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THE ROAD BACK TO 368 PARTS PER MILLION

Sylvan Lutz is a District 5020 Rotary Scholar who has just completed an international Double Master’s Degree in Environmental Policy, Technology and Health This dual degree program consists of a Master of Science in Environmental Management at Peking University in Beijing and a second Master’s degree in Environmental Economics and Climate Change at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the UK.

He has an extensive background in climate change policy at the national level. His Bachelor’s degree was a Joint Honours Degree in Economics and Political Science at the University of Ottawa. He combined his undergraduate education with hands-on work in democratic institutions, serving in the Canadian House of Commons as a parliamentary page, working in House of Commons Committees, and as a constituency assistant for British Columbia’s Minister of Education. 

He spent his third undergrad year on exchange at l’Universite Sciences Po in Paris and was invited to become a Canadian ambassador for The Global Pact for the Environment. During his final year at the University of Ottawa, together with former Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, he co-wrote a series of articles for Policy Magazine and worked at the Institute of Fiscal Studies in Canada on projects integrating environmental and human wellbeing into research on the effectiveness of existing public policy.

The District 5020 Scholarship Committee was pleased to be able to award him a Rotary District 5020 Ambassadorial Scholarship 

and endorsed his application for the Global Grant Scholarship. He is clearly a leader of tomorrow, supporting Rotary’s focus on the environment. In the article below, Sylvan Lutz describes his experience in his own words.

Dr Harry Panjer, Chair, District 5020 Scholarship Committee

THE ROAD BACK TO 368 PARTS PER MILLION

In 2021, the concentration of atmospheric warming greenhouse gasses was 416 parts per million (ppm), far greater than the preindustrial average or the level considered ‘safe’ for the planet (around 350ppm by earth systems scientists). That same year, District 5020 experienced an unprecedented heat dome that saw temperatures surpass 40°C; less than four months later, an atmospheric river left the region devastated by floods. Both events disrupted lives, caused significant damage critical infrastructure, and induced large spikes in deaths across British Columbia and Washington State. The following September (2022), I found myself sitting in a classroom over 7000 kilometres away, but I remained connected to these events and concentrated on that number: 416 (419ppm by that point). A year later, now a trained environmental economist, it is my job to reduce the risks of these once unprecedented events and reduce the concentration of GHG in the atmosphere to a safe level for the planet. 

This past year, I have had the pleasure of the Rotary District 5020 and The Rotary Foundations’ support as an Ambassadorial Scholar and Global Grant Scholar at the London School of Economics (LSE). My studies in Environmental Economics and Climate Change have been nothing short of life-changing.

During my first week at LSE, I was lucky enough to hear a speech from a rock star: Lord Nicholas Stern. While he might not be a ‘rock star’ that everyone knows, and his performance was not at a sold-out Wembley stadium, the packed lecture hall of young students was enthralled by his Mick Jagger-like stage presence. The author of a 2006 landmark report, which bears his name, gave us five challenges to address in our year at LSE and throughout our careers. Our predecessors had failed to address: (1) the unique urgency of action on climate change and nature preservation; (2) the uncertainty that climate change brings to us all; (3) the need to fundamentally change our carbon-based economic systems; (4) the need to grapple with the many market failures associated with the dual crisis of climate change and nature loss; and finally, (5) the need to better integrate important social values like equality and justice into our economies and our societies. 

Throughout the next 12 months, whether we were writing out pages of differential calculus equations in preparation for our exams, or spending hours coding our dissertation results in a surprisingly frustrating software, I carried these challenges with me. 

With Lord Stern’s words in mind, I set out to find and study examples of where multiple policies had been used to drive down emissions faster than either policy would have been able to on its own. Starting close to home, I looked at how BC had implemented a carbon tax and a modified cap-and-trade system – the standard tools of today’s economists – to address the market failures caused by climate change. My research investigated the effectiveness of North America’s first broad-based carbon tax and an overlapping carbon-intensity cap-and-trade system (a low carbon fuels standard) at achieving transportation emissions reductions using statistical and modelling techniques. 

The initial goal of the paper was to propose new methods for investigating the effects of ‘overlapping’ climate policies and thereby determine the relative contributions of these two overlapping policies for carbon emission reduction. Surprisingly, the data showed no significant evidence of reductions in transportation emissions or subsets of regulated emissions after the imposition of either policy. 

Overall, my results call into question the effectiveness of the current standard of market-based climate policies at overcoming the ‘path-dependencies’ of the current fossil fuel infrastructure. This suggests that policymakers in BC and around the world need to implement significantly higher effective carbon prices or more specific high-to-low carbon technology substitution-based approaches to achieve absolute emissions reductions in line with national and international Paris Agreement targets.

Despite the intensity of the classes, the year was not all work. The most enriching part of the year has to be the people I have met from the professors, the lovely members of my host Rotary Club of Westminster International and my many classmates who are also going out to change the world in many different ways.

The members of the Westminster International Rotary Club were excellent hosts. Together with my fellow Global Grant Scholar, Shingo (already a medical doctor and PhD epidemiologist), they welcomed us to weekend social events, the District Conference, their weekly English language lesson for new immigrants, and invited us to speak about my research on multiple occasions. 

I was also able to explore London with my classmates and join the LSE volleyball team. With LSE volleyball I travelled to courts and sand pits around the south of England and even Europe.

Over the next year, as I move from the classroom and volleyball court into the office, I will continue to improve my dissertation research with the help of my supervisor at LSE. I hope to better understand policies have worked and where they have failed. This will help me refine my methods as I look to identify examples from around the world where GHG emissions have been reduced with urgency through systems change. Learning from examples that have worked will be critical as global emissions continue to surge despite the Paris Agreement and proliferating emissions taxes.

As we join the ranks of environmental economists, I and I hope all my classmates, will work to implement Lord Stern’s lofty goals into our work. Thanks to the support of generous Rotarians in District 5020 and around the world, I now have tools to work to implement my career goal: reducing global GHG emissions and returning atmospheric concentrations to the safer level of 368ppm that was present in the atmosphere when I was born; if me, my classmates and the growing number of people around the world working on these issues are fortunate enough to be successful, the weather events of 2021 will remain unprecedented and not annual occurrences in the second half of this century. 

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