Policy News: September 14 2016
Conservation: IUCN World Conservation Congress
Every four years, the National Science Foundation (NSF) updates its strategic plan. NSF is inviting feedback from the ecological community on the vision, core values, strategic goals and strategic objectives in its current strategic plan. The strategic plan presents an evaluation framework to measure agency performance and describes core approaches and new methods for measuring the performance of the NSF portfolio.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) concluded its quadrennial World Conservation Congress on Sept.10 in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. Attended by more than 10,000 participants from 192 countries, the World Conservation Congress made a variety of decisions that will help guide conservation policy of governments and agencies worldwide.
The congress emphasized “. . . the importance of linking spirituality, religion, culture and conservation, and the need to implement nature-based solutions-actions that protect and manage ecosystems, while effectively addressing societal challenges, such as food and water security, climate change, disaster risk reduction, human health and economic well-being.” The congress also created a new category of IUCN membership for indigenous peoples’ organizations.
Resolutions protecting primary forest landscapes and seascapes were adopted that address their importance for biodiversity conservation and the cultures of indigenous peoples and marginalized communities. Furthering the emphasis on large, landscape-level protections, IUCN members agreed to put “all land and seascapes classified under any of IUCN’s categories of protected areas off limits for damaging industrial activities.” Previously, only UN-designated World Heritage Sites have been accorded this status.
The congress also adopted resolutions on the topic of “biodiversity offsets” and “natural capital.” Biodiversity offsets are seen as a last resort measure to avoid biodiversity loss. IUCN members agreed to develop a definition of natural capital to guide emerging business and financial decision-making models in accounting for ecological, ethical and social justice issues.
The congress made other notable resolutions:
- Downgrading Giant Pandas from endangered to vulnerable, having recovered to an estimated 2,060 in the wild in 2015 from 1,596 in 2004
- Calling for the elimination of domestic ivory markets which enable the “laundering” of ivory
- Ending hunting of captive-bred lions
- Adopting reports related to climate change, particularly one that finds the oceans have absorbed up to 93 percent of human-created warming since 1970
The 1,300 IUCN members include 217 state and government agencies, 1,066 non-governmental organizations, and networks of over 16,000 experts worldwide from more than 160 countries. It elected leadership for the next four years, including the re-election of Zhang Xinsheng for a second term as president.
The IUCN website includes a complete listing of all 106 motions approved during the World Conservation Congress.
Climate Change: China and U.S. Sign Paris Agreement
On the eve of the G20 Summit attended by the leaders of the world’s twenty largest economies, U.S. President Barak Obama and China President Xi Jinping presented documents to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon formally joining both nations to the Paris Agreement on climate change. The consensus Agreement, negotiated at the 2015 United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference, set a goal of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, with a targeted goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
President Xi mused, “Hopefully this will encourage other countries to take similar efforts,” while President Obama reflected, “Some day we may see this as the moment when we decided to save our planet. History will judge today’s efforts as pivotal.”
At the 2015 conference, participating nations set their greenhouse gas emissions targets, reflecting differing levels of development. The U.S. set a goal of a 26-28% reduction below its 2005 levels by 2025. China committed to stopping the growth of its emissions by 2030. Even if other nations formally adopt the Paris Agreement, and it becomes international law, the emissions limits they have targeted are projected to result in a 2.7C warming, well above the 1.5C goal.
The Paris Agreement is the first comprehensive worldwide climate deal. It will only come into force as international law once 55 countries, producing 55% of global carbon emission, ratify the agreement. In addition to the U.S., other G7 countries joining the Agreement are Canada, Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan.
Brazil ratified the Paris deal on September 12 and will deliver it to the UN later this month. It committed to reducing carbon emissions by 37% by 2025 and 43% by 2030. Brazil’s President Michel Temer noted that his country’s support for the climate deal has not changed with the new government, following last month’s impeachment of former President Dilam Rousseff.
Meanwhile Great Britain, formerly a leader on climate change, appears to be taking a new position with the recent change of government following the Brexit vote. The new U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May decided to eliminate the Department of Energy and Climate Change, folding its responsibilities into a new “Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.” May also appointed Andrea Leadsom, known for opposing climate change measures, as the Environment Secretary. Opinions on these changes are unsettled among U.K. NGOs and opposition members of Parliament, with Labor leaders threatening to begin debate on climate change if the Conservative government does not initiate ratification of the Paris Agreement.
Nonetheless, it seems likely that the Paris Agreement will become international law, possibly by the end of this year. By September 7, with the U.S. and China formally committing, 27 nations had joined the agreement, representing 39.08% of global emissions. Brazil’s formal agreement will add another 2.5% to the global emissions total. Argentina, Chile, Canada, Australia, and Ukraine have signaled intent to join along with estimates of 55-60 additional countries that represent nearly 60% of global emissions. If these formal commitments are made, it would ensure the Paris Agreement takes effect. Russia (7.5%), India (4.1%), Japan (3.79%) and Germany (2.56%), are each larger emitters than Brazil and have yet to ratify the Paris Agreement.
In the U.S., climate skeptics in Congress and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump are threatening to withdraw or try to nullify U.S. participation. The opportunities for nullification are few because once it comes into effect, the Paris Agreement has a four-year process for a country to formally withdraw. Attempts to defund the Agreement in Congress through the appropriations process are seen as unlikely with Senate Democrats deemed a bulwark against that effort. Nonetheless, there are few meaningful sanctions that could be imposed on a country that violates the Agreement.
Election: Presidential Candidates Answer Science Debate 2016 Questions
Presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Jill Stein, answered 20 questions on current science issues posed by ScienceDebate.org. Of the four major candidates running for office, Gary Johnson was the only one who did not respond.
“Taken collectively, these twenty issues have at least as profound an impact on voters’ lives as those more frequently covered by journalists, including candidates’ views on economic policy, foreign policy, and faith and values,” said ScienceDebate.org chair Shawn Otto, organizer of the effort and author of The War on Science.
The 20 questions were crowd-sourced from the public and refined, from hundreds of suggestions, by experts at 56 of America’s leading nonpartisan organizations, including ESA, representing more than 10 million scientists and engineers.
The consortium’s list of America’s top 20 science, engineering, tech, health and environmental issues facing the next president and the candidates’ responses are available at ScienceDebate.org/20qs.
Federal Budget: Appropriations and WRDA Update
Continued gridlock defined the first day of the 114th Congress’ fall session with Senate Democrats voting down a Zika funding bill containing previously rejected amendments limiting Planned Parenthood funding and cutting half-a-billion dollars in funds for the Veteran’s Administration.
Divisions between mainstream Republicans and more conservative members, particularly in the House, are becoming apparent. Senate and House Republican leadership are preparing to move a continuing resolution (CR) that would fund the government through early December, with plans for Congress to complete its appropriations work in a lame-duck session after the November elections.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said, “We’re going to work toward the December 9th date,” for a CR. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) is quoted as favoring December 16. Hill staff has indicated that the Senate could pass a CR in two weeks, then adjourn by September 23 with the House scheduled to remain in session until September 30. That strategy would force the House to accept stop-gap funding or take responsibility for a government shutdown heading into the November election.
Following a short-term CR, which the White House also backs, a lame-duck Congress would need to pass longer-term funding measures. Discussion among Republican leadership currently focuses on a series of “minibus” appropriations packages, as contrasted to an omnibus solution as was done last fiscal year. Many see omnibus bills as allowing undesirable closed-door deals. The minibus strategy, however, is not widely endorsed by House members. Democrats in both chambers are also cautious because of the possibility of defense appropriations being fast-tracked and domestic spending falling by the wayside. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is publicly committed to achieving a spending compromise before allowing any other bills to move.
An important test of Reid’s leadership came Monday evening as the Senate voted to consider the two-year reauthorization Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The bill has broad bi-partisan support and the cloture vote carried 90-1, with only Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) voting against the measure. Not voting were Senators Reid (D-NV), Coats (R-IN), Flake (R-AZ), Graham (R-SC), Kaine (D-VA), Murkowski (R-AK), Perdue (R-GA), Sanders (I-VT), and Toomey (R-PA).
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said he and the ranking committee Democrat, California Senator Barbara Boxer are working cooperatively for swift passage of the $9 billion WRDA bill that would provide for harbor deepening, restoration of the Florida Everglades, and the Great Lakes in addition to $220 million for the Flint water crisis. Environmental groups and shipping interests appear to favor the bill.
The path to an appropriations solution remains unclear with new developments emerging daily.
Nominations: Climate Science Centers Call for Review Teams
The American Fisheries Society and the Human Dimensions Research Unit of Cornell University have been engaged by the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center to conduct five-year reviews of the eight Department of the Interior Climate Science Centers (CSC). Potential members are being solicited for two teams to conduct reviews of the Southwest CSC in Tucson, Arizona and the North Central CSC located in Fort Collins, Colorado. Potential members of these Science Review Teams should have expertise in the general area of the development and/or application of climate science to fisheries, wildlife, and cultural resource issues.
Team members can be from academia, state and federal agencies, non-profits, tribal and First Nations and others as appropriate. They cannot be a current or past recipient of CSC funds from the CSC being reviewed, nor have an application for funding pending.
The review of the North Central Climate Science Center (NC-CSC) will be from January 31 to February 3, 2017; the Southwest Climate Science Center (SW-CSC) from February 14 to 17, 2017.
Application deadlines for team members are September 23 for the NC-CSC and September 30 for the SW-CSC.
The American Fisheries Society has an announcement of this solicitation posted on their website.
Federal Register Notices and Requests for Comment
Solicitations for Members
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
NOAA Soliciting Members for Science Advisory Board
NOAA is soliciting nominations for members of the NOAA Science Advisory Board (SAB). The SAB is the only Federal Advisory Committee with the responsibility to advise the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator on long- and short-range strategies for research, education, and application of science to resource management and environmental assessment and prediction. The SAB consists of approximately fifteen members reflecting the full breadth of NOAA’s areas of responsibility and assists NOAA in maintaining a complete and accurate understanding of scientific issues critical to the agency’s missions. Members will be appointed for three-year terms, renewable once, and serve at the discretion of the Under Secretary.
Nominations must be received by October 17, 2016 and
should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Soliciting Members for United States Global Change Research Program, quadrennial National Climate Assessment
The U.S. Global Change Research Program is mandated under the Global Change Research Act of 1990 to conduct a quadrennial National Climate Assessment. Sectoral and response chapters will be coordinated and led by federal agencies. Regional chapters will be coordinated and led by non-federal regional chapter leads, who in turn will collaborate with federal coordinating lead authors. NOAA is seeking public nominations for these non-federal leads.
Nominations are due by September 30 and should be submitted via links found on https://www.globalchange.gov/notices.
Questions may be addressed to Emily Therese Cloyd, (202) 223-6262, email@example.com, U.S. Global Change Research Program.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
—Department of the Interior, Office of the Secretary
Nominations for the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee and Notice of Public Meeting
The Department of Commerce is seeking nominations for membership on the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee. The Committee advises the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior on strategies and priorities for developing the national system of marine protected areas and on practical approaches to further enhance and expand protection of new and existing areas. Additionally, a meeting of the Committee will be held via webinar on Monday, October 3, 2016 from 3:00-5:30 p.m. ET and is open to the public.
Nominations must be received before or on October 7, 2016 and should be sent to Nicole Capps at West Coast Region, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, 99 Pacific Street, Suite 100 F, Monterey, CA, 93940, or Nicole.Capps@nullnoaa.gov.
Register for the webinar meeting by contacting Nicole Capps at Nicole.Capps@nullnoaa.gov or by telephone at (831) 647-6451.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Nominations of Experts to Augment the Science Advisory Board Ecological Processes and Effects Committee
The Environmental Protection Agency, Science Advisory Board staff office is requesting public nominations of scientific experts to augment the board’s Ecological Processes and Effects Committee for review of a draft EPA document entitled “Scope and Approach for Revising USEPA’s Guidelines for Deriving National Water Quality Criteria to Protect Aquatic Life.”
Nominations should be submitted by September 20, 2016 through the web-based form for nominating experts for this advisory activity.
Questions may be addressed to Iris Goodman, SAB Staff Office, at 202-564-2164 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Requests for Comment
National Science Foundation
Strategic Plan Review
As it conducts the quadrennial update of its strategic plan, the National Science Foundation (NSF) invites feedback from the ecological community on the vision, core values, strategic goals and strategic objectives in its current plan. The plan presents an evaluation framework to measure agency performance and describes core approaches and methods for measuring the performance of the NSF portfolio. Elise Lipkowitz, Science Policy Analyst for the National Science Board Office, wrote an Ecotone blog for ESA members commenting on the process.
National Institute for Food and Agriculture
Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Federal Grants Program-General Administration Provisions, Final Rule and Request for Comments
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture has published a final rule revising the general administrative guidelines applicable to the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative competitive grant program, making it necessary to modify attendant regulations.