Education News

Students in the Spring Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Policy Analysis Work With Clients

2010-01-22

This spring semester, students in the M.P.A. in Environmental Science and Policy program are gaining professional experience in a workshop course, undertaking analytical projects for real-world clients in government and nonprofit agencies. Under the supervision of faculty members, these groups produce reports analyzing major environmental policies or management problems faced by their clients. These projects are part of the three-semester workshop requirement for program. The spring workshop enables students to integrate the environmental science lessons learned in the summer semester with the policy, politics and management issues they have learned throughout the program.

Students are working with faculty members Kathleen Callahan, lecturer at the School of International and Public Affairs and former deputy regional administrator of U.S. EPA Region II; Steve Cohen, director of the M.P.A. in Environmental Science and Policy program and executive director of the Earth Institute, Columbia University; Nancy Degnan, executive director of Columbia University’s Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC); Gail Suchman, adjunct professor at SIPA and Columbia Law School, and an environmental lawyer in private practice; and Sara Tjossem, lecturer and associate director for faculty and curriculum for the M.P.A. E.S.P. program. This spring, clients include the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the New York City Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, the Abu Dhabi (UAE) Urban Planning Council, the Nature Conservancy, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and West Harlem Environment Action (WEACT). Descriptions of the projects for this semester are below.

Evaluating Possibilities for an International Carbon Markets Regime

Client: Environmental Defense Fund (Susanne Brooks, Economic Policy Analyst; Gernot Wagner, Economist)
Faculty Advisor: Kathleen Callahan

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization that was founded in 1967 when scientists and attorneys coalesced in a successful legal effort to ban the use of DDT. Since then, climate change policy has been a core mission of EDF. EDF’s scientists have participated in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and EDF staff has been involved in UNFCCC negotiations since the beginning of the international process. With the conclusion of the Copenhagen Climate Conference, EDF is evaluating where its future focus within the scope of international climate negotiations and mitigation efforts should lie. As it moves to define its priority areas of attention, EDF is assessing past international efforts as well as considering the role of international institutions in shaping and interacting with the carbon market.

The project team is analyzing past as well as existing international regimes, the accomplishments of these regimes, and strategic approaches and commonalities among climate change concerns. They will also be regularly involved with the EDF staff and able to conduct interviews with recommended experts. The project team will produce a report, organized around research results, which will provide substantive information, analyses of lessons learned, missed opportunities, successes, recommendations and considerations of the policy implications for the future. This research and analysis will provide EDF staff with consolidated and concise information to use as it forms its future path.

A Sustainable Food System for New York City

Client: Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability
Faculty Advisor: Steve Cohen

New York City’s population is expected to grow to 9.1 million by the year 2030. Feeding over one million new residents will require additional capacity and add to the environmental impacts associated with the regional production, distribution, preparation and consumption of food in the city. Providing food to New York City’s residents requires a vast and extremely complicated food system that is not well understood but has massive implications for our health and the health of the environment.

While many studies have been done on specific issues relating to locally grown food, food insecurity and implementing various food policy initiatives, little work has been done to comprehensively analyze a large-scale urban food system. Students working on this project will help the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability to improve its understanding not only of where New York City’s food comes from, but also the method in which it is grown or processed and its trajectory into the city and onto New Yorkers’ tables. A special emphasis will be placed on the production, procurement and distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Abu Dhabi Water and Energy Plan 2030: Water Chapter

Client: The Abu Dhabi (UAE) Urban Planning Council; Gregory Acker, Senior Planning Manager, Estidama Program
Faculty Advisor: Nancy Degnan, Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC)

Established in 2007, the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (UPC) produces plans and development regulations that govern Abu Dhabi's physical environment. In order to better manage urban growth in the United Arab Emirates, UPC has developed a unique environmental framework in collaboration with the Environment Agency. This framework is called “Estidama”—the Arabic word for sustainability—and is currently playing a critical role in the 2030 master planning process for Abu Dhabi. As part of this ongoing process, the Estimada program is developing resource plans for water and energy from the present to 2030 (when the population is estimated to grow from the current 900 thousand to 3 to 5 million or more) in order to establish policies that will facilitate the sustainable consumption of these important and finite resources.

The particular focus of this project will be water. With one of the highest per-capita water consumption rates in the world and depleted aquifers leading to 1.3 billion cubic meters (or 98 percent) of Abu Dhabi’s water supply coming from 30 desalination plants, the water problem is well documented in the UAE. The solutions are not. In order to address this knowledge gap, the project is structured in three phases. During the first stage, in which timing and deliverables will be finalized with the UPC, students will be involved in research and investigation. The second, more substantial phase is where formulating appropriate water policy initiatives will take place. The project will culminate in the presentation of a draft of the water section of the Abu Dhabi Energy and Water Plan 2030 to the UPC. Student research and recommendations will be edited for inclusion in the anticipated Abu Dhabi Energy and Water Plan 2030. The recommendations could have regional applicability and may be adopted by other jurisdictions.

Human Impacts on Biodiversity Conservation

Clients: The Nature Conservancy (Jennifer Molnar, Senior Scientist; Craig Leisher, Senior Social Science Advisor; and Tim Boucher, Senior Conservation Geographer)
Faculty Advisor: Sara Tjossem

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is the largest conservation organization in the world, with more than 3,700 staff and an annual revenue of more than $1 billion. The Conservancy works in over 35 countries, where it owns 119 million acres and works with partners over broader landscapes. On the ground, TNC often works in remote areas where population density is low and rural-urban migration may be shifting people away. Poor rural communities rely more directly on local natural resources; however, as families move up the economic ladder they have fewer children and change their consumption patterns. At the same time, larger forces such as trade and agricultural expansion drive the loss of biodiversity in many regions.

Students working on this project are seeking to unravel the complexities of how people interact with natural resources. How are population growth, resource consumption and poverty related to biodiversity loss? And what can a global conservation organization do about them? To this end, students will work with a top geographer at TNC to perform a GIS analysis of current and future population density, consumption, and poverty/income levels in a 50 kilometer radius around TNC’s major projects in the 35 countries where it works. The team will then investigate the drivers of conservation threats using various sources of data, including TNC’s conservation projects database. Finally, after learning about TNC’s history, donor base and organizational culture, students will develop recommendations for how and where TNC should address population growth, resource consumption and poverty in its conservation work. The final outputs will be 30-minute presentations to senior TNC staff at the Manhattan office on the analysis, findings and recommendations, and a three-minute narrated slide show (in Flash) to educate TNC staff.

Success and Failures: Evaluating Environmental Justice Strategies in Federal Agencies

Client: Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Urban Program (Al Huang, Environmental Justice Attorney), and West Harlem Environmental Action (WEACT) (Cecil Corbin-Mark, Deputy Director and Director of Policy Initiatives)
Faculty Advisor: Gail Suchman

Students in the workshop group focusing on the evaluation of environmental justice strategies in federal agencies are working with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and West Harlem Environmental Action (WEACT). NRDC is a 40-year-old national environmental organization with 1.3 million members and a staff of 300 lawyers, scientists and policy experts working on a myriad of environmental issues. WEACT is a nonprofit, community-based environmental justice organization working locally and nationally to improve environmental health, protection and policy in communities of color.

In response to a growing environmental justice (EJ) movement, President Clinton signed Executive Order 12898 in 1994, requiring all federal agencies to incorporate consideration of EJ issues into their decision-making processes. In 2004, the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General found that the EPA had not adequately implemented the executive order. The report took a cursory look at the EPA regional offices where the day-to-day work of the agency is done, but it failed to thoroughly evaluate any regional EJ strategies. The report also did not look for programs in the regions that might be helpful in furthering the EJ agenda or what might be done to integrate EJ into those programs. A revised report that analyzes the current state of affairs and recommends new actions will support this integration effort.

This project involves students gathering background information concerning EJ strategies at the above agencies on a national level and evaluating successes or failures regarding EJ concerns. After collecting national background information, students’ research will focus on the regional level. They will develop survey questions and speak to regional representatives. The students will also look for programs in the agencies that are not under the EJ umbrella but may be helpful in addressing EJ concerns. Students will generate a report summarizing the research and making concrete recommendations for actions by the agencies that will better address EJ concerns in the regions and in the country as a whole. Students will also prepare an executive summary for use as an advocacy piece that will be presented, along with the report, to the Obama Administration, the targeted agency heads and the appropriate regional directors.

Learn more about the workshop.