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Thoughts from Our Fellows: Steward Natural Resources and Address Climate Change

April 28, 2021

April 28, 2021

Welcome to Thoughts from Our Fellows, a collection of recent activity regarding the Academy's Grand Challenge of each Month. In April, the Academy focused on Steward Natural Resources and Address Climate Change. Below you will find:

  • The recommendations from our Election 2020 project regarding the first year of the new administration,
  • Recommendations from our fellows for the next four years of the Biden Administration,
  • Management Matters podcasts related to this grand challenge, and
  • The top 5 clicked articles on this grand challenge from our Management Matters online newsletter.
											 NAPA Natural Resources 300
Election 2020

In November of 2020, the Academy published Steward Natural Resources and Address Climate Change: An Agenda for 2021 as a part of its Election 2020 Project. The paper's Working Group recommended the following actions:

  • Optimize and expand federal research and demonstration on climate solutions and technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Embrace natural infrastructure as a key contributor to climate research.
  • Coordinate and expedite renewable energy siting decisions to accelerate decarbonization of the power sector, including a focus on siting on degrading lands.
  • Undertake a national effort to enhance forest health to build resilience to wildfire, enhance natural carbon storage, and strengthen habitats.
  • Improve federal coordination across federal agencies with states, tribes, and local governments.

Thoughts from Our Fellows

In addition to our Election 2020 papers, which focused on recommended actions for the first year of a new administration, the Academy also asked its Fellows for advice for the first four years of the Biden Administration.

Daniel Fiorino: I would start with addressing the country's needs for updated and green infrastructure, which it has already started to deal with. The priority should be investments that meet goals for clean energy and air, safe and healthy water, and resilience against climate change. I would then look into ways of pricing environmental harms--to account for the effects that markets do not account for. Finally, I would design better ways of valuing the multiple services provided by the nation's ecosystems. Such natural systems as wetlands, coastal estuaries, watersheds, and others provide essential services that underpin our quality of life.

Another necessary step would be a campaign to educate the public about the natural systems on which human well-being depends and the many opportunities for enhancing our quality of life while also protecting the environment.

Dan Guttman: Activities with fast impact are essential. Reduction in fossil fuel emissions will take many years--action with current impact is essential. The most important current fast action initiative is implementation of the 2016 Rwanda amendments to the Montreal Protocol to reduce HFCs. HFCs are short lived super pollutants, and the Montreal protocol has been the single most effective greenhouse gas reducing treaty. In December 2020 Congress provided for action and of course Biden will proceed. A next step will be to focus on reducing methane release. See the website of the Institute for Global Sustainable Development, which has pioneered in work with the Obama white house, India and China and other countries on these fast impact approaches.

Felicia Marcus: The Administration has made an impressive start in a very short time to raise the bar on climate change mitigation (rejoining Paris Accords, pledges to reduce reliance on fossil fuels), on protecting natural lands and resources (30x30 pledge), and on integrating equity and respect for sovereign indigenous nations into environmental and natural resources work. Making good on those pledges is essential, as is making a commitment to climate adaptation as a "Manhattan project," worthy of massive mobilization to deal with sea level rise, increasing drought and flooding, and increased heat. That will require retooling our infrastructure to be more integrated, resilient and efficient, and should include a massive investment in nature based solutions that protect and restore natural systems and processes, while providing better water supply, better water quality, and enhanced ecosystems for fish and wildlife and people.

Randy Lyon: The Administration has made an outstanding start on climate change and other environmental matters by making them a priority, taking domestic and international policy steps to reengage the federal government as a constructive force, and appointing highly qualified personnel to lead the effort. As it proceeds, the Administration faces three major challenges—centered on science, economics, and politics—with important roles for public administrators in many different capacities.

  • Science and Technology. The Administration has rightly signaled that our policy will be guided by the best possible science and that it will seek to boost technology development. Government agencies, universities and other research institutions, and the private sector will all have important roles.
  • Economics, Budgeting, and Regulation. Rigorous economics can also provide significant value as a foundation for policy development. The Administration has correctly recognized that because climate change is caused by activities around the world it requires international cooperation. The Administration is also undertaking a review of the implicit price to be applied to carbon emissions and reductions, which will be invaluable in guiding budget and regulatory policies. Incorporating environmental considerations into tax and tariff policies is likely to be an important challenge for many reasons, including the difficulty of estimating the carbon intensity of different products.
  • Politics, Communication, Distribution, and Results. As the Administration has recognized, for climate change policy to be effective and lasting, it must be embraced by the Nation as a consensus. Effectively communicating the science and economic policy underlying the Administration’s proposals will help. However, the real test will be results: whether most people actually benefit. Ensuring that the benefits of economic growth are widely shared has been a challenge for decades even without a bold environmental policy.

The Administration has embarked on a path that, if successful, would be transformational for the economies of the U.S. and the world. It is seeking to do this with a divided U.S. electorate, where broad segments distrust science and government, and where economic growth has been unevenly distributed. The challenge of climate change would be daunting under the most favorable of conditions due to the need for new technologies, international cooperation, and costly investments. However, success may depend as much on the third leg of the stool—achieving widely beneficial distributional outcomes—as on other elements of our strategy.

Barry Rabe: The abiding climate change policy focus on carbon dioxide has overshadowed the role of methane, which has contributed one-quarter of global warming to date. Methane is the primary constituent of natural gas, often characterized as "low-hanging fruit." This reflects numerous common-sense ways to minimize flaring and venting while capturing rather than squandering value from a non-renewable natural resource. That fruit, however, often goes unpicked, reflected in growing evidence that methane release levels from oil and gas production are considerably higher than those reported by many industries and production states.

The Biden Administration has an opportunity to revisit ways to create a constructive federal presence in a field that has seen very uneven state and industry engagement and performance, drawing on best practice models emerging in some states and other federal systems. Colorado has continued to build on an early foundation of innovation with new legislation and regulations designed to halt most flaring and venting, deploy state-of-the-art emissions monitoring technology, and prepare for long-term stewardship of oil and gas well sites once they are no longer operating. New Mexico has begun to take creative steps cognizant of extreme industry performance variation, intensifying oversight of firms with poor methane records while easing pressures when measurable performance proves robust.

Across the northern border, Canada has continued to honor its 2016 continental methane reduction agreement with the U.S. and Mexico, through a collaborative federalism process involving producing provinces. Alberta has developed a system to more reliably measure releases, improve public disclosure practices, tighten performance standards, and cost-share mitigation technology purchase through a levy on firms that miss emission-reduction targets. These cases offer promising models for any Biden Administration review of how to prepare America to assume a global leadership role in methane mitigation, including development of a suite of world-class regulatory and disclosure tools to minimize methane waste for as long as oil and gas continue to be produced and used.

Related Podcasts

Grand Challenge: Steward Natural Resources and Address Climate Change
NAPA podcast-logo
Climate Change, Natural Resources, and the Department of Interior with Scott Cameron

Fellow: Scott Cameron

Season: 1 Episode:48 | April 05, 2021

Grand Challenge: Steward Natural Resources and Address Climate Change
NAPA podcast-logo
Addressing Climate Change in a Democracy with Dan Fiorino

Fellow: Daniel Fiorino

Season: 1 Episode:45 | March 24, 2021

Grand Challenge: Create Modern Water Systems for Safe and Sustainable Use
NAPA podcast-logo
Governing Water Across Borders with Felicia Marcus

Fellow: Felicia Marcus

Season: 1 Episode:44 | March 08, 2021

Grand Challenge: Create Modern Water Systems for Safe and Sustainable Use Grand Challenge: Steward Natural Resources and Address Climate Change
NAPA podcast-logo
Out of This World AND Down to Earth Public Administration with Kathy Sullivan

Fellow: Kathryn Sullivan

Season: 1 Episode:47 | March 29, 2021

Top 5 Articles on Steward Natural Resources and Address Climate Change

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