Biden Administration Tackles Climate Change, Issues Scientific Integrity Memorandom, Pledges to Conserve 30% of Lands and Waters by 2030 and more

Following his day-one actions committing the U.S. to rejoining the Paris Agreement, cancelling the KeystoneXL pipeline and more (see ESA Policy News, Jan. 25, 2021), President Joe Biden signed another executive order “tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad” Jan. 27, as part of a series of ‘Climate Day’ announcements. The order creates the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy and a National Climate Task Force, pauses new drilling on public lands, schedules an Earth Day summit with world leaders about global emissions reductions and more. The White House pledged to update the U.S. emission reduction pledges under the Paris Agreement before the Earth Day summit.

Biden appointed former Secretary of State John Kerry to be the first U.S. Climate Envoy, leading international climate diplomacy efforts. Former EPA Adminstrator Gina McCarthy will lead the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy and serve as Kerry’s domestic counterpart.

The National Climate Task Force will consist of the secretaries of most executive departments, the EPA’s administrator, and several top White House advisors. This group is tasked with deploying a government-wide approach to the climate crisis.

Following a campaign promise, the order commits to conserving at least 30 percent of lands and oceans by 2030. This order follows a 2019 resolution introduced to Congress by former Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) calling for the same goal and an international campaign by National Geographic and the Wyss Campaign for Nature to this effect. Several members of the House of Representatives, including Biden’s Interior Secretary nominee Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), introduced a House version of Udall’s resolution in early 2020. More than 50 countries have made similar pledges.

Biden’s executive order also calls for the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative. Mirroring the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps, this program would put Americans to work conserving and restoring public lands and waters, increasing reforestation and carbon sequestration, protecting biodiversity and improve access to recreation. The order gives the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture and other relevant agencies 90 days to create a plan to “mobilize the next generation of conservation and resilience workers and maximize the creation of accessible training opportunities and good jobs.” Details of how exactly the program will be administered and funded are not yet clear.

The President also issued a “Memorandum on Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking” to federal agency heads. This memo builds on a 2009 scientific integrity memorandum from President Barack Obama and a 2010 memorandum from Obama’s Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology policy, John Holdren. The memorandum orders a taskforce to review the effectiveness of scientific integrity policies issued since 2009. Once this taskforce has completed its review of existing scientific integrity politics, the taskforce will develop a framework for regularly assessing and improving scientific integrity policies. The order requires agencies to designate a Chief Science Officer and Scientific Integrity Officials. The Office of Management and Budget will issue guidance to improve agencies’ use of evidence in decision-making. The order calls on agencies to review their current and future needs for scientific advisory committees and take steps to ensure that their scientific committees are diverse in terms of gender, race and ethnicity, areas of expertise, experiences and more.

A separate executive order formally reconstituted the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Biden previously announced that Dr. Frances H. Arnold and Dr. Maria Zuber will serve as the external Co-Chairs of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Arnold is a California Institute of Technology chemical engineer and a Nobel Laureate in Chemistry. Zuber is an astrophysicist and the vice president for research at MIT. She is a current member and former chair of the National Science Board.