Each week, we’re compiling the most relevant news stories from diverse sources online, connecting the latest environmental and energy economics research to global current events, real-time public discourse, and policy decisions. Here are some questions we’re asking and addressing with our research chops this week:
With COP26 on the horizon, what environmental, energy, and equity issues might be on the forefront of policymakers’ minds?
The rest of October could prove pivotal for climate action in the United States—and in the world. President Joe Biden already has announced a goal to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and asked federal agencies to update the social cost of carbon by January 2022, but the administration still hopes to point to even more tangible examples of progress at COP26 to inspire more ambitious commitments from other nations. Despite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) deadline to finalize legislation by October 31, infrastructure negotiations are at an impasse. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) reportedly wants to see the Clean Electricity Performance Program significantly redesigned or removed altogether, and other programs—such as the Civilian Climate Corps or environmental justice–oriented initiatives—could be cut as well. Policymakers are working to devise alternatives that satisfy their skeptical colleagues and achieve emissions reductions; in play are a carbon price that exempts gasoline, a voluntary emissions trading system among heavily polluting industries, and more generous loan guarantees for clean energy technologies.
“Changes and uncertainty continue, and still we adapt,” writes RFF President and CEO Richard G. Newell in his introductory letter to the new issue of Resources magazine. Issue 208, launched digitally this week, provides research insights that can guide policymakers who are confronting pressing climate policy questions. Given that the Biden administration is slated to release an updated estimate of the social cost of carbon by January 2022, two articles offer insights about how policymakers can incorporate the best available empirical data and scientific methods. With COP26 just days away, another article features a conversation between researchers Elena Verdolini and Wesley Look about how the European Union can leverage a variety of policy tools to secure a just transition for energy workers. Other articles consider ways to address climate change and steward environmental health while prioritizing equity: History Professor Neil Maher discusses lessons from the New Deal–era Civilian Conservation Corps, and RFF’s Margaret Walls reflects on key lessons from a recent environmental justice event series.
Related research and commentary:
How is the Biden administration addressing environmental justice, and how can constituents help ensure that the administration’s efforts are effective?
The Biden administration has sought to elevate environmental justice across the federal government, particularly at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Earlier this month, EPA released a draft of its 2022 strategic plan, which features four “foundational principles,” including a new priority that’s dedicated to environmental equity. Meanwhile, Biden also has called for the establishment of a new role at EPA—an Assistant Administrator for Environmental Justice—and supported passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which would represent the country’s largest-ever investment in clean drinking water. Still, advocates worry that these efforts could prove insufficient; environmental justice groups have protested the administration’s support of fossil fuel projects that they say disproportionately harm already-vulnerable communities. And as some policymakers evaluate ways to cut costs in the reconciliation bill, proposals such as the Civilian Climate Corps, which aims to hire a diverse cohort and target benefits toward vulnerable communities, and lead pipe remediation could be axed.
On a new episode of Resources Radio, Professor Char Miller of Pomona College shares insights from his new book, West Side Rising: How San Antonio’s 1921 Flood Devastated a City and Sparked a Latino Environmental Justice Movement, which explores the strategies devised by Latino communities in San Antonio, Texas, to mobilize for environmental equity. Miller describes how the city built a dam after a devastating 1921 flood, to control future flooding in the downtown district—but the city’s response to the historic flood exacerbated patterns of discrimination for decades by failing to protect the majority-Latino populations living in West Side neighborhoods. Miller outlines how the grassroots and woman-led organization Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS) supported efforts to increase the diversity of the city council, secured federal dollars for flood control, and inspired equity advocates in cities across the United States. He points out that today’s environmental justice advocates can learn from the group’s experience in reforming San Antonio’s political institutions. “When we think about justice—both environmental and climatological—it seems to me that what COPS did can be transferable and scaled up,” Miller contends.
Related research and commentary:
How can policymakers approach the design of border adjustments?
The pivotal COP26 summit commences on October 31, and a major item on the docket for the convening global leaders will be border adjustments. The European Union’s plans are the most formalized thus far: earlier this year, the bloc formally proposed a tax on imports from countries where climate policy remains relatively less ambitious. The proposal spurred action in other countries, even as uncertainty persists over how border adjustments will be designed and whether such proposals can comply with World Trade Organization rules. Members of the US Congress have introduced a proposal for a carbon border tax, Australian policymakers have fretted that they will confront new tariffs if their government doesn’t formally introduce a net-zero target, and Cabinet officials in Canada have begun exploring options for a border carbon adjustment, as well. Coordination around global climate policy remains essential: just this month, members of the European Parliament’s environment committee urged that the European Union use the opportunity of COP26 to coordinate action around border carbon adjustments with other major economies.
Two new working papers from RFF’s Brian Flannery and Jan Mares examine how policymakers should approach designing border carbon adjustments. These reports build on their previous research, which outlines how governments can determine border adjustments based on a greenhouse gas index (GGI) for covered products; the GGI resolves a crucial challenge for regulators, in that it uses available information about emissions from facilities and their supply chains and applies that information to products. The scholars’ new estimates and methods paper describes potential procedures and publicly available information that can help determine GGI values to impose import charges on covered products; the paper also includes a list of estimated GGI values for two dozen major commodity products. Their new facilities paper explores how US manufacturers can determine GGI values to provide export rebates for covered products created in specific facilities; it includes simplified examples for hypothetical facilities in six sectors. “Facility-specific information is essential because similar products from different facilities can have significantly different GGIs based on the natural resources, technologies, fuels, and electricity used to create them,” Flannery writes in an accompanying blog post.
Related research and commentary:
Our #FactOfTheWeek comes takes from the new issue of Resources magazine.
StacieStauffSmith Photos / Shutterstock
According to a new Resources article from RFF’s Matthew Wibbenmeyer, the number of homes in wildland-urban interface areas grew by 40 percent across the United States between 1990 and 2010.