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The Insider

Novel International Efforts To Improve Environmental Protection Increase

Novel international efforts to improve environment protection are increasing in focus, as the United Nations looks to forge a novel initiative for global ecosystem protection, countries with carbon prices eye coordination with the Paris agreement, and wide-ranging advances in science force regulators to work across borders to assess the risks from new products.

Inside EPA’s Environment Next is covering new developments in climate, ecosystem protection and other environmental-policy goals that have deepened regulators’ focus on international efforts to develop or implement new regulations, thanks to both the border-crossing nature of the problems and the increasing spread of crucial expertise across countries and continents.

Environment Next is a free service to our subscribers featuring wide-ranging looks at coming developments for environmental protection and policy, including interviews, in-depth reporting and profiles of key figures, companies and other groups that are reshaping regulation and private governance on air, water, waste and climate change. The features offer a new way of reporting about the shift from command-and-control regulation to innovative, market-based measures and other efforts, including voluntary programs and government action outside EPA’s purview.

This week, our David Clarke looked at the growing push for international ecosystem-protection policies that has focused on the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and other cross-government work:

From The Editor: ‘Super Year’ For Biodiversity Highlights Rising Ecosystem Policy Focus
It’s a “super year” for biodiversity according to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) -- a multinational effort to develop strategies to conserve and sustainably use biological diversity, highlighting a growing global policy focus on protecting ecosystems.

In addition to negotiations on a new CBD global biodiversity framework, there are two other major events slated for this year: the UN Ocean Conference, aimed at conserving the sustainable use of the oceans, and the World Conservation Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature -- a global coalition of non-government organizations, governments and others promoting habitat conservation.

Those rising concerns about biodiversity may increase pressures on U.S. companies and others to address their potential impacts on biodiversity from pollution and habitat destruction, including climate change, water use, waste, and other “impact points,” says author and CEO of the Profitable Conservation consultancy Mark Aspelin, who flagged such issues in an exclusive Environment Next interview. Mining, forestry, oil and gas drilling, agriculture, and other sectors all have impacts, either directly or in their supply chains.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also sparked growing awareness of the powerful role ecosystem destruction is playing in human welfare, and might bolster findings on the subject. In May, scientists who led a UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services study on the subject warned that failing to mitigate threats to biodiversity and ecosystems within a “small window of opportunity” will make pandemics like COVID-19 more likely and more dangerous, both to public health and economic stability.

And efforts to push a carbon tax are meeting international success even as U.S. efforts founder, with advocates eying the need to link prices to the Paris climate accord’s goals:

Despite Stalled Federal CO2 Tax Push, 61 Pricing Efforts Advance Globally
Many countries are planning or already implementing at least 61 “carbon pricing” initiatives to cut emissions and tackle what they see as a climate “emergency,” even though prospects for advancing a carbon dioxide tax on industries in the United States appear very slim.

While the 61-plus initiatives should reduce CO2 emissions, prices for the pollutant remain far below what is needed to align with the Paris agreement, according to “State and Trends of Carbon Pricing 2020,” a new report by the World Bank.

More than 70 countries have committed to working toward net zero emissions by 2050 and to enhancing their international climate pledges under the Paris Agreement, and carbon pricing is one of the policy tools many countries have adopted toward that goal, the report notes.

In addition, “Countries are increasingly pairing their domestic carbon taxes and carbon markets with a crediting mechanism to stimulate action and investments in certain sectors, while giving governments and businesses some flexibility in tackling emissions in hard to abate sectors,” the World Bank says. Credits are a permit allowing a company that holds one to emit a certain amount of CO2 or other greenhouse gases.

Meanwhile, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is calling on the United States specifically to step up its international work on environmental regulation of nanotechnology, warning that as advances in the science increasingly happen overseas, regulators will need to mirror that shift in order to keep up with the state of the art:

NAS Calls For International Focus On Nanotechnology Regulation
A National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel is urging the U.S. government to forge new international agreements to assess the health and environmental risks of nanotechnology, arguing that since much of the latest research on nano-scale materials is happening abroad, U.S. regulators must broaden their focus to keep pace.

The NAS’ newly released quadrennial review of the interagency National Nanotechnology Initiative, which coordinates nanotechnology research and development across 23 federal agencies including EPA, praises the initiative’s past work on assessing and regulating the environmental health and safety (EHS) implications of nano-scale materials and products, but warns that the state of the science is still advancing rapidly.

“Unlike previous types of innovation, EHS issues for nanomaterials have been investigated in real time, as basic research on their synthesis and properties was also being conducted. This has been inherently challenging, as there was significant work required on metrology and characterization,” the report says.

Thus, it argues, as new developments in nanomaterials emerge outside the United States, especially in the European Union, the United States will have to make sure it is keeping up with those technological leaps. It says that progress could come through international regulatory work or by boosting domestic industry to catch up with competitors abroad.

“There is this need to advance our methods and have them keep pace with commercialization,” panel member Jo Anne Shatkin said during a June 9 webcast presenting the review.