>>Good morning and welcome to Global Perspectives.
I'm David Dumke.
Today we are joined by Dr. Frances Colón who is an expert on climate change.
Among other things.
She is a adviser to the White House on science and technology issues, and she's also serves in a senior position at the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C., based think tank.
Welcome to the show, Frances.
>>Thank you, David.
Happy to be here.
>>So let's start with the Biden administration.
President Biden had two priority issues that were pastoral in his administration, the transportation bill and what was called the Inflation Reduction Act, but really wasn't a massive environmental power policy.
Can you explain the significance of these and what it means for for climate change and the environment?
Yeah, it's a achievement that I am particularly proud of for our country, because as as you know, what the science tells us is that we have a very short window to act on climate change in the next decade if we're going to keep global warming to not exceed 1.5 degrees from where it's at.
And what this big climate plan did was create incentives for our entire economy to move to renewable energy, to have a greener economy, but one that's accessible to everybody.
So it provides incentives for clean energy developers to put up projects that will provide renewable energy.
It provides subsidies and incentives for families to take advantage of technology like solar panels, huge discounts for families to be able to purchase solar panels, electric vehicles, energy efficient appliances.
So it is a big package that allows our entire economy from the big project developers to families right at home on the kitchen table to make the decisions that we need to make to move our economy to one that is cleaner and greener.
And that was what made this particularly special because it provided all of the carrots for people to move our economy in that direction and to have that impact not only in the U.S., but also create ripples in the global economy that would do the same thing elsewhere.
And I think that's what made this particularly significant for us.
And it's something that's going to have a long term effect in our lives.
>>You have served as a senior advisor to the State Department.
You've handled negotiations and climate change with foreign allies.
But this policy is very different than previous efforts in environmental policy.
And you were recently in Europe, for example.
This policy has forced the Europeans to rethink their own policies.
What is the significance then, in the international community?
So because the US economy is so large and it looms so large in the global market, what we do at home, the big decisions we're making about climate action at home are going to have a ripple effect in economies around the world.
I recently traveled to Europe, as you said, and one of the things we heard over and over was how this large US industrial policy is causing governments around the world to rethink their own industrial policies.
What does that mean?
It means the incentives you provide so that industry moves in a certain direction.
For example, our big electric vehicle provisions in our law make sure that if we're going to build electric vehicles, that those vehicles have components that we can trace back at origins to make sure they were brought to that car in a sustainable way.
That we know that it's made in America or with partners with which we have agreements to get the components, the critical minerals in a sustainable way.
And so all of that causes behavioral change in the market, right?
We're telling automakers you've got to make in this way and then we'll, well give you the subsidies, right?
This is what's going to make things change.
And that's causing other countries, other markets like the European market, to start thinking about what they can do with their industrial policy, to be able to compete with the US, a very healthy, positive competition, because together we're all moving the direction of clean energy, renewable energy and the sustainable supply chains.
>>I have a I have a number of questions on the policy side, but I also want our viewers to know a little more about you and your background.
You were you were a graduate of the University of Puerto Rico.
You were born in Puerto Rico.
You one got your Ph.D. at Brandeis University.
You served in the State Department, now in the think tank.
And you're you're advising the White House.
So you're a Hispanic woman in an advisory position.
That is, are you the first woman and White House Advisory Council?
>>I am, since the creation of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
I am the first Hispanic woman named to that council, and it's a big honor also a big responsibility, because when I sit at that table to help the president and his team think through the challenges in our country that require science to provide solutions, I bring the needs, the concerns of my community.
I bring Puerto Rico with me.
I bring women in science.
I bring the science concerns surrounding our climate challenge and all of those hats I wear in some way when I sit at that table.
So it and it's been an incredible experience and I'm very honored.
But I also know that I bring a lot of people and communities with me when I'm there.
>>How important is diversity in discussions of science based policy?
You know, one of the examples would be how we saw in the beginning when all of these search engines took off and algorithms were created to power search engines on the Internet.
All the biases that were embedded in systems because robots, artificial intelligence machines only do what they are program by humans to be able to do Right.
And the data and the information that we put in is what we get out.
And so it was incredibly important for big tech companies, for example, to know that there were biases in systems that in order to overcome some of those biases, they had to diversify the group of people that were helping code and program.
And that's one example.
Also, when I am in conversations on climate change and what are the solutions that are needed, I bring the concerns of my communities in South Florida that are impacted by sea level rise and flooding just by a heavy rainfall.
Or the people in Puerto Rico that experienced the devastating hurricane in 2017 that leveled the electrical grid and so much as so many lives were lost.
Those needs of those communities are what I bring to the table that others don't.
When we have these discussions about what does a science need to help us do better, what are the solutions that science tells us we can bring to these communities?
And all of that comes to play when you have a diverse table that's making those decisions.
>>So one of the hats you wear is you're an advocate for education for women and minorities to enter the field of science, STEM-based learning.
How is that going?
Do you see progress in that area or is there still a lot of a lot of room to go before you get to a point where.
>>I I would say there's been progress made, but in some fields were, we haven't made a lot of progress.
Certain fields like the biological sciences have have done a lot better.
In certain fields we made gains and now we've lost some traction, like the computer sciences and physics.
So I would say there's still a lot of work to do.
And that's why it's important for for me to be on the show and to do the work, because sometimes in order to really make gains, it's about what young girls and women see.
They can be.
And so that's why I also feel that my role is not only to advise on the science, not only to put in that work, but also to know that part of my responsibility is to be a role model for young women that love science, want to make a difference, and wish they could have a future career in this.
And for me to be there tells them, you can do this, you can be this, right?
You can't be, which you can't see.
And I think that there's a lot of work to do.
And part of that work is what we're doing today is is showing people that these girls, these women can be a part of that decision making table and that if I did it, they could do it, too.
>>So moving back more towards the policy change of climate change now, there's always been discussion when we talk, you know, people like we want to do things to change climate.
Do you see a change in people's opinion from this is something we should do to this is something we must do?
I think even in the last I say ten years, the polling, at least in our country, has completely shifted from something that seemed climate change crises seem very far off to something that people started experiencing in their own backyards, in their own communities.
From the storms to the wildfires in the West Coast to the devastating tornadoes that we have recently seen in the southeast of the United States.
All of these things have shown people that it's here.
It's not something it's going to happen in future is something that's affecting future generations, which is hard sometimes for people to wrap their heads around.
And it was for a long time.
People are starting to see that the impacts are hitting them right at home in the loss of business, the loss of life, great hits to our economy, to our communities.
And it has started to shift people's awareness and their feelings.
And so what the polling says now is that upwards of 60% or more of the country, no matter where you are in the country, across all ideologies and ways of thinking and perspectives, people see that climate change is a large issue for them.
And more importantly, they see they want the government to do more to help protect their families, to help protect their assets and do more means that also renewable energy is polling really high.
More people want to access that cleaner energy and have access to it in their homes and be able to power their businesses.
All of that is happening and it's happening because folks are prioritizing climate in their daily lives.
They're prioritizing how they vote too.
>>That may be true, but I want to just just kind of press you on on a couple issues, because one of the things that it comes down to eventually is who pays for these changes.
So you've look, if you look at the history of, you know, US national environmental legislation or the Clean Air Act or Endangered Species Clean Water Act, going to international issues, you've been to the cops call the global climate summits.
The question always comes down to who pays, whether it's in the international trade, whether it's the industrial nations, as opposed to developing nations or whether at home, whether it's businesses as opposed to the average taxpayer.
How do you get to do something that's equitable and actually pragmatic can be passed as policy?
So I think here at home what this big climate law did, it's called the Inflation Reduction Act, because it contains provisions that help lower costs for families.
So you can access clean energy technologies at a more affordable rate for consumers, also for project developers.
So a lot of what was behind this law was providing the carrots to make this affordable for more people to join in in this transition to clean energy, which will help us reduce emissions and help us meet our goals on climate change.
Another thing it did was create jobs.
And so it's really important that as you're making these changes and making them affordable and making all of this affordable for communities and families, that you're also creating jobs in this economy.
And since the law was signed in August, we've already seen a gain of 100,000 jobs in the clean energy sector across the country.
That's what makes it more accessible and more affordable, because now you have it creating jobs and you have costs come down.
But on the international level, what is happening is developed countries like the United States are passing all these laws and these policies, as you said, which is lowering costs here.
But does it lower costs abroad?
Does it make it accessible for a developing country to make these changes?
And so what I would say is for a lot of developing countries that are straddled with big debt, a lot of these transitions to a cleaner energy economy are not yet possible.
We are lowering costs to begin to do that.
And what happens in the other states to lower costs will lower costs around the world.
The European Union and other big developed countries are making similar changes and they're becoming more conscious.
But they're not at this point investing in the developing world the way that they should.
We can't do this alone.
We can't meet our climate goals alone.
If the US does all things right and the EU does all things right, that's still not enough to lower emissions to where we need to get them to be to stop the accelerated warming of the planet and the impacts that we're seeing.
What do we need?
We need China to do what they have to do.
We need India to do what they have to do, and we all have to help the smaller developing countries be able to transition as well.
Get them off coal, get them all off this, these fossil fuels, while helping power their economies.
Countries have made big commitments to climate finance investments around the world, and they're still trying really hard to make those investments and to meet those commitments.
But they're not there yet.
And so you're going to see this come up in the next conference of the parties, the COPs That will happen this year and the next year as the developing world holds the developed world accountable, the US is being held accountable to the pledges it made.
Why is that important?
We put a lot of these emissions into the planet as a big developed country.
Historically, we put the most emissions into the atmosphere and a lot of smaller countries are getting hit really hard.
A lot of countries whose economies are not that big and don't have that many resources to rebuild after a large storm or a flood.
And so we need to step up in a bigger way in these conversations about loss and damage, helping countries rebuild, helping countries adapt, because we are to a degree responsible for part of what brought us to this point.
We're making great changes now in our in our own economy.
We're committed to the world.
We've made a big, bold goal of reducing our emissions.
And to hit that limit of 1.5 degrees of warming, we are now having to rethink how we help the rest of the world do that, too.
>>The question becomes enforceability.
And this is also, you know, the United Nations itself, as a body has been criticized that it's only as strong as members allow it to be.
So climate policies seem to be have the same kind of criticism.
A lot of critics would say the COPs have been great at bringing conversation forward, but haven't produced tangible and enforceable results.
What do you say to those critics?
>>I say a few things.
One, I think that the multilateral forum that the U.N. provides for making these decisions as a world, as a united front of countries is important because every country gets a say and they're on an equal playing field, right?
Every country gets to have a voice, express what is happening in their own communities, how they're being impacted, and they get to hold other countries accountable.
I think this is important because what we're talking about is coming to this problem in solidarity, coming to this problem, being held accountable for our contributions to it, to causing the problem, but also what we can do and the US has shown that a carrot versus stick approach is working for us domestically.
We tried climate regulations in the past that were more on the sticks front.
How do you pass regulation that will penalize industry for putting emissions in the air?
How do we make them pay for what they're not doing right?
And this time, it doesn't mean we're not going to have some sticks as part of the plan, right?
>>Those work though, those sticks.
>>But what's working really well is saying if you do the right thing, if you lower emissions, if you invest in clean energy, we're going to help you get there.
We're going to guarantee that for the next ten years.
And that has really taken off.
It was what made this law possible.
The fact that unions, industry, communities, environmental justice advocates all came together to support this big U.S. climate plan that we passed.
And I feel the same way about how we're going to approach this at the international level this year.
We have a big global stocktake.
We're going to evaluate how well we're doing.
We're going to evaluate each other.
And I think that that approach, the approach where we're saying we know that climate impacts are hitting you really hard, they're hitting us really hard at home.
We need to do this together.
And I think that that approach where we're holding each other accountable and coming at this problem as one world is much more effective than the sticks approach.
Doesn't matter what we have done in the past that we haven't been able to get it to work.
We might need some sticks in the future, but that the bulk of our approach at home and abroad is one of incentivizing us all to move in that direction.
And solidarity, I think, is what makes the UN forum more effective and more able to help countries that don't have as robust economies as we do, be able to do the work at the level at which they're at and with our help.
>>You're mentioning incentives, and you were a State Department diplomat.
U.S. foreign assistance has always been an incentive to to both to help countries as well as to, you know, provide incentives for them to move in different directions.
What are some of the successful U.S. assistance programs that have gone into the environmental sphere?
>>Yeah, well, I think one large one right now is the prepare program, which USAID is leading.
And it's, as its name indicates, it's a it's helping countries prepare for the impacts of climate change that are coming from programs to help countries get ready for the public health impacts, the impacts on agriculture and food security to programs for helping countries keep their forests standing so that they can serve as carbon sinks.
So for all of this carbon that we're putting into the atmosphere, the forests are and the oceans are a big sink for pulling these out of the atmosphere.
And that's where we keep it.
The more deforestation that happens, the less able we are to pull some of these emissions out of the atmosphere and integrate them into the ecosystem.
And so a lot of this programing that goes to countries around the world that are doing the work on deforestation, that are doing the work in agriculture, etc., those are parts of what taxpayer money has gone to to help countries around the world meet their climate mitigation and adaptation rules.
And that's important because the truth is that the emissions that the that are warming the planet are global and know no boundaries, and that what we put into the system in terms of helping countries adapt and minimize their emissions helps us at home, helps our public health, helps our supply chains, helps our food security.
And that is why foreign assistance is so important, because it's an investment in the world that has dividends back home.
>>Water, energy and food security obviously are very, very important components of general stability in any society and any government.
But when you see, as you described, increase of of storms of of climate affected events.
Is it too little, too late or is there is a reason for optimism or are we going to have some losses as well as some successes along the way?
>>I think your last statement is probably right.
We've baked in a lot of emissions into the system, and the warming we see today is a product of emissions that were put in the system 30 years before.
And so there's a lag, right, in terms of the impacts that we're seeing and the warming that happens from when we put the emissions into the system.
And so we have certainly baked in some climate impacts that we are seeing right now across the U.S. and that we're seeing around the world.
We had countries that experienced incredible heat waves last summer.
We had countries that experienced extreme flooding and lost entire economies.
And so we are still going to see some of that.
You, you and me will certainly see a lot of that in the coming years.
But there's still the science tells us hope for us to limit the warming to 1.5.
The science tells us that the window is still there, but it is closing.
And we need rapid and at scale phase down of fossil fuel use around the world and a transition to renewable energy that will allow us to bring those emissions down.
So that we can bring the global warming of the planet under control and we can then have the impact we want to have on our food systems, on our water, on our oceans, right.
And so that we can stabilize those ecosystems again and those ecosystems that provide us with all of our sources, our resources.
Our energy and our food and our housing and all of the things that we take for granted that are being impacted.
The way to do that is to make that transition.
So I am very hopeful.
I am a I'm a scientist and I know that we have the best science in the world.
We have figured out we know what we need to do.
We need the political will to get there and I think we can get there.
>>We only have a couple more minutes, but I wanted to talk about an issue that's that's close to your heart.
And you're talking about political will and you're talking about the importance of science.
I want to ask about Puerto Rico in particular.
Obviously, Hurricane Maria left 3,000 people dead, devastated the island, destroyed the electric grid.
A lot of money was put into Puerto Rico afterwards.
But there's questions about how that money was spent.
There's a lot of questions out there.
So how do we do right by Puerto Rico as a territory that is under the US flag?
Obviously, there's bigger governance issues, but on the environmental side, what should be should be done today?
>>Yeah, I think the first thing that needs to be done is that all the money that's destined for Puerto Rico, that's FEMA money, HUD money, Department of Energy, money needs to have oversight.
And we need to make sure the federal government needs to make sure that it is used to rebuild the electrical grid, the energy systems in Puerto Rico in a resilient and sustainable way, and in a smart way, not the ways of the past.
Not using fossil fuels, not putting Puerto Rico in a position where it is in a transition phase of using fossil fuels for a long time before it can get to its goal of 100% renewable energy.
Puerto Rico has that goal passed by its legislature.
We need to empower them to be able to do that and do it right.
So I think that's the first thing.
The first thing is that the federal government needs to put those funds to use in a smart way.
There's no reason that Puerto Rico should not have an electric grid that is completely powered by the sun.
>>But it's powered by fossil fuels.
>>But right now it is powered by fossil fuels that are imported in some of the dirtiest fossil fuels.
And there's no reason for that.
And the money that will go to rebuild the grid for Puerto Rico to power homes and businesses and get its economy back on its feet all these years later, needs to be used in a smart and sustainable way.
>>Whether it's Puerto Rico, whether it's the US mainland or elsewhere.
Education obviously is a very important component of this.
You're talking about public opinion changing over time because sometimes, obviously these things take longer to build resilient systems to try something new as opposed to put a Band-Aid in what are already existed.
So this incentives you're talking about that the Biden administration passed is a good first step.
SAPP obviously, from what you said, what what else is to come that will help that situation make that equation more, that we're more likely to to choose a resilient and more environmentally friendly decisions in the coming years?
I think that the federal government has taken a huge step and there's a lot of subsidies and incentives to move our economy in that direction.
Now we have to make use of those.
And I think the next phase is what's going to happen at the state and local level, which is a big part of how we meet our global climate goals of reducing emissions.
They are as much a part of the equation as what happens at the national level.
So I think what needs to happen now is communities have to get organized to call on those funds and those grants for environmental justice projects in communities and for building resilient communities.
We have to get organized to hold the federal government accountable for where that money is going.
And is it is it really helping the most vulnerable communities to these impacts?
So I think there's a lot of work to be done now at the local level states, NGOs, municipalities working together to move the needle even further to get us where we need to go.
And I think that's the next phase.
Frances Colón, thank you so much for the conversation.
You're a woman of many hats and we it's always good to hear about your optimism on these issues of such critical importance.
>>Thank you so much.
>>And thank you for joining us.
We'll see you again next week on another episode of Global Perspectives.