Action plans to advance climate change mitigation and resilience
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many existing problems in the U.S. economy and created new ones. Now, as a new presidential administration and a new Congress take office amid growing historical challenges, Brookings Blueprints for American Renewal & Prosperity offer a series of innovative and enforceable federal policy proposals. In the Climate and Resilience Essays, Brookings researchers present policies that respond to the climate crisis both domestically and internationally.
Climate change is one of those rare issues that affects all aspects of our economic, social and physical security. The United States continues to be one of the highest emitting countries on the planet, reflecting heavy use of fossil fuels, inefficient land reclamation and unsustainable farming practices. Extreme weather events, from wildfires in the west to hurricanes in the east, increase in frequency every year, while more gradual challenges such as natural ecosystem loss, urban heat islands and persistent droughts are only intensifying. The net effect is a population facing serious financial risks, unchecked environmental injustice, and deep uncertainty about how to handle future growth.
However, the climate crisis also offers opportunities for a new growth model. The transition to a net zero emissions economy by 2050 – a stated goal of President Joe Biden and many global peers – will require a new economic architecture to support it, including infrastructure, education, financial instruments and regulations. New career opportunities will emerge, new financial instruments will be introduced and new products and services will be invented. If managed successfully, our transition to a clean economy can also build a fairer, more inclusive and more entrepreneurial society.
The United States cannot respond to this crisis on its own. Climate change is the ultimate global problem, with emissions everywhere affecting the climate everywhere. The United States has a moral responsibility to work alongside our global peers, and the planet will benefit if American innovators can devise new solutions to emerging problems. Meanwhile, our employees will benefit from using international products and services that can reduce our destructive footprint at home. Global engagement also has the benefit of promoting democracy abroad, as these standards remain the most effective way to negotiate compromises and hold each other accountable. The planet needs the United States to participate in productive climate action.
The Brookings Climate and Resilience Blueprints focus on these fundamental structural and international issues. They draw on the expertise of the entire institution to suggest federal policies to help the United States meet its emission reduction goals, strengthen our resilience to the inevitable climate changes that will occur, and re-energize our efforts. international organizations to encourage greater climate ambition and learn from our global politics. the partners.
Reduce federal climate risk
The federal government is much more than the chief regulator of the country. Together, its various agencies and departments function as one of the largest land managers, building owners and financial investors in the country. The federal government is also a giant insurance company, protecting everything from its military bases to our private homes. Addressing the climate crisis can begin with better management of the federal government’s exposure to climate-related risks.
Advancing resilient outcomes within the federal government, Joseph W. Kane, Jenny Schuetz, Shalini Vajjhala, and Adie Tomer suggest that we focus first on the built environment and our need to address unsustainable land use systems. They recommend creating a climate planning unit within the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to focus on reducing the budgetary impacts of climate change. Such an office could take a whole-of-government vision of climate risk mitigation, focusing on both quick wins and opportunities for long-term structural change – respecting the environment, people and the federal budget in the process. process. The office would be focused on cost savings and funded in part through cost recovery. His work would also focus on low-income households and communities of color, which are most affected by climate change and often overlooked in existing programs.
Prepare students and workers
For too long, the United States has spent too much time debating the existence of climate change and has spent too little time educating students about our changing environment and preparing workers for the emerging jobs that will be at the heart of humanity’s response. The federal government can play a central role in making up for lost ground.
Christina Kwauk and Joseph W. Kane offer a new type of student and worker agenda to achieve our climate goals. Achieving a net zero economy is not only a technical challenge requiring technical solutions, but also a societal problem that requires an educated population to face it. However, this education and skills are currently lacking, especially among the underrepresented and marginalized. And the federal ministries most involved in the education and training of the workforce – the ministries of education and labor – do not have programs to provide the knowledge and skills needed in our economy. mutation.
The authors recommend empowering the U.S. global change research agenda – which is already devoted to federal leadership and interagency climate coordination – to take on an education role as well. The programs would provide green learning across society from Kindergarten to Grade 12 through higher education, vocational and technical education, and teacher training.
Encourage resilient businesses
Two other articles focus on financing the green transition in light of the deep but uneven economic recession the country is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sanjay Patnaik, Siddhi Doshi and Kelly Kennedy focus on the similarities between the COVID-19 crisis and climate change, noting that both are economy-wide risk management challenges. As the federal government ramps up spending to overcome the economic impacts of the pandemic, the authors argue that we should not miss the opportunity to make the economy more resilient to climate change. Their plan suggests that large companies receiving aid should be required to disclose their climate-related risks. These companies would also be subject to reduced interest rates on aid if they use an internal carbon price in their decision making. In addition, aid to the automotive and air transport sectors should be based on better environmental performance and no additional aid should be distributed to the fossil fuel industry.
Since the forced closures of March 2020, small businesses have suffered some of the most severe economic suffering. This has had a disproportionate impact on American entrepreneurs and on nearly 50% of the American workforce that works in small businesses. Yet even before COVID-19, small businesses faced headwinds in making low-carbon investments, especially due to a lack of access to financial capital. If the US market does not figure out how to get small businesses back on their feet and help them prepare for a greener economy, then the net effect could be a reduction in local economies, increased market power for large companies, and greater market power. increased income equality. Addisu Lashitew’s play recommends the creation of a $ 30 billion small business opportunity fund to finance grants, loans and bonds for green investments in small businesses. The loan and bond components of the Fund could be channeled through intermediary financial institutions, building on the experiences of the Paycheck Protection Program and the Main Street Loan Program of the CARES Act.
Re-engage the global community
The Trump administration’s distaste for multilateralism represented the overthrow of about a century of American world leadership. Climate policy has not been spared, embodied in the departure of President Donald Trump from the Paris Agreement. Now that the Biden administration is changing course, the United States must find a way to restore confidence on the global stage as we re-engage the global community in a crucial climate year.
In their play, Nathan Hultman and Samantha Gross discuss steps the United States can take to regain credible climate leadership. All countries that are signatories to the Paris Agreement are required to present new emission reduction commitments before a key global meeting in November. The United States must make an ambitious but achievable commitment and help other countries to do the same. Subnational actors have led U.S. efforts for the past four years, and they can share their skills and ambition with their counterparts overseas. Finally, the United States can take a leadership role through its disproportionate role in the global financial sector, strengthening its climate change reporting rules and supporting efforts to fund projects to reduce emissions and reduce emissions. adaptation to climate in developing countries.
Each of these recommendations addresses parts of the whole-of-government effort that will be required to achieve a zero-emissions economy by mid-century. But all of them – or other essential ideas such as modernizing the energy grid, green infrastructure standards and improving vehicle fuel efficiency – will face a polarized political climate. While a clear majority of Americans now recognize the scientific validity of climate change and the need to respond collectively, federal progress has lagged behind our global peers. Overcoming political friction requires finding common interests such as a strong small business sector and growth in well-paying jobs, and then ensuring that our climate-focused policies achieve these common goals. The road is difficult, but the stakes could not be higher.