School of forestry and environmental studies

School Notes: School of the Environment
September/October 2020

Ingrid C. “Indy” Burke |

Pandemic may affect future of clean energy

The short-term environmental benefits of the COVID-19 crisis, including declines in carbon emissions and local air pollution, have been documented since the early days of the crisis. This silver lining to the global pandemic, however, could be far outweighed by the impacts on clean energy innovation, a recent YSE-led study found. The economic downturn triggered by the pandemic, researchers say, could have a devastating impact on long-term investment in clean energy. Under a worst-case scenario, an additional 2,500 million metric tons of carbon dioxide—or the equivalent of nearly 3 trillion pounds of coal burned—could be emitted, causing 40 more deaths per month, through 2035. “This global crisis will certainly defer investments in clean energy,” said Kenneth Gillingham, an associate professor of environmental and energy economics at YSE and lead author of the paper. “Depending on how policymakers respond, the consequences for human health from this deferred investment could far exceed the short-term environmental benefits that we have seen so far.”

Decarbonization propels countries to the top of 2020 EPI report

Denmark emerged at the top of the 2020 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), a biennial scorecard of national results on a range of sustainability issues, produced by researchers at Yale and Columbia universities. Now in its 22nd year, EPI ranks 180 countries on 32 performance indicators across 11 issue categories covering environmental health and ecosystem vitality. “Our analysis suggests that countries with broad-based sustainability efforts and particular emphasis on decarbonizing their economies come out at the top of the pack,” said Daniel Esty ’86JD, a professor of environmental law and policy at Yale and director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy that coproduces the EPI. The 2020 EPI features new metrics that gauge waste management, carbon dioxide emissions from land cover change, and emissions of fluorinated gases—all of which are important drivers of climate change. Other nations in the top tier included Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and France.

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