Whoever moves into the White House this January will – if they choose – have access to an informative guide to solving one of the most pressing challenges humanity faces. That’s thanks to a series of papers released recently as part of a Stanford-sponsored policy forum in Washington, D.C. (read Twitter takeaways from the event).

What’s New | CIP September 2016 Policy Forum at the National Press Club

Amid a shifting political landscape, the time for action is prime, event organizer and former deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior David J. Hayes pointed out during the forum. “Farmers get it. Sportsmen get it,” Hayes said. “These folks don’t care about the cause, they just know there needs to be action taken.”

On one hand, climate change’s impacts are worse than expected and coming sooner than expected, said Chris Field, the Perry L. McCarty Director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. On the other hand, society has better options that can be deployed faster than ever to deal with impacts. “Increasingly we see opportunities for investments in adaptation, jobs and the co-benefits of climate response,” said Field, the Melvin and Joan Lane Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies (Biology) and a professor with the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. "We know now that the climate challenge is a problem that can be solved. Whether or not we solve it is up to us.”

The Sept. 15 event featured substantive recommendations for the next president from prominent academic experts, government officials and business executives. In a series of discussions, panelists summarized recommendations from their papers released that day. Panel topics included: Adaptation, Carbon Sequestration, and Public Health; Clean Energy R&D and Financing; Regulatory, Risk and Market-Based Approaches; and Reforming and Modernizing the Electricity Sector. Panelists also responded to questions on issues ranging nuclear power’s potential role in a clean power economy to retraining coal industry workers for renewable energy jobs

Among the ideas put forward: connect the dots between a warming world and human health and security. “Understanding climate change in terms of health can fuel public response,” said Katherine Burke, deputy director of the Center for Innovation in Global Health at Stanford. “We need to use health professionals as movement builders.”

Connecting climate change with infrastructure development and planning should also be a priority, said Kate Gordon, vice chair for climate and sustainable urbanization at the Paulson Institute. “We need to try to incorporate the climate risk conversation into the planning of FEMA and disaster preparedness.”

Smart stewardship of natural and working landscapes can help us reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through the management of forests and other land types, said Hayes, who is also a distinguished visiting lecturer at the Stanford Law School and a consulting professor with the Stanford Woods Institute. 

Clean tech solutions should focus on low-income populations, coal states and states primed for a solar energy renaissance, according to Nancy Pfund, founder and managing partner of venture capital firm DBL Partners. Pfund called the targeted participants “the clean energy trifecta.”

Whatever approach the next president takes should be as market-based and simple as possible, said Jim Connaughton, president and CEO of Nautilus Data Technologies, and former chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “Let innovation be the engine,” Connaughton said.

Beyond specific ideas and focal points, panelists asserted, the next president should think about the right questions to ask, the right challenges to try to unlock. “How do we enable access to affordable and renewable energy for every human being?” said Arun Majumdar, co-director of the Precourt Institute for Energy and Jay Precourt Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford. "We need innovations in financing for new technologies to be scaled. There’s no reason new energy technologies cannot be cleaner and cheaper,” said Majumdar, who is also former acting undersecretary for science and energy and former director of ARPA-E at the Department of Energy

The policy forum was held as part of the Climate Implementation Project Conference Series sponsored by the Stanford Woods Institute and Stanford Law School, in partnership with Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy, School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences, and the Center for Innovation in Global Health. Workshops and other events in the series have been organized by Hayes.

Other Stanford experts who participated in the panel discussions:

  • Dan Reicher, executive director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford; former Assistant Secretary of Energy; former director, Climate Change and Energy Initiatives, Google
  • Rob Jackson, Michelle and Kevin Douglas Provostial Professor, School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences; senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute and Precourt Institute for Energy
  • Michael Wara, associate professor, Stanford Law School and faculty fellow, Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance

Policy Forum