A7: Flash Talk Session - Emerging Science for Decision-Making

Measurements and Models for Atmospheric Carbon and Their Application to Policy

Jack Kaye, Associate Director for Research of the Earth Science Division, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Advances in satellite and airborne measurements together with expansion of surface-based measurements and developments in Earth System models (especially those allowing for inverse modeling) are making it increasingly possible for scientists to characterize the sources of the major carbon-containing greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, and inform policy development taking place in countries around the world. This session will examine the advances in observations and models that are enabling these new efforts, provide examples of what is being learned about atmospheric concentrations and emissions of the two gases, and then discuss how the nations of the world are using this information to make policy concerning emissions of these two compounds.

 

Sustainable Urban Infrastructure for Food, Energy, and Water Resources

Ziqian (Cecilia) Dong, Associate Professor, New York Institute of Technology

This presentation will highlight a multi-disciplinary collaboration engaging two universities in New York City (New York Institute of Technology and City College of New York, CUNY) working with partners in Europe including U. of Applied Sciences Stuttgart (HFT), the Austrian Institute of Technology, and the Alpen-Adria U, Klagenfurt Institute of Social Ecology). Their joint effort, the project, "INtegrated analysis and modeling for the management of sustainable urban food, energy and water reSOURCES (IN-SOURCE)" focuses on urban centers, which are undergoing rapid change throughout the globe, and face common metabolic challenges to sustainably provide for energy, water, and food supplies under healthy and economically productive conditions. The IN-SOURCE project aims to model the impact of land use change and renewable energy transition on urban infrastructure in a 3D tool. This tool will be used to generate strategies and target infrastructure investment toward the objective of carbon neutral and sustainable cities characterized by a decentralized and autonomous food, energy, and water supply. Their products will help decision-makers, such as governments, utilities, project developers, and investors to understand, quantify, and visualize multiple interdependent impacts. These stakeholders are being engaged via an outreach/consultation process.

 

Microplastics as a new, ubiquitous pollutant: management and consumer issues

Susan Farady, Assistant professor, University of New England

The presence of plastic marine debris in our oceans has emerged rapidly as an environmental impact in need of urgent attention and will be a pollutant of concern for the foreseeable future. Both the research community and the public are paying significant attention to plastic marine debris, especially microplastics, yet there is a significant lag in the development of coherent management policies and responses. Concerns have been raised about the health impacts of microplastics on marine wildlife as well as on humans who consume seafood, yet there is very little data to inform appropriate management actions and consumer advice. Now is the time to consider the best strategic choices for the research, management, and outreach needed to address priority issues around microplastics. Microplastic inputs in the marine environment could be reduced by inclusion as a regulated pollutant under discharge permitting frameworks. Baseline levels of microplastics in seafood can be informed by monitoring microplastic inputs from regulated sources in priority seafood harvest areas during harvest seasons. Research could be directed towards determining if and when there are actionable levels of microplastics in specific locations and species of interest to seafood consumers, to inform, and if possible provide, accurate consumer advice about risks of seafood consumption. We have the benefit of experiences with other pollutants to anticipate, not just respond to, the management actions and consumer advisories needed to address marine microplastics and the research to support targeted and maximally effective interventions.

 

Look at all the new data! Now what?

Mason Fried, Climate Scientist, ICF

Paradigm shifting datasets continue to improve modern environmental science at an accelerating rate. Progress in big data concepts, artificial intelligence, advanced computing, downscaled climate models, and satellite remote sensing opens a new frontier of research to better understand critical Earth system processes and to respond to significant outstanding questions central to environmental policy initiatives. However, often lost in the endeavor to solve problems using an ever growing body of data and model projections is the analysis of the most appropriate tool to answer our questions in the first place. In a world where the division between data science capabilities and end user need seems to be widening, how can actors implement data in an efficient, intelligent, and actionable way to effectively answer policy questions? 
 
This talk will highlight these issues—both the capabilities of new data and the struggle to grapple with it—through the lens of our recent work aimed at making cutting edge datasets and research actionable for a range of end users, including for sectors such as energy, transportation, and climate resilience. Today’s emerging environmental data landscape demands an equally forward-looking framework through which to use it. Our work has focused on making large datasets actionable through, for example, climate model best practices and prioritization and developing indicators to convert raw observations or projections into actionable data insights tailored to specific end users in support of science-informed decisions. The flash talk will call on concrete examples from recent case studies to support these conclusions, while also offering an engaging and dynamic view of where we find ourselves in the midst of an abundance of data.

 

Putting the science on extreme heat and air pollution to action

Rachel Licker, Senior Climate Scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists

New research projects that nearly all communities across the United States will experience dramatic increases in days with extreme and dangerous heat as the century unfolds if rapid action is not taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, coping with extreme heat currently requires the widespread use of air conditioning units. In many parts of the U.S., the magnitude of energy required to run cooling infrastructure during hot days often necessitates bringing some of the dirtiest power plants online, exacerbating both air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Research has demonstrated the potential triple-win of investing in clean energy sources; such investments would reduce ambient air pollution, improve human health, and mitigate climate change, including reducing how severe extreme heat gets. This session will examine the communities that are at particular risk of exposure to extreme heat and related air pollution, policy opportunities and barriers to action on these issues, and the measures that could catalyze further action.

 

Additionality & Carbon Neutrality: Insufficient for Real Climate Impact

Ben McCall, Executive Director, Hanley Sustainability Institute, University of Dayton

Many institutions, including universities and corporations, are sincerely looking for ways to eliminate their contribution to climate change. However, many institutions are looking at carbon neutrality through the narrow lens of greenhouse gas accounting protocols, and are not always critically evaluating whether the actions they undertake will make a real impact on the climate system. As a result, well intentioned organizations risk falling into a trap of thinking they are making a difference by purchasing financial instruments with unclear climate impacts. As a key example, universities are beginning to claim carbon neutrality on the basis of their purchase of carbon credits. In principle, the continuing emissions from burning fossil fuels on their campuses are offset by emissions reductions or carbon sequestration enabled by their purchase of carbon credits. But, whether the emissions are truly offset depends on the "additionality" of the carbon credits, and this term is not consistently defined or understood. 
 
A certification of additionality does not always mean, as one might assume, that the emissions reductions would not have occurred without the revenue from the sale of the carbon credits. As an example, I led a carbon credits project at the University of Illinois that was certified as additional by VCS (often considered the gold standard), despite the fact that the underlying energy efficiency measures had been implemented before the campus had any idea that the university could receive revenue from the sale of carbon credits. Transacting in such credits is effective as an emissions trading scheme, but clearly has no climate impact and does not truly "offset" the buyer's emissions. The Illinois project is far from the only certified carbon credit project that lacks a clearly additional climate impact.
 
To clarify the uncertainty posed by different interpretations of the word additionality, I propose a new distinction between “absolute additionality” and “relative additionality.” Carbon credits like those from the Illinois project possess relative additionality, in the sense that they go beyond business as usual, are legitimate for emissions trading purposes, and are useful in rewarding "good actors" for their work. But the purchase of such credits does not have a clear impact on the climate system. In contrast, credits with absolute additionality would come from projects that clearly would not have happened without the revenue (or the reasonable expectation of revenue) from the sale of the credits. The purchase of such credits goes beyond emissions trading and genuinely offsets the buyer's emissions, in terms of the impact on the climate system. This new distinction clarifies the tremendous ambiguity in the use of the bare term "additionality."
 
I further propose a new distinction between a “carbon neutral” organization and a “fossil fuel free” organization. Claims of carbon neutrality are being made, in part and could even be made entirely, on the basis of actions without a climate impact such as buying carbon credits with relative additionality and by buying unbundled RECs from regions without effective compliance markets. In the context of our present era, when humanity must drive worldwide emissions to zero by 2050 or earlier to avoid dangerous climate change, the carbon neutral standard seems inadequate if an organization can meet that standard without truly eliminating, or even reducing, their climate impact.
 
In contrast, a fossil fuel free organization would be one that has no Scope 1 or Scope 2 emissions in the first place. Becoming fossil fuel free would require tangible actions: such as converting thermal energy systems from natural gas to heat pumps and converting fleets from gasoline to electric in order to eliminate Scope 1 emissions and entering into long-term PPAs with new renewable electricity generation facilities to genuinely eliminate (in an absolutely additional sense) Scope 2 emissions. In my opinion, the fossil fuel free standard is the one that all organizations should be aspiring to meet and must meet if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.

 

Resilient Infrastructure: Scientific Building Blocks for Resilience ROI

Lindsay Ross, Senior Analyst, Four Twenty Seven

Building resilience of critical infrastructure requires decision-makers working in government and industry to understand what can be done, why it should be done, and how to put it into practice. Key stakeholders are often either unaware of the value of resilience or are constrained by a lack of resources or support to embed and enhance resilience. This presentation will explore how consensus-based climate science has been used thus far in decision-making for investments in resilient infrastructure. It also identifies areas for further research to advance the knowledge base for decision-makers on the resilience return on investment. 
 
Using port and maritime shipping infrastructure as a tangible example, we explore how climate science is used in data-driven infrastructure vulnerability assessments and how policies at various levels of governance establish enabling environments supportive of resilient infrastructure. This research is informed by interviews with maritime industry stakeholders, including former U.S. federal government officials, sustainability professionals at U.S. ports, insurance companies, and nongovernmental organizations. We draw on examples in the United States where policies and science have been integral to promoting infrastructure resilience, including the Ports Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Port of Long Beach, and the Georgia Ports Authority. We also identify barriers to the uptake of resilience where the introduction of scientific methodologies can incentivize resilience beyond vulnerability assessments, including cost-benefit analyses, broader policies and regulations, resilience standards in engineering and design, and community-based collaboration.