August 3, 2010
Nicholas Institute Launches New Website
Report Examines Policy Impacts on Deforestation
Working Paper Assesses Renewable Energy Potential in the South
Policy Brief Weighs Pros and Cons of PACE Bonds
T-AGG Draft Document Reviews GHG Mitigation Potential of More than 40 Land Management Activities
Environmental Stewardship Global Compact Now Online
Experts Answer Questions About Gulf Oil Spill's Political and Ecological Effects
Gumerman Presents Keynote on Southern Energy Efficiency
To better serve the needs of policymakers, business leaders, media, and other key environmental stakeholders, the Nicholas Institute has launched a new website with advanced navigation and search functions that allow visitors to find the information they need, faster.

Main menu portals on the new site are organized by subject--including climate and energy, water, oceans and coasts, ecosystem services, environmental economics, and corporate sustainability--and geography. A new expert's guide, organized by topic, helps reporters and policymakers identify which Institute staff members have the specific expertise they seek. More than 150 of the Institute's reports, policy briefs and papers are searchable by topic and author.

New website:
A new Nicholas Institute report looks at the successes and failures of previous policy attempts to stem deforestation and suggests a way forward for global policy efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses (GHG) from forest loss.

The report comes at a critical time. Forest loss accounts for 12 to 17 percent of the world's GHG emissions. U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiators are actively considering ways to include incentives to spur reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) and other forest carbon activities in any post-2012 treaty. The U.S. Congress is developing long-term climate policy proposals that include incentives for REDD and  other possible international forest carbon activities.

To assist these policymakers in their ongoing climate deliberations, the new report analyzes the dominant influences on forest loss, not only forest-focused policies but also other policies that directly or indirectly influence it, all in light of nonpolicy factors such as commodity prices. Lessons learned from these past successes or failures are then linked to current policy decisions.

"It is in the interest of any REDD program to understand what has worked in reducing deforestation and degradation, and what has not," the report's authors write. "Investments and policies can then more effectively embrace and extend success while reducing risks of further failures."

The report, issued in June, was written by a team of experts from the Nicholas Institute and the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke, North Carolina State University, Virginia Polytechnic State University, and Climate Focus.

More information:
Policy Impacts on Deforestation: Lessons Learned from Past Experiences to Inform New Initiatives
Renewable energy technologies present an opportunity to diversify energy resources while increasing reliance on domestic fuels with greater benefits for employment and economic growth relative to imported energy supplies. Government policies can provide a strong impetus for constructing renewable generation facilities, but these policies, however, are not uniformly available throughout the country.

In a new working paper, a team of researchers at the Nicholas Institute and Georgia Institute of Technology's Ivan Allen School of Public Policy assessed the economic potential for expanding renewable electricity generation in the South under various policy scenarios, including an "expanded renewables" scenario, a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), and a carbon-constrained future (CCF). The team also factored in the potential of customer-owned renewables, such as rooftop solar panels. The team concluded that under an "expanded renewables" scenario, renewable electricity generation could double over the reference forecast for the region, and if a federal RPS were imposed or the policies represented in the CCF scenario were implemented, 15 to 30 percent of the South's electricity could be generated from renewable sources. Among the renewable resources, the team concluded that wind, biomass, and hydroelectric power provide the most generation potential.

"Under realistic renewable expansion and policy scenarios, the region could economically supply a large proportion of its future electricity needs from both utility-scale and customer-owned renewable energy sources," the authors conclude.

The authors plan to release a full report of their findings in the next couple of months.

More information:
Renewable Energy in the South: A Policy Brief
Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing programs promote energy efficiency investment and renewable energy project development through low-cost municipal loans to property owners.

This new policy brief, written by a trio of Institute policy analysts, reviews the potential advantages PACE bonds may provide, along with key issues about the loans and bond implementation that must still be carefully reviewed and considered.

"Despite being similar to numerous existing and established credit products, such as special-purpose district binds and tax assessment bonds, PACE bonds are still a new and relatively unknown product," the brief's authors observe. "Municipal loan programs must create a sufficient pool of loans to satisfy the market while addressing concerns regarding uncertain returns in energy efficiency and utility costs, impacts on home values, and project quality control." PACE bond projects have been launched in only five communities nationwide, each with unique characteristics that may not translate to other municipalities, the authors note. However, "if these concerns are taken into account, PACE programs can be a useful tool for implementing urgently needed energy improvements in our built environment."

More information:
PACE Financing: Introduction and Key Questions for Local Implementation
A new draft appendix to upcoming reports by the Technical Working Group for Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (T-AGG) provides a side-by-side comparison of the biophysical greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation potential of more than 40 agricultural land management activities in the United States. Based on an extensive review of scientific literature, the appendix is downloadable from the Nicholas Institute website.

While biophysical GHG mitigation potential is a useful metric for a side-by-side comparison, the T-AGG working group members note, it is not sufficient for assessing the relative viability of various practices. There are economic factors, social and technical barriers, and ecological co-effects that will impact the viability of these practices, dramatically reducing the feasibility of some while increasing the benefits of others. These modifying factors will be addressed, along with implementation and accounting considerations, in the upcoming T-AGG U.S. Overview Report.

T-AGG is coordinated by the Nicholas Institute, working with colleagues from Duke and Kansas State universities. Its mission is to lay the scientific and analytical foundation necessary for building accounting methodologies for high-quality GHG mitigation in the agricultural sector. Lydia Olander, who directs the ecosystems services program at the Institute, leads the project. To receive announcements of T-AGG activities, sign up for the mailing list at

More information:
Literature Review: Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Potential of Agricultural Land Management Activities in the U.S.
Environmental and corporate stewardship issues-be they related to climate change, water scarcity, or other natural-resource and ecological challenges-are growing in scale and complexity. A new Web-based Environmental Stewardship Strategy has been developed by the UN Global Compact and Duke University, in cooperation with a group of committed business leaders.

The strategy is hosted on a Web site maintained by the Nicholas Institute. It is designed to help companies-at the highest levels of the organization-develop a truly holistic and comprehensive approach to stewardship.

Developed by Nicholas School faculty member Deborah Rigling Gallagher and a team of Duke students and faculty, the strategy employs a Web-based interface to provide high-level corporate managers and CEOs with access to essential information they need to incorporate stewardship practices and policies into their businesses' organizational value chain. The practices and policies shared through the interface will help businesses identify robust, actionable solutions to address key environmental issues such as climate change, water, energy and ecosystems conservation.

The strategy integrates insights from a series of webinars organized by the UN with assistance from Dan Vermeer, executive director of the Center for Energy, Development and the Global Environment (EDGE) at Duke's Fuqua School of Business, and from detailed interviews with key firms and a survey of a broader group of UN "Caring for Climate" signatories.

More information:
More than 800 viewers tuned in to watch the Nicholas Institute's Tim Profeta and Nicholas School marine biologist Larry Crowder talk about the impact of the Deep Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, during a species "Office Hours" Webcast Q&A session last month.

Questions in the Q&A session, which was produced by Duke University's News and Communications Office, ranged from the impact the spill may have on sea turtles to the impact it will have in the White House.

"We'll be carrying the effects of this spill for decades - not months - so it will not be cleaned up by November," said Profeta. "If the oil spill hasn't been dealt with in some way that's politically acceptable ... it could have grave consequences for the president and his party. And I think that's what a lot of the political minds in the White House are concerned about."

You can watch the entire hourlong discussion at
Institute staff member Etan Gumerman, co-director of Duke's Climate Change Policy Partnership, presented the keynote address at the 2010 Sustainable Energy Conference in Raleigh in April.

Gumerman's presentation reviewed the findings of a major new study he co-authored, "Energy Efficiency in the South," which was published earlier this year by the Nicholas Institute and the Georgia Institute of Technology. The study finds that energy-efficiency measures in the southern U.S. could save consumers $41 billion on their energy bills, open 380,000 new jobs, and save 8.6 billion gallons of water by 2020. It concludes that investing $200 billion in energy efficiency programs by 2030 could return $448 billion in total savings.

The researchers modeled how implementation of nine policies across the residential, commercial and industrial sectors might play out over 20 years in the District of Columbia and 16 southern states. Policies considered by the study include new appliance standards, incentives for retrofitting and weatherization, upgrades to utility plants and process improvements.

"We looked at how these policies might interact, not just single programs," Gumerman says. "On average, each dollar invested in energy efficiency over the next 20 years will reap $2.25 in benefits."

You can watch a video of Gumerman's keynote address at

More information:
Energy Efficiency in the South
Past issues of this newsletter are posted on our Web site under "NI Update" at
Find us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter