On Wednesday, the United States Department of Energy (DOE) granted a Secretary of Energy Achievement Award to a team including two Rausser College researchers, assistant Cooperative Extention specialist Daniel Sanchez and PhD candidate Bodie Cabiyo. The award, with a total of 32 recipients, is one of the highest internal, non-monetary recognitions that DOE employees and contractors can receive.
DOE recognized teams for advancements such as understanding crude oil characteristics, efforts in COVID-19 clinical testing at National Labs, and the development of high-performance computing systems to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Sanchez and Cabiyo's team "Getting to Neutral Carbon Emissions" was selected for their outstanding service and research contributions, both to the agency's mission and the benefit of the nation, in greenhouse gas emissions reduction scholarship.
The team's final report, titled “Getting to Neutral: Options for Negative Carbon Emissions in California,” provides a comprehensive study of technologies that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It offers frameworks for developing public policy and legislative action based on scientific data, in order to help California achieve carbon neutrality by 2045 or sooner. Sanchez and Cabiyo contributed research to help estimate the amount of forest biomass that can be used in negative emission pathways, as a result of managing one million acres of forest each year. They used economically-driven models to identify the most cost-efficient forest management strategies for the team's Forest Carbon Plan goals.
In the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, Sanchez studies carbon dioxide removal, bioenergy, and climate policy. With a background in engineering and energy systems, he analyzes the commercialization and deployment of carbon removal technologies. In the Energy and Resources Group, Cabiyo uses interdisciplinary approaches to understand land-based solutions to climate change. Currently, he is studying forest carbon systems and how new technologies impact emissions mitigation.
In the aftermath of megafires that devastated forests of the western United States, attention turns to whether forests will regenerate on their own or not. Forest managers can now look to a newly enhanced, predictive mapping tool to learn where forests are likely to regenerate on their own and where replanting efforts may be beneficial.
The tool is described in a study published in the journal Ecological Applications by researchers from the University of California, Davis; U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service.
“Huge fires are converting forested areas to landscapes devoid of living trees,” said lead author Joseph Stewart, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis and with USGS. “Managers need timely and accurate information on where reforestation efforts are needed most.”
The tool, also known as the Post-fire Spatial Conifer Regeneration Prediction Tool (POSCRPT), helps forest managers identify within weeks after a fire where sufficient natural tree regeneration is likely and where artificial planting of seedlings may be necessary to restore the most vulnerable areas of the forest.
Fewer conifers expected
Conifers, or plants with cones such as pine trees, dominate many forests in western North America. The study found that conifers are less likely to regenerate after fires when seedlings face drier climate conditions, especially in low-elevation forests that already experience frequent drought stress. Overall, fewer conifers are expected to grow in California's lower elevations following wildfire due to climate and drought conditions.
“We found that when forest fires are followed by drought, tree seedlings have a harder time, and the forest is less likely to come back,” said Stewart.
A UC Davis team collected post-fire recovery data from more than 1,200 study plots in 19 wildfires that burned between 2004 and 2012, as well as 18 years of forest seed production data. Ecologists at USGS collected and identified over 170,000 seeds from hundreds of seed traps. The scientists combined these data with multispectral satellite imagery, forest structure maps, climate and other environmental data to create spatial models of seed availability and regeneration probability for different groups of conifers, including pines and firs.
Forest managers have used a prototype of the tool in recent years to better understand where to focus regeneration efforts. The new upgrade incorporates information on post-fire climate and seed production and includes an easy-to-use web interface expected to increase the tool's accuracy and use.
“This work is a great example of how multiple partners can come together to solve major resource management problems that are arising from California's climate and fire trends,” said co-author Hugh Safford, regional ecologist for the USDA Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Region and a member of the research faculty at UC Davis.
Additional co-authors include Phillip van Mantgem, Adrian Das, Nathan Stephenson, Jon Keeley and Micah Wright of USGS; Derek Young and James Thorne of UC Davis; Kristen Shive of Save the Redwoods League; Haiganoush Preisler of U.S. Forest Service; and Kevin Welch of California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The study was funded by the USGS' Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, Ecosystems Mission Area and Land Change Science Program.
After a lengthy and rigorous review by independent auditors, UC Merced can proudly announce it is the first public research university in the country to achieve carbon neutrality, two years ahead of its goal.
“UC Merced has been on the cutting edge of sustainability in higher education since its inception. We are proud of our many achievements in reducing our impact on the environment, and this recognition of our carbon neutrality stands among the most meaningful we have yet received,” Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz said.
The campus actually achieved carbon neutrality in 2018, seven years before former UC President Janet Napolitano's initiative goal to have all 10 campuses carbon neutral by 2025. However, the emissions verification and validation take time. UC Merced retained a third-party verifier to review and audit the campus inventories of greenhouse gas emissions specifically from onsite fossil fuel combustion and purchased electricity.
“This was a voluntary step we took, and usually take, to ensure accuracy and transparency,” said Breeana Sylvas, assistant director of the Office of Sustainability. “We wanted to ensure we reflected the full spectrum of our campus emissions profile.”
The inventory results are reported to The Climate Registry (TCR), which conducts its own review. TCR is a nonprofit organization with a mission of empowering its members to reduce their carbon footprints. It does not certify organizations as carbon neutral, but rather works with member organizations to measure, report and verify their carbon footprints.
“I'm very proud that our university has achieved carbon-neutral campus operations and hope we can be an inspiration for others across the state and nation,” said distinguished professor Roger Bales, a member of the UC Global Climate Leadership Council. “The current carbon neutrality announcement is an important milestone in our long journey to create a just, sustainable future.”
Since its founding, UC Merced has set stringent sustainability goals, including zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The campus is green from the ground up, with every campus building LEED certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.
In addition to the wealth of sustainability and climate-related research projects across all three schools, carbon neutrality has been a campuswide effort, with faculty, staff and students engaged in climate action planning. Contributing programs include faculty integrating sustainable practices in their labs, students analyzing building operations and energy use, and student research on carbon offsets and carbon sequestration. The campus has integrated engagement programs as an opportunity for students to learn about sustainability measures on campus and to carry the culture of sustainability out into the wider world.
“Supporting the campus carbon neutrality goal has been rewarding,” said Carlin Coleman, a graduating senior studying environmental engineering, who works in the Office of Sustainability. “Often, people don't recognize the small measures that can reduce impacts on the environment. It makes me proud to know that my actions are directly affecting our campus goal.”
Other efforts include prioritizing student-led programs to reduce greenhouse gas impacts in buildings, developing high-performance buildings, installing renewable energy generation onsite, making clean power purchases and using carbon offsets.
“Our priority is to align operational goals with the mission of the university, student learning and research,” Sylvas said. “This includes reducing energy use, identifying and utilizing clean and renewable sources for onsite combustion, and mitigating remaining emissions generated through gas with offsets.”
Even as the Merced 2020 Project doubled the size of campus and added 13 new buildings over the past three years, UC Merced has been able to keep its energy use-intensity relatively level, she said. While the construction of each building meets high standards, the campus has modeled building efficiency within the state.
“Past revisions of the energy code for the state of California were updated because of advancements made by UC Merced,” Director of Sustainability Mark Maxwell said. “Specifically, lighting control methods designed into buildings, which included multiple controlled lighting systems, occupancy sensors, and lighting control management systems.” The campus is looking to eliminate fossil fuel combustion in future capital developments, he said.
Besides its own goals and the UC-wide carbon neutrality initiative, UC Merced is also a signatory of the Second Nature Carbon Commitment, an extension of the Presidents' Climate Leadership Commitments. Second Nature is a non-governmental organization committed to accelerating climate action in, and through, higher education, and recognizes schools that have achieved carbon neutrality.
“Congratulations to UC Merced on this major accomplishment,” Second Nature President Tim Carter said. “Achieving carbon neutrality for higher education institutions is not an easy undertaking. It requires tremendous commitment and continuous work on the campus and within their community to do so. To do so earlier than their goal neutrality date illustrates just how committed UC Merced is.”
“We have a dynamic, robust program that is engaging and utilizing multiple avenues that have achieved and are maintaining our goal, and we thank our incredible campus community members, all of whom are making a difference. We are just getting started,” Sylvas said. “This is just the beginning.”
Do you have an opinion on how California wildlands are managed? UC Cooperative Extension specialists Safeeq Khan, Tapan Pathak and Toby O'Geen are conducting a need assessment survey about land management and ecosystem climate solutions.
Khan, Pathak and O'Geen are part of the Innovation Center for Ecosystem Climate Solutions (CECS), a state-funded collaboration between eight California research institutions, including UC ANR, working to develop innovative solutions to managing California's wildlands to reduce negative impacts of drought and climate change. Their goal is to identify land management practices that simultaneously enhance carbon sequestration, reduce wildfire severity, protect watersheds, and increase ecological and community resilience.
Khan would like your help in identifying problems and issues like wildfire and water supply, multiple benefits and beneficiaries of wildlands management, data and information gaps, and major implementation barriers.
Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. closes the Global Climate Action Summit in Sept. 2018. (Photo courtesy the Office of Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.)
As the dangers of climate change grow and global political tensions rise, the University of California, Berkeley, in partnership with former California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. and China's top climate change official Xie Zhenhua, with support from other University of California campuses, today launched a groundbreaking new initiative — the California-China Climate Institute — to spur further climate action through joint research, training and dialogue.
“The climate threat doesn't respect borders and it doesn't pause for politics. Now is the time for action from leaders everywhere — for humanity and our common future,” said Jerry Brown, chair of the California-China Climate Institute, who was appointed a visiting professor at UC Berkeley in July. “With this Institute, California and China are pushing forward together.”
Brown announced the new transpacific initiative with China's Special Representative for Climate Change Affairs Xie Zhenhua, who leads the Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at Tsinghua University — one of China's preeminent research institutions — which will partner with the California-China Climate Institute.
“Climate change is a common threat faced by the human society. I deeply appreciate Governor Brown's great contribution and leadership to addressing climate change during his tenure as governor. I hope the Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development of Tsinghua University can continue deep collaboration with Governor Brown's team,” said Xie Zhenhua.
The California-China Climate Institute is housed at UC Berkeley's School of Law and College of Natural Resources and will deploy the university's resources and expertise to advance research on low-carbon transportation and zero emission vehicles; carbon pricing; climate adaptation and resilience; sustainable land use and climate-smart agriculture; carbon capture and storage; and long-term climate goal-setting and policy enforcement.
“Berkeley is uniquely positioned to help these two world leaders address the pressing issue of climate change,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ. “Our faculty and researchers each day take on the peril of our changing climate and seek to develop new technologies and policies that will reduce greenhouse gasses across continents. This institute will play a key role in spreading that work around the world.”
Through this work, the California-China Climate Institute will identify and share best practices and key lessons; scale innovative climate solutions; and help inform top policy and decision makers in California and China — and beyond.
“UC Berkeley has played a key role in the development of climate solutions and partnering with the state to support California's emissions reductions goals,” said David Ackerly, Dean of the College of Natural Resources. “We're excited to build on this experience and work with our colleagues in China to address the complex global challenges ahead.”
“I am excited about this collaboration to tackle the world's most urgent problem, climate change. This working relationship between California and China taps the tremendous strength of UC Berkeley in the area of environmental protection in the Law School's Center for Law, Energy, & Environment and in the College of Natural Resources,” said Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky. “My hope is that this unique endeavor will make a real difference.”
Brown, sitting, signed a bill in July 2017 that expanded the state's carbon cap-and-trade program, part of California's efforts to fight climate change. ( Office of Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.)
The California-China Climate Institute's expansive research will be complemented by a high-level training program that will create new opportunities for dozens of Chinese and Californian researchers and scientists, technical experts and policymakers to learn from their counterparts — and advance critical policies and programs to curb carbon emissions.
This will be achieved through close collaboration between the California-China Climate Institute, the Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at Tsinghua University, China's national and provincial governments and California's top government agencies including, the California Public Utilities Commission, California Natural Resources Agency, California Energy Commission, California Air Resources Board, California Independent System Operator, Air Quality Management Districts and others.
“Leading universities should play a leading role in tackling the global challenge of climate change. Tsinghua University has top talent in climate change and established the ‘Global Alliance of Universities on Climate' together with 12 world-leading universities, including the University of California, Berkeley,” said Tsinghua University president Yong Qiu. “We believe that by working together, we can make our due contribution to global climate governance.”
Finally, the California-China Climate Institute will organize a series of subnational climate dialogues between top government, business and climate leaders from throughout the United States and China to foster understanding and collaboration with respect to climate policy, investment and finance. These efforts build on the first high-level United States-China subnational climate dialogue held during the Global Climate Action Summit last September in San Francisco hosted by the state of California and Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.
The California-China Climate Institute will also receive support and guidance from other University of California campuses and institutions, including UCLA, UC Davis, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and others.
Brown committed to establishing this institute after meeting with China's President Xi Jinping in Beijing and hosting a dialogue with Xie Zhenhua and more than two dozen Californian and Chinese policymakers, researchers and business leaders at Tsinghua University in 2017. This followed Brown's call for greater climate action and collaboration at Tsinghua University during an earlier trip to China as governor in 2013.