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All eyes are on the new U.S. administration to deliver action on climate. As the world anticipates the U.S. re-joining the Paris Agreement, what critical measures will the country adopt to meet its goals? How can the country demonstrate leadership from day one to day 100, and beyond? We talk to two of the policy experts who built the blueprint.
With input from 150 policy leaders, Tim Profeta, director of Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, co-founded the Climate 21 Project to provide a plan for the new administration to hit the ground running for climate action in 2021. Tim and one of his 15 co-authors, Jeremy Symons, shared their insights with Natural Capital Partners’ Jonathan Shopley and our team. Here are five key take-aways:
The U.S. needs an all-of-Government approach
“There’s so much to be done in addition to climate,” Jeremy stated. He agreed that when facing an issue as big as climate change, you need a truly whole-of-Government approach. “The interrelated threats of environmental justice, economic opportunities and the health impacts of COVID-19. Climate change needs to be integrated as a pathway to help solve some of these issues.”
The new administration will need to be able to act quickly and effectively, which is why the Climate 21 Project focused on the areas where the administration would be able to move the needle on day one across all Government agencies, rather than focusing on Capitol Hill Legislation, which would take more time.
Tim said: “We anticipate that they will activate the regulatory authorities in the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) quickly. The Justice Department will look to settle lawsuits in a way that curbs carbon emissions, and The Treasury will look at how financial markets should disclose risk and test stability in the light of future climate change.”
Long-term physical infrastructure is key
The public and private sector can work together on opportunities that are climate friendly, politically bipartisan, and economically beneficial. Crafting these partnerships for the development of physical infrastructure like electric car chargers and a clean energy grid will ensure the legacy of climate action lives on and continues to reduce emissions, no matter the political changes of the future.
Tim pointed out, “The Government needs to provide funds to electrify everything in the transport and energy sectors and figure out how to use hydrogen for the rest… Corporate voices are saying we want this transition to happen, help us invest in it.”
America never really left
The U.S. will re-join the Paris Agreement, but has always been present on the international stage. It has maintained a presence at all the COPs - including California Governors Schwarzenegger and Brown, Mayor Bloomberg, and Speaker of the House Pelosi. They have helped level the playing field and signalled to the international stage that the U.S. is committed to acting on climate.
There is an understanding that, while Federal Government may come and go, there are actors that have kept the U.S. engaged and active. For example, the appointment of John Kerry as the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate illustrates the continuity of these activities. As Secretary of State under Obama, he played a key role in negotiating the Paris Agreement, and in 2019 Kerry co-founded a bipartisan initiative of world leaders and celebrities to combat the climate crisis.
Jonathan Shopley, Natural Capital Partner’s Managing Director of External Affairs commented, “I think the new appointments will be incredibly positively received. I can still see in my mind’s eye John Kerry striding around the halls of COP making the U.S. presence felt.” But he also noted, “The EU has seized leadership in the U.S’ absence and it’s going to be interesting to see how China and Europe react to the U.S. re-joining. This is where trade and climate will intersect and test the capacity and willingness of these three regional powers to align for much needed global cooperation.”
Cities, states and companies will continue to lead
There was significant discussion around the We Are Still In movement (launched in response to the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement) which was signed by more than 3,900 CEOs, mayors, governors, tribal leaders, college presidents, faith leaders and health care executives. Signatories include Natural Capital Partners as well as many of our clients. In the past four years we have seen cities, states and companies continue to deepen their climate action and this momentum is not going to stop, in part because they are already reaping economic benefits from it.
However, re-joining will help bring collective action across the board. Tim pointed out “the states may look to the Government to be a big funder as the stimulus comes through, and a big partner in leadership, but they’re not going to yield, they’re going to charge forward.”
Jonathan also pointed to America’s Pledge on Climate, noting “the ongoing bottom-up momentum within the States kept the U.S. reputation and commitment intact – and that’s phenomenal.”
Carbon markets will strengthen
The U.S. has been a leader in developing the carbon offset markets – which will remain increasingly important in the rapidly growing commitment for corporate action.
Natural Capital Partners’ research of the Fortune Global 500 confirms how carbon neutral, net zero, RE100 and SBT commitments are growing. Thirty percent of companies in the Fortune Global 500 have achieved one of these climate commitments or have publicly stated they will do so by 2030 - a five-fold increase since the Paris Agreement. Our corporate partners of all sizes are deepening their commitments to sustainability and offsets will continue to play a key role in achieving these goals.
Jonathan offered his opinion on the offsetting market by pointing out that, “Openness to international cooperation is key to offsetting,” but went on to note the historical U.S. leadership in the space, “You know, a lot of the development – Verra, ACR, CAR, - so much of the thinking about carbon offsetting and market-based approaches has come from early American experiences.”
And, as Tim pointed out recently in a Carbon Pulse panel as well as in our discussion - “I think it’s highly unlikely that we’ll have a Federal cap and trade system anytime soon. I think the California model will stay vibrant...My sense is that the voluntary market is rebounding again in the U.S.”
The Climate21 Project created a user-guide for the first 100 days in office for new U.S. Federal Government to begin to implement their climate activities quicker, more effectively and more ambitiously. View the summary recommendations here.
About Tim Profeta
Tim Profeta is the director of Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. Profeta’s areas of expertise include climate change and energy policy, the Clean Air Act, and adaptive use of current environmental laws to address evolving environmental challenges. His work at the Nicholas Institute has included numerous legislative and executive branch proposals to mitigate climate change, including providing Congressional testimony several times on his work at Duke University, developing multiple legislative proposals for cost containment and economic efficiency in greenhouse gas mitigation programs, and facilitating climate and energy policy design processes for several U.S. states.
In addition to his role at the Nicholas Institute, Profeta is a member of the Climate Action Reserve Board of Directors, and is a member of The American Law Institute.
About Jeremy Symons
Jeremy Symons is an environmental and political strategist dedicated to protecting a healthy, livable planet for future generations. He has twenty years' experience in energy and environmental policy, government affairs, media communications, and building highly successful teams. As the Principal of Symons Public Affairs, he works with clients to deliver high-impact, pragmatic solutions to climate change and other threats to public health and the environment.
As Vice President of Political Affairs at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Jeremy led teams that advanced policy solutions to protect public health and the environment from global climate change, air pollution and other threats. Prior to joining EDF in 2013, Jeremy served as Deputy Staff Director for the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, where he was part of the Senate Democrats’ leadership team on a range of environmental issues and nominations.