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Stories for July/August 2021
Duke Experts Provide Insights
on Latest IPCC Climate Report
photo of greenhouse gases being emitted into the air
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest assessment report in August detailing the most recent understanding of observed changes in the world’s climate. The authors of the report conclude that climate change is widespread and intensifying, and some of the observed changes, such as continued sea level rise, “are irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years.”

Duke University experts Brian Murray, Kate Konschnik, Jackson Ewing, Drew Shindell, and Dan Vermeer talked to Duke Today about the far-reaching implications of the report.
Dashboard Provides Expanding Map
of Water Affordability in U.S.
screenshot of map from the Water Affordability Dashboard
Water services are essential to the health and well-being of every community, from providing safe, reliable drinking water to removing and treating wastewater to managing the flow of stormwater. Yet water affordability and access challenges are growing in the United States as costs for providing these services rise for both utilities and their customers.

In early August, the Nicholas Institute's Water Policy Program launched a new tool to provide a clearer picture of how affordable water services are in the United States. Recently expanded to now feature data from nearly 2,350 utilities in seven states, the Water Affordability Dashboard helps users explore four key questions:

  • Who lives in the utility's service boundaries?
  • How much do water services cost?
  • How affordable are water services?
  • How does affordability change with water usage?
Op-Ed: Plan for Climate Change's Worst Impacts While Working to Prevent Them
Elizabeth Losos. Senior Fellow at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report made it clear that climate mitigation and resilience measures will both be necessary to stave off the worst of the impending climate perils.

While the focus of the last three decades has largely been on mitigation measures, Nicholas Institute senior fellow Elizabeth Losos writes for The Hill that we no longer have that luxury. Global spending falls far short of what is needed to reach a best-case climate scenario, and extreme weather events that have plagued the world this year are just a taste of what is to come. In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the world must adapt to and build resilience against climate threats to save lives, safeguard homes, protect livelihoods, and maintain ecosystems, Losos writes.
Ecosystem Services Toolkit: Pilot Project has Applications for Forest Plan Revisions
photo of Ashley National Forest
The Ashley National Forest has implemented and refined novel approaches to evaluate ecosystem services in a pilot project with U.S. Forest Service scientists, Duke University, and Environmental Management and Planning Solutions, Inc., according to a post on the Inside the Forest Service blog. The research provides a useful model for discussion and valuation of ecosystem services that can be used in the forest plan revision process.

Details of this pilot project were published in a recent edition of the journal Forests. An overview of the Ecosystem Services Conceptual Model used in the project and applications for the U.S. Forest Service is available in the Nicholas Institute's Ecosystem Services Toolkit.

Lydia Olander, Christine Shepard, Heather Tallis, David Yoskowitz, Kara Coffey, Chris Hale, Rachel KarasikSara Mason, and Katie Warnell

This report, a product of the Bridge Collaborative — Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy SolutionsThe Harte Research Institute, and The Nature Conservancy, with support from the National Academies' Gulf Research Program — is a part of a project to advance standardized metrics of restoration success by developing ecosystem service logic models (ESLMs) with stakeholders from the five Gulf states, relevant federal agencies, and technical experts. ESLMs trace the effects of restoration strategies as they influence ecological and social systems to create outcomes that are important to people. The use of logic models is recommended by the National Academies of Science as a best practice for monitoring plan design; these models can provide a practical and transferable approach for measuring success at different scales.
This Phase II report of the GEMS project identifies metrics available to monitor the social and economic outcomes of a wide variety of coastal projects funded in the Gulf, using ESLMs to illustrate how these projects’ impacts cascade through the biophysical system to result in social and economic outcomes. Phase II expands the focus to assess socioeconomic metrics for 16 coastal project types, including habitat restoration, recreational enhancement, and water quality improvement projects.
This report follows the Phase I report, which focused on understanding the various types of oyster reef restoration occurring in the Gulf and how those projects contribute to social and economic well-being.

Selina A. Roman-White, James A. Littlefield, Kaitlyn G. Fleury, David T. Allen, Paul Balcombe, Katherine E. KonschnikJackson Ewing, Gregory B. Ross, and Fiji George

Global trade in liquefied natural gas (LNG) is growing significantly, as is interest in the life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with LNG. Most assessments of life-cycle GHG emissions from LNG have employed national or regional average emission estimates; however, there is significant variability in emissions across different suppliers and across the natural gas supply chain. This work describes a framework for compiling supplier-specific GHG emission data for LNG, from the producing well to regasification at the destination port. A case study is presented for Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass Liquefaction (SPL) LNG supply chain from production in the United States and delivered to China. GHG emission intensities are estimated to be 30–43% lower than other analyses employing national or regional average emission profiles. The segments driving these differences are gas production and gathering, transmission, and ocean transport. Extending the boundaries of this analysis to the power plant illustrates the effect of fuel switching from coal to natural gas; the effect of fuel switching in China is a 47–57% reduction in GHG emission intensity, cradle through power generation. This work highlights the important role customized life-cycle assessments can play to improve GHG emission estimates and differentiate supply chains to inform business and policy decisions related to the transition to a low carbon future.

Nicole Motzer, Aleta Rudeen Weller, Kathleen Dietrich Curran, Simon Donner, Ronald J. Heustis, Cathy Jordan, Margaret Krebs, Lydia Olander, Kirsten Rowell, Linda Silka, Diana H. Wall, and Abigail York

Inadequate Leadership Training for graduate students in Sustainability (LTS) continues to plague even the most highly-resourced institutions. Collectively, the authors of this paper represent the small yet growing number of LTS programs across the United States and Canada working to close this training gap. In this paper, the authors describe the integrative approach they took to synthesize their collective knowledge of LTS with their diverse programmatic experiences and, ultimately, translate that work into concrete guidance for LTS implementation and design. They present a framework for the suite of key LTS aptitudes and skills yielded by their collaborative approach, and ground these recommendations in clear, real-world examples. They apply their framework to the creation of an open-access curricular database rich with training details, and link this database to an interactive network map focused on sharing programmatic designs. Together, their process and products transform many disparate components into a more comprehensive and accessible understanding of what they as LTS professionals do, with a view to helping others who are looking to do the same for the next generation of sustainability leaders.

J.B. Ruhl, James Salzman, Craig Anthony Arnold, Robin Craig, Keith Hirokawa, Lydia Olander, Margaret Palmer, and Taylor H. Ricketts

Conservation and provision of ecosystem services (ES) have been adopted as high-level policy in many countries, yet there has been surprisingly little application of these broad policies in the field; for example, ES are rarely considered in permit issuance or other discrete agency actions. This large implementation gap arises in part because the science that drove general policy interest in ES differs from the science needed for practical application. A better understanding of the environmental policy toolkit can guide more effective research to support agency decisions. Here, we outline the framework used to teach environmental policy instruments through the “Five P’s”: prescription, property, penalty, payment, and persuasion. We then discuss the discrete ES research required to effectively implement each tool. To support greater conservation of ES in the field, scientists and policy makers must clearly recognize what each needs from the other.

The aim of this guest essay for Our Shared Seas is to provide ocean philanthropists with a brief introduction to trends in ocean-targeted official development assistance (ODA), to demystify the latter for the former, and suggest some ways that the two might more closely work together and enhance their individual efforts. As ocean-related philanthropy increasingly moves beyond North America, we will need both of these sources of capital to work in lockstep as part of a global effort, if we are to achieve both ocean-related SDG targets and end poverty and hunger.
Chapter 29: Ecosystem Services

Lydia OlanderSara Mason, Heather Tallis, Joleah Lamb, Yuta J. Masuda, and Randall Kramer

Ecosystem services are the benefits that nature provides to people. Many of these benefits flowing from nature influence some aspects of human health. Climate change is altering natural ecosystems on earth through a myriad of pathways thus changing their ability to provide services to people, resulting in varied human health outcomes. We have discussed how various ecosystem services affect human health and described how climate change might disrupt or alter the delivery of those services. We conclude with examples of ecosystem management activities that present possible solutions for mitigating the health effects of climate change’s disruption of ecosystem services.
Upcoming Virtual Events
  • Sustainable Infrastructure: Comprehensive Lifecycle Assessment of Sustainability (Principle #3)This webinar will explore the third principle from UNEP's International Good Practice Principles for Sustainable Infrastructure. Part of the monthly "Sustainable Infrastructure: Putting Principle into Practice" series. Wednesday, Sept. 8, 12—1:15 p.m. GMT.
  • GOMA Human Benefits of Nature WebinarThe team behind the GEMS project will discuss the models, metrics, protocols, and web-based tools that were developed to inform restoration and social and economic monitoring efforts in the Gulf of Mexico. Hosted by the Gulf of Mexico Alliance. Friday, Sept. 10, 10—11 a.m. CDT.
  • The Water Reporter App: Data Management for Community Science Groups. John Dawes, executive director of The Commons, will present the Water Reporter app, which provides local monitoring programs that collect water quality data with streamlined data management, visualization, and export capabilities to official databases. Hosted by the Internet of Water. Thursday, Sept. 16, 1—2 p.m. EDT.
In the News
Professional Opportunities
This position takes an active role in assisting with specialized research activities, in planning and operations, and in providing expertise to the Energy Access Project (EAP). The role will focus especially in driving forward activities within EAP’s Modernizing Energy Access Finance and Powering Productivity and Healthy Communities work streams.