Proceedings of a Workshop
PARTNERSHIPS AND CROSS-SECTOR COLLABORATION PRIORITIES TO SUPPORT CLIMATE RESEARCH AND POLICY
Proceedings of a Workshop—in Brief
As global mean temperatures rise and extreme climate and weather events increase in frequency and intensity, the severity of the climate situation and its potential impacts on human well-being—particularly of the world’s most vulnerable populations—is strikingly evident. Research and policy responses to address climate change are required to meet U.S. targets set for the coming decades, which include a reduction of 50 to 52 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050.
In coordination with other activities on climate, energy, and environmental and human health across the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the National Academies), the Government-University-Industry Research (GUIRR) Roundtable convened a series of five workshops in June and July of 2021 to discuss opportunities for enhancing U.S. scientific and technological approaches to climate research and policy through cross-sector collaboration and partnerships, and to examine the impacts of climate policy on economic development, inequality, and international competitiveness. Topics for consideration during the workshops included the state of U.S. climate science infrastructure; the clean energy transition; technologies for deep decarbonization; the social cost of carbon; and climate impacts on the intersection of health, equity, and security.”
By convening experts and leaders from across sectors and disciplines, GUIRR provided a forum for dialogue on climate change priorities for consideration by leaders across the research enterprise.
This document summarizes the presentations and discussions at the five workshops in three sections. The first section covers a workshop held on June 10, 2021; the second section covers a workshop held on July 22, 2021; and the third section covers three related workshops held on June 23, June 30, and July 14, 2021.
STATE OF U.S. CLIMATE SCIENCE AND RESEARCH INFRASTRUCTURE
In launching the series, Al Grasso, GUIRR’s industry co-chair and former President and CEO of the MITRE Corporation, pointed to new momentum around climate solutions across sectors, which makes the topic of particular relevance for GUIRR. During the first workshop of the series, the two presenters discussed two National Academies reports that focus on research needed to achieve the Biden Administration’s climate goals. Both presenters stressed the importance of technological innovation and social science and policy priorities to bolster deployment and adoption of technologies to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
The first study, discussed by Kristie Ebi (University of Washington), provided recommendations to the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) in developing its decadal research strategy, which due in 2022. Established by Congress in 1990, USGCRP coordinates federal research and investments in understanding the forces shaping the global environment and their impacts on society; conducts syntheses of impacts and trends published every 4 years as National Climate Assessments; and coordinates U.S. research activities with other nations and international organizations.
Ebi serves as vice chair of the National Academies Committee to Advise the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Unlike most National Academies committees, she noted, its mandate is to advise a federal program rather
than conduct consensus studies. In March 2021, the committee published USGCRP Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. It identifies the most critical global change risks in the next decade; recommends priorities for natural and social science to understand the risks and support decision-making; and discusses opportunities for USGCRP agencies and partners. “One of the key conclusions is that a new approach is needed,” she said, to provide decision makers with research that is useful and usable.
The report identifies urgent, interrelated risks to Americans’ well-being related to health, food, water, energy, transportation, the economy, and national security. While noting USGCRP’s strong research foundation of observation, modeling, analysis, and communications efforts, the committee found that “they are not sufficient to answer the needs of decision makers,” Ebi said. The committee recommends the application of a risk-framing approach that couples human and natural systems (Figure 1).
Another recommendation to the USGCRP from the National Academies committee urges the prioritization of research in climate mitigation, adaptation, and synergies and tradeoffs among policies and practices. Ebi noted synergies and tradeoffs are potentially significant; for example, increased biofuels production could shift domestic and international agriculture commodity markets and affect global food security. Research should be expanded in five crosscutting areas: (1) extremes, thresholds, and tipping points; (2) regional- and local-scale climate projects; (3) scenario-based approaches; (4) advanced data and analysis frameworks; and (5) equity and social justice. The report suggested organizational changes for USGCRP itself, such as reallocation of resources and expanded public-private partnerships, as well as operational changes to prioritize diversity and justice throughout all research and program activities.
Ebi concluded by describing two overarching themes from the report. The first was the recommendation for increased investment in social science research to improve understanding of the human consequences of climate change—for migration, security, supply chains, governance, and human health—and of behavioral, institutional, and political drivers. The second was the committee’s recommendation that the USGCRP “be bold” in its approaches to the global change research agenda of the next decade. “With the Administration committing to ambitious goals and growing public awareness of climate change, it’s time to prepare society to create a more resilient future,” Ebi said.
In the discussion, Ebi expressed hope that monitoring, evaluation, and learning will lead to better understanding of policy-makers’ use of USGCRP research. In responding to a question about co-production of research, Ebi pointed to NOAA’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) Program, in which academics, decision-makers, and
others define the research problems to address.1 GUIRR co-chair Laurie Leshin (Worcester Polytechnic Institute) asked whether institutional practices related to advancement and promotion work against the kinds of community-embedded scholarship and research co-production needed to address global change research challenges. Ebi observed that when agencies require collaboration for funding, researchers find a way to collaborate.
Picking up on the need for new priorities, Kelly Sims Gallagher (Tufts University) summarized the 2021 National Academies study Accelerating Decarbonization of the U.S. Energy System,2 and provided personal perspectives about social science and policy research to address climate change.
Gallagher was part of the interdisciplinary committee that developed the study, which she explained focused on the social dimensions of decarbonization. Achieving net-zero emissions would be unprecedented in U.S. history, she pointed out, and there are less than three decades left to reach the goal by 2050. The report focused on four lenses for viewing the challenges and opportunities of the goal—economics, equity and fairness, energy technology, and energy policy—all of which are equally necessary to consider in developing policies that facilitate a sustainable energy transition. The committee’s road-mapping work resulted in technology goals for decarbonization, as well as socioeconomic goals, which she characterized as a more complicated picture. These goals include strengthening the U.S. economy; supporting communities, businesses, and workers—including those adversely affected by the transition; promoting equity and inclusion; and maximizing cost-effectiveness. The committee offered 30 policy recommendations to reach net-zero.3
Gallagher turned to her view that investments in social science research must be increased to address such complex questions as public acceptance of technology; public understanding of climate change; and workforce needs in a net-zero world. “Successful transitions and trade-offs will vary greatly depending on location and other factors,” she added. She pointed out the Department of Energy is investing heavily in technologies, but understanding how those technologies will be adopted is understudied. The Climate Policy Lab at Tufts was created to address the need for more policy research on some of these questions.4 With little time for policy experimentation before 2050, the lab focuses on which climate policies are the most economically efficient, which will work in practice, and which will lead to more equitable outcomes.
“We need to stop being so gun-shy of supporting this kind of research,” Gallagher said. Philanthropic donors fund some social science and policy research but often prefer to fund campaigns and advocacy, she noted. Corporate donors are more likely to fund technology research. A few states and federal programs have supported this research, but, overall, funding remains limited. “It’s challenging to find your footing if you are a social scientist interested in climate,” she concluded.
Related to the human impact of transitions, a participant noted that people in many communities, such as those oriented around coal mining, are deeply rooted and will not easily move for new opportunities. Gallagher agreed with the need for place-based planning. “We have to acknowledge that the social and economic changes will be profound,” she said, adding the role of social science researchers is to show what is possible and help with the transition. “We have most of the technologies we need. The question is how do we organize ourselves and how do we unleash the forces of innovation, both social innovation and technological innovation, to get the job done.”
Another participant noted that growing the electric grid to the size needed requires an almost war-like engagement. Gallagher called for a coherent policy framework. “In the United States, we have let market forces do the work so far with limited regulatory backstop,” she said. “That is good, but the pace is too slow. We need a Climate Change Act like the Clean Water or Clean Air Act.”
CLIMATE IMPACTS ON HEALTH, EQUITY, AND HUMAN SECURITY
“Addressing the human impacts of climate change calls for a focus on environmental and climate justice agendas centered on human health and well-being,” said GUIRR co-chair Leshin. In introducing the topic, she stated, “Recent studies are connecting the impacts of climate change to changes in air quality, water-related illness, and food safety and security, nutrition and distribution. But most reports note that the health and security hazards affect different communities and people to different degrees: that is, the effects of climate change are not distributed equally around the world
1 For more information, see https://cpo.noaa.gov/Meet-the-Divisions/Climate-and-Societal-Interactions/RISA/About-RISA.
2 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Accelerating Decarbonization of the U.S. Energy System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25932.
3 The recommendations can be viewed in a policy table prepared by the committee, at https://nap.edu/resource/25932/interactive/table/#top.
or even around the nation.”
Gina McCarthy (White House Climate Advisor) stated, “If you want to talk about climate and you want to talk about health and you neglect to talk about equity, you are missing one of the biggest drivers of change and one of the ways in which it will shape the kinds of solutions that we bring to the table. And if you fail to do that, you will not be directing resources to where investment is most deserved.”
She stressed the need to talk about climate not just as a problem for the planet but as a problem for people. “Make no mistake—climate is changing everything, and everything we do is impacted by climate,” she said. McCarthy said President Biden created the Office of Climate Policy in recognition of the need for a whole-of-government approach to improving clean energy options and making communities healthier. Within the office, thirty-six agencies come together to talk about climate change, and how it interacts across all programs and investments. McCarthy noted, “This approach is essential because it’s not about quoting statistics—it’s talking about people and what climate change means for people.” The Biden Administration’s target is set high, she acknowledged, but “we can do it, we know how.” A national climate strategy is under development to bring to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November 2021.5
In discussing with meeting participants the social and technical challenges of transitioning to lower-carbon options across the country, McCarthy urged an emphasis not on rules and regulations but on the on-the-ground benefits and opportunities to people in communities. “In the climate space, we think there is ‘no time’—but we have to recognize and invest in a way that will build alternatives that people can accept,” she said. At the same time, she stressed, “We don’t want tweaks, we want transformation. We have to make climate change a kitchen table issue. It is, and always has been.”
To provide real-life context, Jalonne White-Newsome (Empowering a Green Environment and Economy, LLC) recounted the experiences of several Detroit residents (including her parents) dealing, often on their own, with the impacts of climate change in their homes. “When I talk about extreme heat and flooding, it is real for me,” she said. “What’s frustrating is that these are climate impacts that we can plan and prepare for, or at least create systems that are responsive.”
Even when a disaster cannot be averted, public health education and government accountability are necessary to overcome intersectional challenges in dealing with the aftermath, she said. “As we talk about human health and well-being and safety, it begs for good climate science, it begs for good policy, but also for practices that acknowledge the fact that systems continue to fail people. We have to make these connections,” she stated.
Given this context, White-Newsome called for cross-sector partnerships centered on human health and well-being. She set forth ten elements of her vision for what equitable partnerships could achieve. (1) No health disparities related to race, gender, income, or zip code in communities. (2) Climate resilience and preparedness as the norm. (3) Decision-making and action based on community-derived data. (4) Scientific documentation of and compensation for the cumulative stresses associated with the social determinants of health. (5) Physical infrastructure developments informed by the best science, to exceed community needs. (6) Liberation—achieving the state beyond achieving equity and justice. Liberation is the removal of all barriers that exacerbate social oppression and discrimination related to race, class and gender. (7) Accountability when systems fail. (8) The creation of usable and useful science that helps communities live with new extremes associated with climate change. (9) Co-creation of policy solutions for communities impacted the most, funded by entities contributing to the drivers of climate change. (10) Lastly, the integration of strategy and action across academia, industry, and government.
This vision has not happened, she said, because of “autonomous, unrelated, unaligned agendas across sectors.” Instead, White-Newsome urged coordination and authentic partnerships related to planning, data capture and use, engagement, and scoping (see Figure 2). Each sector has “something to give and something to receive. We can fill in each other’s gaps. No one entity can do it all,” she stressed.
5 The U.S. State Department and the U.S. White House released a report, “The Long-Term Strategy of the United States, Pathways to Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050,” on November 10, 2021, for COP26. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/US-Long-Term-Strategy.pdf.
Highlighting different functions that industry, government, and academia partners could undertake, such as development and use of screening tools and support for community-generated solutions, she stressed, “People are the foundation for everything. Their role is to call out when the system is not working, force the sectors to acknowledge the history of embedded racism, and, most importantly, hold us accountable.”
During discussion with participants, White-Newsome noted that the philanthropic sector also has an important role to play in driving environmental and climate justice agendas along with government, universities, and industry. Particularly, philanthropic funders should recognize a responsibility to avoid perpetuating inequities within research. She also noted greater interest in developing metrics for climate equity, but urged moving beyond plans and good intentions. “What we are missing is how do we operationalize and how do we hold people accountable,” she said. A participant noted new modeling tools, such as INMAP from the University of Chicago, as a useful metric, and suggested an inventory of policies that address health and equity across federal agencies.6 Another participant suggested the need to reframe discovery research with climate equity engineering. Leshin added that engineering research and education should be more people-centered. Drawing on her own education as a chemical engineer, White-Newsome agreed that an engineering curriculum, as well as all disciplines, must encompass people and equity.
Robert Bullard (Texas Southern University) described his work as an environmental sociologist as “connecting the dots.” He noted the 18 books he has authored or co-authored over the past four decades on different topics are, in essence, one book with a common theme of fairness, justice, and equity. Looking at climate change, “the central question for me is will the government response to climate change be fair?” he said. “The government’s response to natural and human-made disasters over the past eight decades has not treated all communities equally and fairly.”
Climate change threatens the nation’s infrastructure and will impact every part of the country, Bullard noted. The American Society of Civil Engineers graded the nation a C-minus in terms of resiliency and preparation for climate change.7 Further, infrastructure planning, policies, and funding have historically promoted inequality, creating a racial infrastructure gap. “It’s time to build climate-resilient infrastructure for all,” he stressed.
Historically, communities of color have been redlined—systematically denied investment and services—or pushed into low-lying areas more vulnerable to climate stressors. According to the American Lung Association, he reported, about 40 percent of the U.S. population lives in areas with polluted air, but people of color are 61 percent more likely to live in a county with unhealthy air than white people.8 Almost 75 percent of the nation’s people of color live in “nature-deprived areas” with less access to parks, trees, and other green space compared to 23 percent of the white, non-Hispanic population, Bullard reported. “Every population and community deserves to have green space,” he asserted. “Climate change will worsen these disparities.”
Bullard pointed out that the country’s most vulnerable regions and populations suffer the most from disasters. Social vulnerability, he explained, “involves the basic provision of health care; livability of places; overall indicators of quality of life; and accessibility of lifelines, capital, and political representation.” Vulnerabilities that exist before disasters are exacerbated in the aftermath of disasters, with the poor and people of color often the hardest hit. “Climate change will exacerbate existing inequalities and worsen vulnerabilities of already marginalized populations,” Bullard stated. He cited a 2017 study that showed that without effective climate action, the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) could decrease by 1.2 percent by the end of the century, but parts of the American south could see a decrease of as much as 20 percent.9
Climate change will widen the racial wealth gap through unequal disaster funding levels, Bullard continued. In a study of counties badly hit by disasters (at least $10 billion in damages), white communities gained on average $126,000 in the damage and recovery efforts while Black communities lost on average up to $29,000.10 A FEMA study showed that its own assistance is less likely to reach poor disaster survivors than wealthier ones.11
The solution, he said, is to build just and sustainable communities for all. Sustainability and climate action plans must address environmental and racial justice issues related to transportation; energy, food, and water; development; poverty; and health, income, and wealth. “Addressing equity is a prerequisite to achieving healthy and climate-resilient communities,” Bullard said. He noted that President Biden’s Justice40 is an excellent step, which builds on decades of relevant research and partnerships that have been underway in the environmental and climate justice movements for years.12
CARBON MITIGATION, SEQUESTRATION, AND MARKETS
With large reductions in carbon emissions necessary to reach national and global climate change goals, three sessions of the workshop series focused on carbon-related issues related to the clean energy transition, carbon sequestration through negative emissions technologies, and the role of carbon regulation, markets, and pricing in reducing emissions at regional and national levels.
Developments in the Clean Energy Transition
As noted by GUIRR co-chair Leshin, momentum is growing around climate technology and innovation, including how to transition the U.S. economy to a significantly less carbon-intense system while considering economic challenges and equity. Presenters during one of the workshops discussed U.S. decarbonization goals and possible public-private partnerships to help meet them.
Nathan Hultman (University of Maryland) introduced an all-of-society approach to reaching U.S. climate goals for 2030 and beyond. While national-level policies and actions are important, he said, emissions commitments and actions by sub-national governments and across industry and civil society have played a significant part in advancing transformations in the energy sector. The coalitions that came together when the federal government became less active in pursuing emission reductions targets from 2017–2020 represent 68 percent of the nation’s GDP, 65 percent of the U.S. population, and 51 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.13 “If that were a country, it would roughly be the size of China,” he pointed out. Public support is also strong; according to one poll, 79 percent of Americans think the
9 Hsiang, S. et al. 2017. Estimating economic damage from climate change in the United States. Science 356 (6345):1362–1369. DOI: 10.1126/science.aal4369.
11 FEMA. 2020. National Advisory Report to the FEMA Administrator. https://www.fema.gov/sites/default/files/documents/fema_nac-report_11-2020.pdf.
12 For background on the Justice40 Initiative, see https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/01/27/fact-sheet-president-biden-takes-executive-actions-to-tackle-the-climate-crisis-at-home-and-abroad-create-jobs-and-restore-scientific-integrity-across-federal-government/.
country should prioritize its energy supply toward renewable energy.
The 50 percent U.S. reduction by 2030 is within reach, he asserted, and two studies that he led chart pathways to do so. The first charts a federally focused pathway through Congressional and Executive branch policies, such as tax credits, investments, and regulatory action.14 Hultman highlighted changes in electricity, transportation, and building that could be achieved through this pathway.
The second study focuses on an “all-of-society pathway” that combines federal and non-federal actions and policies.15 It envisions partnerships that take place across cities, states, businesses, universities, and other entities to support climate targets; national actions enabled by new technology; and international coordination through the Paris Agreement. “The critical thing we’ve learned in the United States over the past five years is the importance of bottom-up action,” Hultman said.
In summary, Hultman said, the U.S. 2030 goal is highly ambitious but achievable. It is critical to expand quickly in areas that are most feasible today, such as in electricity and transportation, while preparing for more difficult post-2030 steps. An “all sectors, all gases” approach will create visible changes for communities, individuals, and industries, with broad engagement across society, he concluded.
In the discussion, Hultman noted electric vehicle (EV) usage is at a tipping point, and urged continued policy incentives including tax credits, and attention to infrastructure, such as the location of charging stations. More broadly, he suggested, EVs illustrate that “climate policy is correctly viewed as not a set of small niche policies for each individual sector, but as an economic transformational strategy.”
According to Peter Green (National Renewable Energy Laboratory [NREL]), the “pathways to net-zero are largely dictated by competing S&T [science and technology] advances, technology adoption, and economic competitiveness.” Green noted that megatrends ranging from cyberthreats to urbanization and resource competition (food and water) are evolving. These threats are compounded by two projections—the global population will likely increase approximately 20 percent by 2050, and the global GDP will likely double, mostly due to growing populations in emerging economies, during the same timeframe. These projections set up energy consumption to increase by about 40 percent and CO2 emissions by 60 percent, in the absence of additional actions.
Green posited a vision for the power system of the future, comprised of autonomous control of millions of devices, including distributed energy technologies, smart appliances, and electric vehicles. Moreover, it will involve diverse power generation sources (including wind and solar); electrification of transportation and other industries with new generation and storage technologies; low-carbon fuels for marine, rail, and air transportation; new cyber and physical security reliability, and resilience capabilities. A circular economy that prioritizes the use of design, new materials, and advanced manufacturing practices that minimize, or eliminate, waste must be an essential part of the strategy.
NREL’s vision for decarbonizing the transportation sector encompasses energy efficiency, electrification and the use of renewables for power generation, as well as low-carbon fuels for airline and marine applications, and hydrogen for rail and long-haul vehicles, but he stressed that progress must occur at a rapid scale and pace, and economic feasibility is essential. Regarding the costs for a future energy system, Green referenced an NREL study, which looked at electrification, energy efficiency and decarbonization scenarios projecting high penetrations of wind and solar power for power generation.16 The report concluded that while wind and solar will play a significant role, they will not be sufficient alone to achieve net zero. Currently 10 percent of electricity is provided by wind and solar. Achieving 100 percent renewable penetration is achievable with current technologies, but achieving penetrations >90% is extremely expensive.17 Researchers from the wind and the solar energy communities have identified the grand technical challenges inherent in meeting future demands. To understand what it would take to significantly increase the percentage of renewables to terawatt-scales and to truly transform the U.S. energy system, Green referenced a group of solar researchers, who concluded it could happen with a large investment of capital—trillions of dollars over a number of years.18.
14 Hultman, N. et al. 2021. Charting an Ambitious US NDC of 51% Reductions by 2030. Center for Global Sustainability Working Paper. College Park, MD: University of Maryland Center for Global Sustainability. go.umd.edu/ChartingNDC2030.
15 Hultman cited 3 studies to explain the all-of-society pathway: (1) Hultman, N. et al. 2021. An All-In climate strategy can cut U.S. emissions by 50% by 2030. America Is All In Working Paper. https://www.americaisallin.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/all-in-climate-strategy-for-50april-2021-1.pdf (2) Hultman, N. et al. 2021. An All-In National Climate Strategy to Deliver Ambitious, Robust, and Credible U.S. Action. America Is All In Working Paper. https://www.americaisallin.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/all-in-national-climate-strategy.pdf (3) Hultman, N. et al. 2020. Fusing national and sub-national climate action is central to rapid near-term decarbonization: The case of the United States. Nature Communications 11, 5255. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-18903-w.
16 Mai, T., D. Steinberg, J. Logan, D. Bielen, K. Eurek, and C. McMillan. 2018. An electrified future: Initial scenarios and future research for U.S. energy and electricity systems, IEEE Power and Energy Magazine 16(4): 34–47. doi: 10.1109/MPE.2018.2820445.
17 Cole, W.J. et al. 2021. Quantifying the challenge of reaching a 100% renewable energy power system for the United States. Joule 5(7): 1732–1748.
Green identified several challenges associated with achieving net-zero goals. First, new and more advanced technologies and industries will be needed; hydrogen at scale, new energy storage technologies, and new cyber security advances represent some examples of where progress is necessary. The scale, cost, and pace of such a transition will be unprecedented, and jobs, social acceptance, consumer preferences, environmental justice, and costs must be taken into account. “If you don’t involve everyone in the solution, we’re wasting our time,” he asserted. Achieving the goals has to be a collaborative process connecting S&T advances, investment decisions, policy, and adoption (Figure 3). Public-private partnerships will be key, he posited.
When asked about the role of nuclear energy, Green said he thought it would be part of the solution in all potential scenarios considered, but not a significant amount. Several participants asked about the incentives and costs to accelerate the clean energy transition. Green opined that the idea of a carbon tax has gained more acceptance. He also noted large-scale projects co-funded by the Department of Energy, industry, and the national labs can serve as a model of the types of partnerships needed for large investments. Wall Street is also investing clean energy, which he finds promising. “The hard reality is that if we don’t get this right, we will not get to net-zero,” Green concluded.
Arun Majumdar (Stanford University) concurred that U.S. climate goals will be difficult to achieve, but they also represent an opportunity if done with equity and environmental justice in mind.
Focusing his presentation on the United States, he said the good news about the clean energy transition includes energy breakthroughs, the fact that renewable energy is cheaper at scale than fossil fuel energy, and the falling costs of battery electric vehicles. But despite noting these transformations as “tectonic shifts,” Majumdar argued that more is needed to meet President Biden’s goals, such as multi-day grid-scale storage; small modular nuclear plants; refrigerants with zero global warming potential (GWP); zero net energy buildings at zero net cost; decarbonization of steel, concrete, and petrochemical processes and the food and agriculture industries; and carbon management at a gigaton scale.
Majumdar mentioned that as part of this effort, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm launched the Energy Earthshots initiative, the first of which is a “Hydrogen Shot” to produce clean hydrogen at a target of $1 per kilogram.19 To illustrate the challenge, he explained “gray hydrogen” can be produced at this price, but for every 1 kilogram of hydrogen produced, 10 kilograms of CO2 are produced. “Blue hydrogen” captures CO2 but increases the cost of the hydrogen and requires CO2 pipelines, a technology that he pointed out no federal agency currently regulates. The desired “green hydrogen” currently costs $3 to $5 per kilogram. Other areas needing R&D and policy support include grid-scale storage for longer durations beyond what today’s lithium-ion batteries can provide, as well as carbon capture since it will not be possible to move completely away from fossil fuels.
Energy demand is expected to increase by about 1 percent to 4430 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2030, which means that 3544 TWh must be carbon-free by 2030 to meet an 80 percent carbon-free electricity goal. Even with large
increases in use of solar and wind, scenarios indicate that natural gas will be needed to meet these energy demands, Majumdar said. Thus, other technologies and policies are needed.
As key messages, he first stressed that “we must not leave anyone behind in the energy transition,” reflecting on the need for equity and environmental justice. Related to technology, he called for a direct or indirect price on carbon; energy efficiency standards for whole buildings (not just appliances) and industries; a continued role for nuclear energy; aggressive deployment of solar and wind; measures to store carbon for the natural gas still required; and hydrogen deployment for hard-to-abate sectors.
Commenting on the climate-energy nexus, a participant asked all three presenters about climate modeling in energy forecasts. Majumdar said adaptation and resilience must be elevated to the same level as mitigation and decarbonization. As a risk mitigation approach, planning for a rise in temperatures of 2.5 to 3 degrees C must be in place, he asserted. Green pointed out that the last time this much CO2 was in the environment was millions of years ago. “As more CO2 goes into the environment, we are in an unknown area,” he warned. Hultman added that a changing climate may increase use of air-conditioning, refrigeration, and other impacts, which must be part of the overall inquiry to consider.
A participant noted that new technology, including wind and solar, have upstream environmental impacts, such as mining of critical minerals, and Majumdar added that new supply chains are being developed to address this challenge. He urged doubling down on that search from a national security and geopolitical competitiveness point of view. Green urged R&D to look for new materials. Majumdar also acknowledged the challenges in reducing consumers’ personal carbon footprints. Behavioral changes around consumption are critical, he noted. For example, production of 1 kg of red meat creates the same amount of carbon as driving 100 miles. However, he acknowledged, the changes have to be easy and affordable, for people to adopt them long-term.
Pointing to the research ecosystem at the core of GUIRR, Leshin asked each presenter about priorities at the intersection of the research enterprise in supporting climate goals. Majumdar suggested determining a price of carbon that is adequate to effect change, as well as ensuring infrastructure and management within agencies to manage resources effectively. Green urged consideration of global implications, especially so emerging economies can avoid the mistakes made by industrialized countries. Hultman urged finding innovative ways to determine how industry can decarbonize, connect with stakeholders at all levels, and rebuild an economy in the next decade that is more equitable and just.
Negative Emissions Technologies for Decarbonization
Despite the energy breakthroughs and increased adoption of renewables in recent years, GUIRR co-chair Leshin noted it is unlikely that fossil fuels can be totally eliminated in the next 20 to 30 years, which makes reducing the cost of carbon capture critically important for a low-carbon future. This session focused on R&D, demonstration, and deployment of carbon capture and sequestration technologies.
Jennifer Wilcox (U.S. Department of Energy) said she entered the Biden Administration as a long-term advocate of carbon capture. She made a distinction between carbon capture at a point source, versus from the accumulated pool in the atmosphere (carbon dioxide removal). To explain what she acknowledged is a confusing topic, she referred participants to many resources, including the open-access journal Negative Emissions Technologies; an open-access book, Carbon Dioxide Removal Primer;20 a 2019 National Academies report, Negative Emissions Technologies and Reliable Sequestration, that laid out a research agenda on the topic;21 a report on California’s negative emissions goals;22 and a textbook she published that brings together disparate sources of knowledge.23
“The concept of net-zero recognizes that emissions are put in the atmosphere every year,” she explained. There are strategies to de-carbonize by avoid putting them in the atmosphere to begin with, but some sectors are hard to de-carbonize, such as aviation and some agricultural activities. Thus, strategies are needed to take carbon out of the atmosphere to offset those emissions.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon dioxide removal (CDR) must be done in parallel, Wilcox said. Different levels of work are required for different separation processes, depending on the stream from which CO2 must be removed. For example, the most dilute system is CO2 in the atmosphere compared to the concentration in natural gas combustion. As the concentration increases, fewer inert materials have to be processed. This requires lower energy
21 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Negative Emissions Technologies and Reliable Sequestration: A Research Agenda. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25259.
22 Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. 2020. Getting to Neutral: Options for Negative Carbon Emissions in California. https://livermorelabfoundation.org/2019/12/19/getting-to-neutral/.
23 Wilcox, J. 2012. Carbon Capture. New York: Springer.
and operating costs, and less infrastructure. However, she warned, the availability of CDR should not be seen as a justification to burn fossil fuels into the atmosphere that could be avoided.
A 2018 paper used a bottom-up approach to calculate the relative share by different sources of global fossil fuel emissions.24 In addition to those that lend themselves to renewables (such as light-road transport), it accounted for hard-to-avoid emissions that do not have easy replacements, such as agriculture, aviation, and shipping. This calculation shows CDR will be needed for more than 9 gigatons of CO2. While necessary, she stressed, “CDR should not be seen as a mopping-up of emissions. It should be deployed in a responsible way, recognizing how much energy it takes to remove CO2 out of the atmosphere because it is such a diluted mixture in air. We need to be able to prioritize decarbonization as much as we can, and then use CDR in a responsible way.”
The National Academies report Wilcox mentioned in her opening details the efficiency and feasibility of many nature-based and engineering approaches to CDR, including coastal blue carbon, accelerated chemical weathering of rocks, direct air CO2 capture, biomass energy with carbon capture and storage, afforestation/reforestation, and soil carbon capture.25 She suggested that all approaches should form part of a net-zero portfolio. No single method on its own will be sufficient, and each has pros and cons, related to the permanence of the storage, costs, and trade-offs. In terms of natural resources with the greatest untapped potential for CO2 removal, “there are no winners and we don’t want to put our eggs in one basket,” Wilcox said. Nature-based sources can be reversible, and some sinks are becoming sources. Climate models are based on the fact that terrestrial sinks and oceans take care of half the emissions put in the atmosphere, but some sinks are disappearing, for example, through fires.
When CO2 is captured—whether from a power plant or taken out of the atmosphere—there is also the question of what to do with the resulting gigatons of CO2. The United States has the geology to provide storage and injection capacity deep into the Earth in CO2 pipelines, which have been in place since 1972 to enhance oil recovery. “That’s tricky, because the oil and gas industry that is part of the emissions problem is also the industry that can help lead the way to use and leverage the infrastructure,” Wilcox commented.
Wolfgang Busch (Salk Institute) focused on soil carbon storage, one of the approaches mentioned by Wilcox. The Salk Harnessing Plant Initiative (HPI) is comprised of plant scientists dedicated to fighting climate change.26 The changing climate can make food production harder, but plants are the most efficient machines to capture CO2, as they have done for hundreds of millions of years. Busch argued, it is worth spending time and resources on harnessing plants for carbon sequestration because plants are a major driver of the natural carbon cycle. In addition, improving nature’s ability to store more carbon in the soil for longer periods of time can mitigate climate change.
HPI is developing “Salk Ideal Plants” with three enhanced genetic traits: deeper plant roots, more massive plant roots, and more recalcitrant carbon-rich polymers enabling the plants to store CO2 deeper. The process requires finding the genes responsible, for example to develop deeper roots or increased root biomass; testing enhanced genes in model and target crops; and transferring them to crop plants. “Making a difference requires application at scale across many acres and crops,” Busch acknowledged.
HPI is working with the six crops that account for more than 50 percent of the 1.6 billion hectares of arable land globally: wheat, corn, rice, soybeans, sorghum, and canola. Current activities include work on more than 10 genes, field research and testing, and AI-based deep root prediction. Plant genetics is a slow process, he said, which motivates the impetus behind “multiple pathways and shots on goal to achieve success” encompassing traditional breeding, modern breeding and gene editing, and transgenic/genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Field trials began in 2020 in four locations with different soil types to learn how long carbon remains in the soil. The timeline from first principles to a point in time when the crops can make a difference is ambitious. They are currently in the first two phases (scientific development, and field trials and initial commercialization) in order to scale up to a third phase of worldwide distribution post-2030. Busch explained that the team hopes to show proof of principle—when a crop sequesters an additional 1 megaton of carbon—within five years.
Asked about focusing on tree species, Busch said HPI decided to focus on agriculture because it is an extensive, existing annual activity. With the global population growing, more calories will be needed while climate change will make food harder to produce in many areas. Land use that competes with agriculture, including unharvested forests, may be difficult to rely on in the future. In sum, he said, “Forestry is great, but in terms of scalability, agriculture, at least to us, is the lowest-hanging fruit.”
A participant asked whether root-shoot trade-offs might reduce yield as the roots become larger or deeper. Busch responded they are looking for the “sweet spot” to increase roots without inhibiting growth. He said there does not seem to be a step trade-off but seems to depend on the crop and where it is grown. Deep-rooted grasses for lawns
24 Davis, S. et al. 2018. Net-zero emissions energy systems. Science 360. DOI: 10.1126/science.aas9793.
26 For more information, see https://www.salk.edu/harnessing-plants-initiative/.
may be a way for citizens to contribute, a participant suggested.
In terms of public acceptance of GMOs, Busch noted some species, such as corn and soy, already have GMO versions. The technology to use may depend on different crops and partners. In some cases, breeding might take longer than GMO but would have larger impact in the long-run because of acceptance issues.
Kommy Weldemariam and Solomon Assefa (IBM) discussed enterprise-level climate resiliency and decarbonization at IBM. IBM’s commitments on climate action involve collaboration with partners, road mapping and identification of acceleration opportunities, and thought leadership. The company has committed to procure 75 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025 and 90 percent by 2030, as well as to reduce its GHG emissions 65 percent by 2025 against a 2010 baseline. IBM is one of 53 companies in the Climate Pledge27 and joined the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium28 in early 2021.
Weldemariam noted many companies are committing to climate action, accelerated by investor pressures, consumer preferences, and changing policy landscapes. Four patterns in business drivers and technology needs are emerging related to sustainability strategy, emissions reduction, climate risk management, and sustainable supply chains. IBM is providing services and expertise to clients in these areas, such as through AI, data analytics, carbon accounting and reduction technologies, and integrated decision-making. IBM Research is undertaking a set of focused climate initiatives dealing with a sustainable hybrid cloud, AI for enterprise carbon performance, AI for climate risk impact, and accelerated discovery of materials for carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS).
Beyond CCUS, he pointed out, new sustainable materials and processes are needed to achieve global decarbonization goals related to aviation, agriculture, drug discovery, and other sectors. It typically takes about 10 years and anywhere from $10 million to $100 million to discover a new material to bring to market. IBM is aiming to cut down the duration and cost by 90 percent through what is called accelerated discovery to fast-track the scientific method through supercomputers, quantum computers, AI hardware and science, and the hybrid cloud.
Assefa reinforced two points about the work of IBM and others to achieve decarbonization. “First, the more we look, the more we realize that materials are at the center in carbon capture but also in other areas such as nitrogen fixation or synthetic fuels for flights,” he said. He called for accelerated discovery to find new, sustainable materials that are environmentally friendly. “The second item that has really come to our attention is that there will be a need to think or re-think partnerships to accelerate discovery,” he continued. A different paradigm is required in an era of high-performance computing, quantum computers, and hybrid cloud access. Rather than IBM solving problems on its own, he said, it is important to partner with governments, universities, national labs, and others.
SOCIAL COST OF CARBON AND DEVELOPING CARBON MARKETS
GUIRR co-chair Grasso commented that the record temperatures around the world underscore the need for research and policy related to climate change, as covered throughout the series. Economic transformations are necessary in all the topics discussed, he noted.
Richard Newell (Resources for the Future [RFF]) explained the social cost of carbon (SCC) is a monetary metric that measures the cost to society of adding one metric ton of CO2 in a particular year to the atmosphere. RFF’s Social Cost of Carbon Initiative looks at both costs and benefits of not emitting one ton of CO2. Monetized changes include, but are not limited to, human health impacts, agricultural productivity, energy use, and property damage. There are also analogous metrics for methane and nitrous oxide emissions.
Newell explained that the SCC is used in policy making at different levels. The U.S. government uses SCC estimates in benefit-cost analyses in more than 150 rules. It has also been used to set the level of a proposed federal carbon tax in legislation, by states, and by Canada and Mexico. Some businesses and other nongovernmental entities look at SCC estimates to value emissions reductions in their policies and planning processes.
An integrated assessment model that couples the physical climate system and socioeconomic system is undertaken to calculate the SCC through four steps: (1) projections of population and GDP inform a CO2 emissions pathway; (2) the CO2 emissions path leads to predictions of mean global temperature change; (3) temperature changes lead to damages, which are monetized and aggregated; and (4) discounting is used to sum all future damages into a single present value. Newell explained the process is applied twice: first with a baseline scenario and then as an experiment with more or less emissions, known as a pulse. The SCC is the per-ton difference in the present value of damages due to the pulse.
In 2009, a federal Interagency Working Group (IWG) established a government-wide approach to develop a global SCC. Newell emphasized that the discount rate used makes a significant difference in the ultimate SCC
estimate—even a small difference in the discount rate produces a very different SCC estimate. He noted the IWG’s estimates ranged from $14 per ton (with a 5 percent discount rate) to $51 (with a 3 percent discount rate) to $406 (with a 1 percent rate).
Newell co-chaired a National Academies committee that released a report in 2017 that made recommendations on how to improve SCC estimation methodology.29 The committee provided recommendations for each of the four steps described above, and suggested the government establish a regular 5-year cycle for updating the estimates. When the Trump Administration came into office shortly after the report’s release, however, Executive Order 13783 disbanded the IWG, withdrew existing SCC estimates, and instructed agencies to develop new estimates based on domestic impacts only and with much higher discount rates. Although the methodology remained the same, the changing assumptions, including only looking at domestic impacts, resulted in SCC estimates of either $7 per ton (with a 3 percent discount rate) or $1 (with a 7 percent discount rate). The Biden Administration is updating the SCC, Newell said. Executive Order 13990 re-established the IWG and requested an interim SCC estimate quickly, with a more extensive update within a year. Newell indicated recommendations of the National Academies report will play a key role.
In 2017, when it looked like no federal effort would take place to facilitate the scientific progress recommended by the National Academies’ recommendations, the SCC Initiative was developed at RFF in collaboration with University of California Berkeley and other contributors. The initiative developed open-source software tools for SCC estimation to implement updated methods, promote transparency, and serve as a common platform for climate scientists, economists, and others.30 Newell described the Initiative’s technical work in greater detail, including its climate, damages, and discounting modules. The work is being shared with the Biden Administration, Newell said.
“This is a great example of how efforts undertaken by the National Academies in response to government policy needs, then taken up by the science community, then delivered back to the policy process shows how we can use science to inform better policy in the future,” he concluded.
Richard Sandor (American Financial Exchange) addressed what he sees as persistent misperceptions around the effectiveness of carbon markets and pricing. Sandor noted several occasions where carbon markets were assumed to fail, but have actually led to successful emissions reductions. Carbon markets (as opposed to command-and-control regime with reduction mandates) allow people to reduce emissions to their maximum—and if they cannot achieve their goals, they can purchase someone else’s reductions. Drawing from that example, he said, “If you cap emissions and let the people who have to comply cut their emissions internally, install technology, or buy other people’s reductions, you can achieve social goals.”
Going back three decades, Sandor recalled the perception in 1989–1990 that sulfur dioxide (SO2) emission concentrations could never be reduced—but SO2 emissions were effectively reduced through a cap-and-trade program introduced by the Clean Air Act of 1990, leading to significant health and environmental benefits. Sandor noted that in 2010, after the U.S. Congress considered but failed to enact federal legislation establishing a cap-and-trade mechanism for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, carbon markets were considered dead in the United States. But despite lack of federal action, there are more than 30 successful environmental markets in the U.S. today.
Globally, another misperception was that the European Union’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) would fail, but, he said, in reality it is a success, having reduced emissions by more than 24 percent below the baseline by 2019, exceeding the Phase III target for 2013-2020 by 230 million tons of emissions. A final misperception he addressed is that environmental crises in China and India cannot be solved, and the exponential growth of emissions linked to development in these countries cannot be avoided. In reality, he said, China has set up a number of emissions trading pilots and is beginning a national cap-and-trade program during the summer of 2021, and that markets have been successful in the United States and several other countries.
A participant asked how small farmers and forest-owners can access carbon markets given the high costs of participation. Sandor recounted that the Chicago Climate Exchange used market mechanisms in rural India many years ago. Statistical verification was used, which could be applied in other settings today, facilitated by smartphones and drone technology. “The important thing is for scientists to get in sync with economists,” he said. He also stressed stopping pollution, not punishing polluters. “Make it profitable to reduce pollution,” he urged. “The problem has not been the regulators but a lack of will to legislate. We need to compete internationally and to do that, we need to reduce emissions at the lowest possible cost.”
29 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Valuing Climate Damages: Updating Estimation of the Social Cost of Carbon Dioxide. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/24651.
DISCLAIMER: This Proceedings of a Workshop—in Brief was prepared by Paula Whitacre as a factual summary of what occurred at the meeting. The statements made are those of the author or individual meeting participants and do not necessarily represent the views of all meeting participants; the planning committee; or the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
PLANNING COMMITTEE: Thomas Skalak, Joe Tsai and Clara Wu Foundation (Chair); Nathan Hultman, University of Maryland School of Public Health
STAFF: Susan Sauer Sloan, Director, GUIRR; Megan Nicholson, Program Officer; Lillian Andrews, Senior Program Assistant; Clara Savage, Senior Finance Business Partner; Cyril Lee, Financial Assistant.
REVIEWERS: TTo ensure that it meets institutional standards for quality and objectivity, this Proceedings of a Workshop Series—in Brief was reviewed by Sarah Baker, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Ferdouz Cochran. Marilyn Baker, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, served as the review coordinator.
SPONSORS: This workshop was supported by the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable membership, National Institutes of Health, Office of Naval Research, and the United States Department of Agriculture.
For more information, visit http://www.nas.edu/guirr.
Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Partnerships and Cross-Sector Collaboration Priorities to Support Climate Research and Policy: Proceedings of a Workshop Series—in Brief. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/26438.
Policy and Global Affairs
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