staff for policy and senior advisor on climate. Bonnie accepted his new job after working as an executive in residence for the Nicholas Institute since 2019.

“We are thrilled for Robert, and for the country,” said Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute. “His clear-eyed assessment of what it will take to bring our rural lands into the fight against climate change helped hone our work at Duke toward workable solutions for all. We know he will bring that same wisdom to the country in his new post.”

During his tenure with the Nicholas Institute, Bonnie’s work focused on how to engage with rural America on environmental issues and climate change. A February 2020 report that he led found broad support among both rural and suburban/urban voters for conservation and environmental protection, but also revealed dividing lines between the two groups over federal regulation of the environment. In June 2020, he co-authored another report that outlined natural climate solution policy ideas aimed at investing in rural communities in a way that earns their political support.

Lei Zhang, Minpeng Chen, Fei Teng, and Jackson Ewing

Since its launch in 2013, the Chinese Road and Belt Initiative (BRI) has grown into a platform for any countries and regions that wish to participate, with global connectivity as the orienting goal. However, since its inception, concerns over the BRI’s potential impacts on ecology, environment and resilience, as well as its implications for global climate change and sustainability, have gathered force. As this thematic issue of Ecosystem Health and Sustainability goes to press, these already complex BRI issues have been compounded by challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether and how the BRI can meet these challenges are questions worthy of deep exploration. This emerging BRI scholarship studied various aspects of BRI activities. However, major knowledge gaps remain regarding BRI impacts on GHG emission and on climate adaptation and sustainable resource management more broadly. To this end, this thematic issue aims to contribute to deeper understandings of climate and environmental changes along the BRI by bringing together state-of-art research and views on climate change patterns, trends, risks, impacts and adaptation.

Yang Wen, Peiqi Hu, Jifeng Li, Qingfeng Liu, Lei Shi, Jackson Ewing, and Zhong Ma

China launched seven emissions trading scheme (ETS) pilots in 2011, and a national ETS, at the end of 2017 in an attempt to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and drive its extensive energy transition in a cost-effective way. The Hubei province pilot ETS has operated since 2014, and an analysis of its effectiveness can provide lessons for the nascent national system. This paper disaggregates Hubei’s industrial carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from 2005 to 2018 into economic scale, economic structure, energy efficiency, and energy structure effects using the logarithmic mean Divisia index (LMDI). Difference-in-difference (DID) models then assess the implementation effectiveness of this ETS, and its impact on the main influencing factors of the LMDI. Ten cities each in the Hubei and Hunan provinces are selected as treatment and control groups, respectively, in the DID models. Results show that the change in industrial CO2 emissions is mainly due to the economic scale and energy efficiency effects. After the ETS implementation, the energy structure effect has a limited impact on emissions, while the economic structure effect makes a negligible contribution. Moreover, the implementation of the ETS has had little demonstrable impact on industrial CO2 emissions, gross domestic product (GDP), energy consumption intensity, and CO2 emission intensity. This lacking of impact is caused by the GHG monitoring capacity deficits of the local Development and Reform Commission, and irrational quota allocations. Effective supervision and quota allocation should be developed to increase the impacts of the ETS.

Jonathan Phillips, Benjamin Attia, and Victoria Plutshack

Rapid technology development and falling hardware costs have made mini-grids a potentially game-changing platform for enabling universal electrification. With the capacity to power commercial and industrial loads and provide 24/7 service, mini-grids can bring reliable grid-level service to places that are unlikely to be serviced with a stable connection in the near future. Of the roughly 800 million people globally without access to electricity, mini-grids could represent the least-cost option for meeting the electricity needs of 490 million by 2030. In response, governments and development partners are putting in place support programs to accelerate the scale-up of mini-grid deployments. These support programs aim to reduce risk and improve returns for private developers and lower connection costs for rural populations.

This policy brief summarizes a review of 20 such mini-grid incentive programs in sub-Saharan Africa, 17 of which are still being implemented. The programs analyzed primarily used one of two mechanisms to stimulate investment:

  • auction programs that invite developers to submit bids for the construction and, in most cases, the operation of mini-grids at specific sites, typically awarding an up-front capital subsidy to the selected developers; and
  • results-based financing (RBF) programs that have a set subsidy per connection that is paid to developers after verification that a household or business has been connected.

Sumaya Mahomed, Rebekah Shirley, Donn Tice, and Jonathan Phillips

This report from the Applied Research Programme on Energy and Economic Growth looks at the historical context from which many African utilities have emerged has left a challenging legacy regarding the provision of energy service delivery to all. As rural electrification receives growing attention, a wave of decentralised renewable energy (DRE) technologies and business models are changing the energy service delivery landscape.

This Energy Insight focuses specifically on the opportunities for distribution utilities and mini-grid developers to collaborate.

Martin W. DoyleLauren Patterson, Erika Smull, and Simon Warren

This article from the Journal of the American Water Works Association, discusses: when people and industries leave a community, water utilities face the potential loss of revenue from departing customers and the cost and issues associated with maintaining excess system capacity.

Water systems seek to (1) ensure affordability, (2) maintain high service and quality, and (3) sustain fiscal viability; this creates a trilemma for shrinking cities that can ensure only two of the three.

To meet challenges, water service providers in shrinking cities need flexible approaches, such as downsizing, diversifying revenue sources, consolidating with other systems, or privatizing; absent such changes, the federal or state governments must step in.
Upcoming Virtual Events
  • Reimagining U.S. Science Policy to Foster Environmental and Climate ResiliencePart of a series of seminars that will engage thought leaders to share their perspectives on where U.S. science policy could be enhanced across five thematic areas. Director Tim Profeta will be among the panelists in this session. Organized by the Journal of Science Policy and Governance and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Friday, February 12, 3–4:15 p.m. EST.
  • ReCONNECT for the Future: Community-Rooted Practices for Creating EquitySenior policy associate Kay Jowers will co-facilitate this training that will explore practices for engaging and partnering with organizations that are accountable to impacted community members. Part of a virtual forum organized by NC State's Institute for Emerging Issues. Tuesday, February 16, 11 a.m.–12:30 p.m. EST.
  • Balancing Competition and Subsidy: Mini-grid Incentive Programs in AfricaHear from an expert panel about early lessons from Africa when countries try to scale mini-grid deployment. Hosted by the Energy Access Project at Duke. Thursday, February 18, 9–10 a.m. EST.
  • What Is the Future of Hydraulic Fracturing in the U.S. and Colorado? State Policy Program Director Amy Pickle will be a panelist during the first part of this discussion, which will cover a national perspective. Hosted by the Colorado Local Science Engagement Network. Friday, February 19, 1–3 p.m. MST.
  • Beyond Talking Points: What’s in Store for the New Administration and Congress? Climate and Energy Program Director Kate Konschnik and Duke University Energy Initiative Director Brian Murray will be among the experts to discuss the current policy environment, provide recommendations for Congress and President Joe Biden and forecast what to expect from the executive and legislative branches in 2021. Third event in a Duke in DC series. Friday, March 5, 10–11 a.m. EST.
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.