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GEP Practica

Current Practica:

A New Global Framework for Climate Action

Organizational Partner:
Natural Resources Defense Council

Faculty Supervisor:
S. Jacob Scherr, Senior Advisor to the International Program of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Washington, DC

Project Summary: The student team will undertake research and analysis for the Natural Resources Defense Council's Cloud of Commitments Initiative. This NRDC project seeks 1) to stimulate awareness and understanding of the emerging world of thousands of non-globally-negotiated commitments by governments at all levels, corporations, foundations, and civil society to take action on climate change and 2) to advance the creation of a new global architecture for these climate actions. The practicum team will undertake case studies on 3-to-4 selected major platforms for climate actions –such as Sustainable Energy For All, Tropical Forest Alliance, C-40, or the "partnerships" with developing nations being undertaken by the U.S. Department of State or the World Bank on low-carbon development. The student research, including in-person interviews, will examine the governing structures of the commitments, and the processes to measure their progress, to support their implementation and to provide accountability.

Based on the case studies, the students will develop a proposal for the creation of a global framework for such commitments that could be introduced into the international negotiations and discussions moving towards the adoption of the next climate treaty in Paris in December 2015. They will make a formal presentation of their proposal in oral briefings with interested and engaged individuals at NRDC and other organizations and agencies –including potentially at the United Nations in New York.

U.S. Food/Farm Bill Reform: Agricultural Policy for (Inter)National Social & Ecological Resilience

Organizational Partner:
Rural Coalition/Coalición Rural and the National Family Farm Coalition

Faculty Supervisor:
Garrett Graddy-Lovelace

Project Summary: Students will partner with executive directors and community leaders of the Rural Coalition/Coalición Rural and the National Family Farm Coalition to conduct original and timely mixed-methods research on domestic and international impacts of US agricultural policy. This research aims to investigate implications of the US Farm Bill and agricultural trade agreements on the domestic and international fronts. The goal is to help foster sustainable agriculture, rural livelihoods, community food security, and social justice across explicitly diverse agrarian sectors within and beyond the United States.

This participatory action research project builds upon and deepens two previous years of collaborative scholarship with these umbrella organizations, which together comprise the North American branch of La Via Campesina, the international grassroots peasant movement.

Summer 2014 Practica:

Water, Cooperation, and Peace: The Peacebuilding Impact of Joint Israeli-Palestinian Wastewater Projects

Water Practicum Student presentation 2015

Participants in the 2014 SIS Graduate Practicum in Israel and the West Bank present their research on the peacebuilding effects of transboundary water projects

Organizational partners:
Arava Institute for Environmental Studies;House of Water and Environment;Palestinian Wastewater Engineers Group 

Faculty Supervisors:
Eric Arbitol and Ken Conca

Student team:
Katarina Alharmoosh, Alexander Heaton, Peighton Huse Hasbini, Natalia Oyola-Sepúlveda, Kristine Smith, Matt Smither, Natalie Wisely

Project summary:
This practicum involved the production of a peacebuilding effectiveness assessment of cooperative decentralized wastewater projects between an Israeli non-governmental organization (NG), the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, and two Palestinian NGOs, House of Water and Environment and the Palestinian Wastewater Engineers Group. The assessment found that the projects have significant potential for both their environmental benefits and peacebuilding significance. Due to their lower costs and small scales, these projects can easily be implemented in rural areas that might otherwise have limited access to wastewater services. The smaller scale also allows the systems to be more locally appropriate and to meet citizen needs more directly. The projects also have potential for impact on relationships and peacebuilding, by encouraging cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians that challenges the normal power dynamics and begins to reshape society at the micro level. There is potential to develop certain relationships to further strengthen and build local governments, as well as room to expand the diversity of participants. Continued development of these aspects will increase the projects' peacebuilding significance.

Click here to see this team's final report.

Spring 2014 Practica:

Chinese Investment in the Peruvian Mining Sector: Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility

Team Shougang in Marcona

Team Shougang in Marcona

Organizational Partner:
World Resources Institute

Faculty Supervisor:
Judith Shapiro

Student Team:
Jason Campos, Claudia Carrete Sanchez, Caitlin Duffy, Sarah Helinek, Virginia Jameson, Margaret Ledyard-Marks, Alison Minarcik, Cassie Mullendore, Rebecca Schroeder, August Slater, Howard Weir, Stephanie Williams

Project Summary: In the spring of 2014, twelve Master’s students traveled to Peru to conduct field research and interviews on mining by Chinese corporations. This practicum project was sponsored by the GEP program in collaboration with the World Resources Institute’s “International Financial Flows and the Environment” program with the intention of encouraging China to adopt stronger environmental and social policies in its overseas investments. The students researched case studies of best and worst examples of Chinese investments in Peru's mining sector. The team presented its findings to the World Resources Institute on May 5th.

Click here to see the full report.

The Environmental and Social Implications of AU’s Carbon Offsets Purchases

Organizational Partner:
American University Office of Sustainability

Faculty Supervisors:
Chris O'Brien and Ken Conca

Student Team:
Nicolas Baker, Ryan Borish, Jenifer Collins, Renee Ledoux, Giang Phan, Mark Siebenaler, Joe Thwaites, Evan Vaughn

Project Summary: As part of AU’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2020, the university entered into a carbon-offset agreement with the non-profit organization Pax Natura, involving forest preservation and carbon sequestration in Costa Rica. The program is designed to offset carbon emissions resulting from travel on university business, including study abroad. Purchasing offsets in general, and avoided deforestation in particular, are controversial carbon reduction strategies, and offset programs operate at highly variable levels of effectiveness. This practicum team assessed the environmental and social impacts of AU’s carbon offsets investment. Tasks included an analysis of the claims made about the Pax Natura project, a comparison with best practices in the carbon offset field, and design and execution of a field-based rapid appraisal of social and ecological impacts in Costa Rica.

U.S. Farm Bill: Agricultural Policy for (Inter)-National Social and Ecological Resilience

Organizational Partner:
Rural Coalition and National Family Farm Coalition

Faculty Supervisor:
Adam Diamond

Student Team:
Emmalee Aman, Forrest McGraw, Alyssa Viars, Kelley Cressman, Anna Meyer, Jes Walton, Arielle Conti, Jamie Pratt

Project Summary: Working with the Rural Coalition and National Family Farm Coalition, this practicum team created an online toolkit to assist efforts by grassroots organizations to reform the next farm bill in the direction of equitable and sustainable agriculture. In developing content for the toolkit, the team identified, evaluated and compared different policy options related to land access for small and beginning farmers, food aid reform, and crop insurance. 

Click here to view the website.

2013 GEP Practica:


Drivers of Development and Conflict in the Mekong River Basin

Organizational partner:
US Department of State

Faculty supervisor:
Ken Conca

Student team:
Brandt Burleson, Matthew Espie, Olivia Gilmore, Amanda Johnson, Weini Li, Roman Manziyenko, Linh Nguyen, Xiaocheng Zang

Project summary: The Mekong River Basin is an extremely dynamic and complex ecological system. The river is home to some of the most productive fisheries in the world and a source of livelihoods for millions. The environmental health of the basin and the sustainability of development activities have come under strain from growing populations, intensifying pollution, and infrastructure development. The treaty-based institutional arrangement among the basin countries, the Mekong River Commission, has struggled to forge a workable plan for the basin’s future, to coordinate development activities, to include all relevant stakeholders, and to manage and resolve conflicts. The practicum team conducted a survey of more than 160 Mekong experts around the world, from research centers, advocacy organizations, government ministries, and intergovernmental organizations. The survey assessed experts’ understanding of development trends, threats to the basin, and potential points of conflict and cooperation in the coming decade. The project also gauged the strength of cooperative ties among different types of stakeholders across the basin and examined networks springing up around new models for financing infrastructure.

Click here for the Mekong Team’s report


 

International Financial Flows and the Environment: Best Practices for Transnational Investment in Extractive and Land Use Sectors

Organizational partner:
World Resources Institute

Faculty supervisors:

Judith Shapiro, Ken Conca

Student team:
Stephanie DaCosta, Kristin DeValue, Hilary Kirwan, Lauren Lane, John Noel, Sebastian O’Connor, Schuyler Olsson, Jen Richmond, Natnari Sihawong, Toussaint Webster, Yuxi Zhao

Project summary: Foreign investment is an important and often contentious issue, in part because of the social and environmental impacts that investing companies may inflict upon the local communities in which they operate. Some investment improves local economic, environmental, and social conditions, while in other instances it has led to tensions between transnational companies and local communities. There are currently few broadly agreed-upon standards to guide how foreign companies should invest and behave in host countries to achieve not only business benefits but also social responsibility and environmental sustainability. In partnership with the World Resources Institute, the practicum team developed a set of case studies documenting examples of best and worst practices around foreign investment in the energy, mining, and agricultural land-use sectors. Each case documents the investment history and project impacts and assesses corporate practices with regard to social and environmental safeguards, and the team’s report also makes strategic recommendations for improved performance. The work supports WRI’s educational and partnership efforts on investment and corporate responsibility, particularly for investments flowing out of newly emerging economies. As part of its work, the practicum team travelled to Beijing, China, to present its research and coordinate with a WRI partner research team from Beijing Normal University.

Click here for the Financial Flows & Corporate Responsibility Team’s full report
 

 

Farmers, Fairness, and the Farm Bill

Organizational partners:
Rural Coalition, National Family Farm Coalition

Faculty Supervisor:
Garrett Graddy

Student team:
Erika Christensen, David Golding, Casey Harrison, Cameron Harsh, Sarah Howell, Elise Szabo

Project summary: In partnership with the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) and the Rural Coalition (RC), the 2013 American University Food and Farm Bill Practicum Team researched, investigated and documented impacts of U.S. agricultural policy in order to connect a human face to the Farm Bill. Specific areas of focus included crop insurance, food aid, gender, media portrayals of agriculture, and land grabbing in the United States. The project culminated in a web-based research and policy toolkit, to be used by scholars, concerned citizens, grassroots activists, or policy makers. The toolkit includes: a synthesis report of the team’s research, video interviews, GIS maps, suggested resources, and more.

 Click here for the Farm Bill Team’s project web site


 

Tenth Street Streetscape and Stormwater Policy

Organizational partner:
National Capitol Planning Commission (NCPC)

Faculty Supervisor:
Victoria Kiechel

Student team:
Adam Bremer, Samantha Brooks, Josephine Chu, Cristina Cordova, Emily Curley, Cynthia Elliott, Kara Luggen, Elisabeth Mox, Emma Shlaes

Project summary: The National Capital Planning Commission is developing the Southwest Washington, DC Ecodistrict to transform a 15-block federal precinct just south of the National Mall into a showcase of sustainable urban development. Our team focused on a key streetscape within this precinct: the Tenth Street corridor between the National Mall and Banneker Park, overlooking the Washington Channel. The team’s assessment and report evaluates stormwater management and green infrastructure design scenarios and strategies, in order to bolster the environmental and economic benefits of NCPC’s SW Ecodistrict plan. The report maps the mandates, regulations, and fees from utilities and public sector authorities; examines the economic costs and environmental benefits of stormwater capture and water re-use within the site; examines scenarios for a district-scale water reuse system; provides a strategy for involving stakeholders in the planning and implementation phases of the plan; and presents best practices for designing district-scale water systems for increased resiliency, energy efficiency, and environmental equity.

Click here for the DC Stormwater Team’s report

 

Water and Peacebuilding in the Middle East

Organizational partners:
Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, Palestinian Wastewater Engineers Group (PWEG), Water Resources Action Project (WRAP), American University Center for Israel Studies (CIS)

Faculty supervisor:
Eric Abitbol, Ken Conca

Student team:
Charles Christian, Joanna Fisher, Moses Jackson, Christy Kehoe, Courtney Owen, Valerie Puleo, Erin Rosner, Heather Speight

Project summary: This report presents original research carried out as part of a graduate practicum organized by the American University School of International Service. The practicum brought together eight graduate students from a range of academic backgrounds to investigate shared interests in water, cooperation and peace. Its primary objective is to assess the peacebuilding significance of a cooperative Israeli- Palestinian wastewater management initiative between the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (AIES), an Israeli- based environmental organization, and the Palestinian Wastewater Engineers Group (PWEG), a Palestinian-run organization working in the water and solid waste sectors.

Click here for the Water & Peacebuilding Team’s report 

 

Click here for more information regarding GEP capstone research options.