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Courtesy of Mitu Bhattatiry

From left: Winners Andy Zhang, CC '16, Raymond de Oliveira, CC '16, and Francesca Audia, GS '15, with CER organizers Daniel Morgan, CC '15, Marc Lemann, CC '14, Cindy Ma, CC '16, and Zhaokun Ma, CC '14. Zhang, Audia, and de Oliviera won the top prize in CER's annual environmental policy competition Friday.

Three Columbia students won the top prize in an annual environmental policy competition held by the Columbia Economics Review, organizers announced Friday.

Andy Zhang, CC '16, Raymond de Oliveira, CC '16, and Francesca Audia, GS '15, won the $500 grand prize for their plan to encourage research and development of environmental technology.

The Competitive Climate competition, which closed Jan. 15, challenged students from eight schools to make policy recommendations addressing climate change. Participants from Columbia, NYU, the University of Michigan, Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, Berkeley, Yale, and Princeton submitted powerpoint presentations outlining the implications of climate change and their specific policy recommendations.

“They're judged on four elements: proving that there is an issue, coming up with a policy solution, addressing the plausibility of the program (political implications), addressing how would the program address the issue vs other initiatives,” CER member Daniel Morgan, CC '16 and one of the organizers, said in an email.

Members of the winning project said that their plan was to push for government agencies to set emissions targets, creating obligations for countries to reduce their levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our plan basically came out of the idea that I don't really believe there should be environmental policy,” Zhang said. “We didn't want anything to do with the carbon tax vs. cap-and-trade debate, so we just did something else.”

“Essentially the plan is to sign off with international partners to allow our country to build sustainably in their countries in a way that reduces CO2 emissions,” de Oliveira said.

Still, the group, which also won an Engineering Without Borders competition last year for a job-creation plan in Ghana, said that it's unlikely their creative ideas will form a part of public policy.

“But at least some people will end up talking about our proposal, which is definitely better than nothing,” Audia said.

The group will be featured in the spring 2014 issue of the Columbia Economics Review and recognized by the Earth Institute and the economics department's Program for Economics Research, two of the competition's sponsors.

Zhaokun Ma, CC '14 and another of the competition's organizers, said that creative environmental policy is especially important.

“Environmental policy is a core economic concern these days, something that actively impacts administration policy,” Ma said. “It touches on everything from labor to health in the private sector as well as the public sector.”

Ma and Morgan said they hope to expand the competitions held by the CER by adding a competition on financial policy later this year, and that they would like to see the environmental policy competition expanded to high schools in the form of a debate tournament.

“This competition is at an intersection between economics, politics, and the environment,” Morgan said. “Environmental issues have a significant impact on economics—climate change will continue to hugely impact the way markets and industries rise and fall.”  |  @ebbogz

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