A new generation of environmental assessment and forecasting tools has begun to emerge, replacing the sensational Malthusian gloom-and-doom reports of the 1970s that were mostly proven wrong. Panelists at this event will examine several of these efforts, including the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the Pilot Environmental Performance Index, the State of the Nation's Ecosystems report, and the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) project to develop environmental indicators. Panelists will also discuss how environmental assessment can be integrated in the policymaking process.
Participating in this panel discussion are Daniel Esty of Yale University, Robin O’Malley of the Heinz Center, and AEI’s F. K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow Steven F. Hayward, principal author of the PRI(Pacific Research Institute)/AEI Index of Leading Environmental Indicators, which features an analysis of recent trends and developments in the environmental studies.
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Daniel Esty, Yale University
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Robin O’Malley, Heinz Center
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Denice Shaw, EPA
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Steven F. Hayward, AEI
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The Fate of the Earth: A Roundtable on Environmental AssessmentA new generation of environmental assessment and forecasting tools has begun to emerge, replacing the sensational Malthusian gloom-and-doom reports of the 1970s that were mostly proven wrong. Panelists at a May 16 AEI conference examined several of these efforts, including the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the Pilot Environmental Performance Index, the State of the Nation's Ecosystems report, and the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) project to develop environmental indicators. Panelists discussed how environmental assessment can be integrated in the policymaking process.
Let’s begin our discourse on the topic of environmental assessment by first looking at the development of economic assessment in the United States. In the 1930’s and 1940s, the United States was post depression, facing labor turmoil and grave uncertainty. To make matters worse, it was pulled into World War II. At this time, it was important for the government policymakers to evaluate how structured the U.S. economy was. In essence, they needed to know how much money they could invest in the war effort without putting the American economy at stake. Fortunately for economists, they had (and still have) something that environmentalists do not have: a strong economic reporting infrastructure. Economists have the benefit of coherent, integrated, and repeatable reporting. In addition, they are in agreement on certain key indicators and also have the guidance of trusted institutions.
Unfortunately for those in the field of environmental policy and assessment, there is no integrated top to bottom data system, there is an insufficiency of well trusted and well resourced institutions, and there is no agreement on core indicators. As a result, there is no robust capability to engage in productive policy making discussions.
The goal of the Heinz Center and its State of the Nation’s Ecosystems report, is to provide a high level, widely accepted, science-based report that is both up to date and useful. We hope to create a system of science based, nonpartisan information that will empower governments to create the environmental policies their countries desperately need. With our report, we have tried to keep politics, science and policy in proper perspectives. This certainly does not mean we have excluded them in our report. Instead, we integrate them into our report in a way that is well rounded and unbaised. We will continue to refine the report for years to come in order to incorporate new technology and data.
There are four critical issues currently limiting the field of environmental assessment. These are:
1. Data Gaps
2. Weakened data/monitoring systems, often due to flat budgets
3. Lack of a central, unifying nervous system
4. Institutional mismatches, which mean many experts are not placed where they would be of the greatest benefit.
Environmental Protection Agency
In 2003, the EPA released its draft Report on the Environment. We called it a draft because it was a first step to a much larger report that we hope to release in 2007. This new report will include peer reviews, “scaled” indicators, and address critical questions about nationwide trends. The EPA approaches this report with three fundamental principles: clarity, scientific integrity, and transparency. In our report, we cover the topics of air, water, land, human health, and ecological condition. Our indicators passed strict scrutiny under the criteria of: usefulness, objectivity, integrity, quality, transparency, reproducibility, and proper representation
of the target population. It is the EPA’s hope that the Report on the Environment will promote clear and effective discussion, identify important trends, provide information on needs and gaps, and empower those in charge of strategic planning. It is our hope that the report will encourage effective collaboration and optimization of current and planned data collectives.
Yale, Columbia, the European Union, and the World Economic Forum came together to produce the Pilot Environmental Performance Index. The framework for our report consisted of indicators, policy categories, broad objectives (environmental health and ecosystem stability) and overall performance, the basis for the Environmental Performance Index. Our goals were to:
1. Make environmental decision making more data driven and empirical
2. Establish context for evaluating policy results
3. Facilitate benchmarking or performance
4. Identify leaders and laggards in environmental performance
5. Provide a counterpoint to GDP growth and competitiveness rankings
Our report found, like many before it, that there is clear correlation between economic performance, evaluated in the form of GDP, and a country’s environmental performance. This is indisputable and something policymakers need to accept. Economic performance is also correlated with good governance. This means good governance matters because it promotes accountability.
In our report, we organize countries into peer groups by levels of development, region, political/free trade agreements, climatic circumstances, and demographic structure. Comparative analysis is critical and helpful in tracking a country’s progress. Peer groups allow countries to evaluate where they are relative to countries like them. This is not a perfect structure, but it is interesting and instructive.
This project is not a five-year or a ten-year project, but a fifty-year project. It is our hope that the field of environmental assessment will develop the same structure for decision making that economic assessment benefits from. We have to talk about what we know and then provoke people to do something about it. It is our hope to point everyone in an upward trajectory towards the long term goal of sustainability.
AEI intern Stacy Jer prepared this summary.