PCAST suggests 6 key components for climate change strategy to President Obama; adaptation and mitigation
23 March 2013
The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a letter to President Obama describing six key components the advisory group believes should be central to the Administration’s strategy for addressing climate change. The letter, responding to a request by the President last fall for input, calls for a dual focus on mitigation and adaptation.
President Obama established the current PCAST in 2010 as an advisory group of leading scientists and engineers who directly advise the President and the Executive Office of the President; one of the members serves as the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology (the Science Advisor). PCAST’s charter is to advise the President on matters involving science, technology, and innovation policy, including, but not limited to, policy that affects science, technology, and innovation, as well as scientific and technical information that is needed to inform public policy relating to the economy, energy, environment, public health, national and homeland security, and other topics.
The first component aims to reduce the damage resulting from changes in climate (“adaptation”), while the last five aim to reduce the pace and magnitude of these changes (“mitigation”). Both approaches are essential parts of an integrated strategy for dealing with climate change. Mitigation is needed to avoid a degree of climate change that would be unmanageable despite efforts to adapt. Adaptation is needed because the climate is already changing and some further change is inevitable regardless of what is done to reduce its pace and magnitude.—PCAST letter to the President
The six key components are:
1. Focus on national preparedness for climate change, which can help decrease damage from extreme weather events now and speed recovery from future damage.
According to PCAST, a national climate preparedness strategy should include:
mechanisms to create, regularly update, and communicate national climate preparedness plans, including regional assessments and sharing of best practices;
mechanisms to create, regularly update, and communicate to citizens indices of extreme events that capture these leading indicators of climate change on a global, national, and regional basis;
maintenance and improvement of the Nation’s capabilities in weather forecasting and climate-change prediction to help those in harm’s way take actions to protect themselves in both the short- and long-term;
plans for infrastructure modernization that incorporate the impact of future climate change, and also serve to support the development of advanced infrastructure for the 21st century economy; and
changes to Federal policies on disaster relief and insurance to ensure that economic incentives are aligned with long-term safety and security, and that financial capital, when invested following a disaster, is used not just to rebuild, but to rebuild better.
To accomplish those goals, PCAST recommends:
Creation of a National Commission on Climate Preparedness charged with recommending an overall framework and blueprint for ongoing data collection, planning, and action.
Designating Departments to serve as leads to oversee the annual creation of climate preparedness plans at home and abroad. A logical choice, PCAST said, for domestic preparedness would be the Department of Homeland Security, with the Department of Defense playing the lead role for climate preparedness plans involving events overseas that affect our national security (as they already have responsibility for this).
Developing an infrastructure renewal plan that integrates climate preparedness and other benefits to the US’ economy./p>
Improving coordination and support for research efforts on climate change preparedness.
2. Continue efforts to decarbonize the economy, with emphasis on the electricity sector. Key recommended steps here are:
Support continuing expansion of shale-gas production, ensuring that environmental impacts of production and transport do not curtail the potential of this approach. Continuing substitution of gas for coal (and in some instances for oil) will remain an effective short- and middle-term decarbonization measure and an economic boon only insofar as methane leakage from production and transport is held to low levels and drinking water is not adversely impacted, PVCAST noted.
Continue implementation of Clean Air Act requirements on criteria pollutants (such as SO2 and NOx) and hazardous air pollutants (such as mercury) to include creating new performance standards for CO2 emissions from existing stationary sources, which would follow the performance standards for new plants released in March 2012.
Accelerate efforts to reduce the regulatory obstacles to deployment of CCS, and continue political support for the large CCS projects currently underway.
3. Level the playing field for clean energy and energy efficiency technologies by removing regulatory obstacles, addressing market failures, adjusting tax policies, and providing time-limited subsidies for clean energy when appropriate.
The PCAST letter suggests as worthy of consideration:
Leveling the playing field on access to capital through special tax benefits.
Broadening the tax credit for wind to include all forms of renewable energy, replacing the annual renewal with a longer time horizon of 5 to 10 years.
Eliminating market failures that prevent the adoption of technologies for energy efficiency.
4. Sustain research on next-generation clean-energy technologies, and remove obstacles for their eventual deployment.
Some technologies are far from being economically competitive today, but are very likely to be important contributors to a low-carbon energy system several decades from now. Examples include electric cars, geothermal heat pumps, and advanced biofuels. As the Nation works to lower greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade, it is critical that investments in “game-changing” research and development on advanced energy technologies continue in order to ensure that at least some of them become competitive in the years ahead.
...A balance is needed between investments that will lower emissions in the near-term and investments, such as “game-changing” research on advanced energy technology that may have only a small effect on emissions over the next few years but will be critical to achieving success in the long run.—PCAST letter to the President
Sustaining and, if possible, augmenting the investment in research and development in energy innovation, focusing on the critical technologies that have the potential to dramatically lower our greenhouse gas emissions in the long run.
PCAST suggests that new emphasis be placed on creative management and reform of applied research programs in nuclear, fossil fuels, renewables, and energy efficiency.
Noting that nuclear power requires special attention, PCAST recommends implementation of the recommendations put forward by the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on America’s Nuclear Future.
5. Take additional steps to establish US leadership on climate change internationally. Recommendations here include:
Exploring the possibility of a new North American climate agreement.
Continuing work towards increased cooperation with China on the climate challenge.
6. Conduct an initial Quadrennial Energy Review (QER). In 2011, the DOE published a Quadrennial Technology Review (QTR) as the first step toward a full QER that would cut across all Federal departments and agencies, as recommended in the November 2010 PCAST Report to the President on Accelerating the Pace of Change in Energy Technologies Through an Integrated Federal Energy Policy.
PCAST recommends official initiation of the full review. The QER will provide an analytical underpinning for policy tradeoffs, such as those between hydrocarbon production, climate change mitigation, and expanded manufacturing. This in turn may help with a more productive bipartisan dialogue on clean energy innovation and the economic, environmental, and security threads of energy policy, PCAST suggests.
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