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A project facilitated by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions lays out a path for the incoming U.S. presidential administration to take urgent and meaningful action to step up efforts to fight climate change starting on Inauguration Day.

The Climate 21 Project tapped the expertise of more than 150 experts with high-level government experience—including nine former cabinet appointees—to deliver advice for a climate response that could be coordinated by the White House and accountable directly to the President. The project’s recommendations were produced by a steering committee co-chaired by Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute and associate professor of the practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy, and Christy Goldfuss, senior vice president of energy and environment policy at the Center for American Progress.

“The climate challenge demands immediate and decisive action by the next President,” Profeta said. “We convened this project to ensure that such action would not be frustrated because of any lack of knowledge regarding how to operate within the executive branch.”

In an introductory letter, Profeta and Goldfuss write that the Climate 21 Project does not offer a specific policy agenda. Instead, the project’s recommendations focus on how President-elect Joe Biden could use existing federal authorities—with or without congressional action—to build the new administration’s capacity for quickly tackling the climate crisis.

The recommendations were submitted to the Biden-Harris transition team in the form of 13 memos. The documents provide in-depth recommendations on four key topics for 11 White House offices, federal departments, and agencies:

  • Budget, management, and structure
  • Key program opportunities
  • Interagency priorities and relationships
  • Critical staff appointments and hiring tools 

The memos cover departments and agencies traditionally thought of as being on the front lines of combating climate change, such as the Environmental Protection AgencyDepartment of the Interior and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The project also dives into parts of the federal government that are not normally associated with climate policy (while noting that critical work will be required of others that were not studied). Some of the project’s recommendations for these agencies include:

  • Department of the Treasury: To integrate climate objectives into economic recovery efforts and advancing domestic climate policy through tax, budget, and regulatory initiatives
  • Department of Agriculture: To invest in natural climate solutions and incentivizing climate smart agriculture and rural investment
  • Department of Transportation: To initiate a new transportation electrification task force to focus on vehicle electrification policy and job creation and propose new budget and legislative initiatives
  • Department of Justice: To identify and reverse department policies that could hamper the robust defense of new climate policies or climate-related enforcement actions

Funding for the Climate 21 Project was provided by the Hewlett Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the Linden Trust for Conservation.

Adapted from Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions story published Nov. 16, 2020