Council on Environmental Quality Blog

  • The Role of Women in Combating Climate Change

    Editor's Note: Ambassador Melanne Verveer is U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues

    Last week I traveled to Durban, South Africa to participate in the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to highlight the critical and largely untapped potential of women to combat climate change. Studies have shown that it is often women who are on the frontlines of, and suffer disproportionately from, the impacts of climate change. This is certainly important. But we must remember that women are also a powerful force for finding solutions to climate change across the board, including in areas such as agriculture, sustainable forest management, and energy access. 

    Agriculture, which accounts for approximately 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and is a sector that can be particularly sensitive to climate variability and change, is one key area where women can play a major role. A recent FAO report shows that women, in many places, are the main producers of the world's staple crops, particularly in developing countries and regions likely to be adversely affected by climate change impacts.  However, globally, only a small minority of women farmers have access to land tenure. This is a problem for many reasons – including that it limits women's potential to combat climate change. Studies have shown that women with the right to property are significantly more capable of investing in climate-smart agricultural productivity; we have a lot of work to do to unlock women's potential in this area. 

    Women also have untapped potential for increasing energy access, which directly relates to climate change. For example, nearly 3 billion people globally still rely on traditional cookstoves and open fires to prepare food for their families. In most instances, women are responsible for cooking – not to mention also spending many hours per week collecting fuel, which often puts women at risk of gender based violence. The resulting smoke exposure causes an estimated two million premature deaths annually, with women and young children the most affected. Cookstoves also impact the climate through emissions of greenhouse gases and short-lived particles such as black carbon. Engaging women is critical to tackling this problem. As we work to build a global market for clean cookstoves, integrating women into the cookstoves supply chain will help increase clean cookstove adoption rates while also creating new economic development opportunities. And as Secretary Clinton has noted, women create a multiplier effect in local communities because they disproportionately spend more of their earned income on food, healthcare, home improvement, and schooling.   

    The United States recognizes the power of women's potential in these areas and many others, and is investing in major initiatives including Feed the Future and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, where women's role in generating transformative change is front and center.  

    I went to Durban to highlight the critical role of women in combating climate change. While there, I worked with U.S. negotiators on the Durban texts and participated in public engagement events. Our efforts to build on the gender equality and women's empowerment language in the Cancun agreements are reflected in several crucial institutional developments, including language on gender balance related to the composition of the board of the new Green Climate Fund, the Standing Committee, and the Adaptation Committee. We also worked to reflect gender considerations in the mission of the Climate Technology Center and Network. USAID Assistant Administrator Eric Postel and I solicited input during a meeting with leading non-governmental organizations working on gender and climate issues, and I hosted a high-level side event at the U.S. Center focused on unlocking women's potential to combat climate change. The level of enthusiasm among my fellow panelists and the audience at the event was inspirational. 

    We made progress in Durban, but we can't stop here. To achieve the future we all seek, we must do more. As the late Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement and ground-breaking advocate on women and the environment said, "We must not tire, we must not give up, we must persist." The future of not only women, but our planet, depends on it.

    Ambassador Melanne Verveer is U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues

  • Building Partnerships, Conserving Lands

    Editor's Note: Michael Rouse is Vice President, Philanthropy and Community Affairs at Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc., which together with CEQ, EPA and the nonprofit National Environmental Education Foundation, announced grant funding today for community-based organizations around the nation that are supporting public lands.

    As part of Toyota's commitment to our nation's environment and public lands, today we announced that we have made a $3 million grant to the National Environmental Education Foundation to improve the capacity of community-based organizations, often called "friends groups", who are helping to protect and preserve our public lands. We made our announcement today at Baltimore's Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, joined by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley, NEEF President Diane Wood and Baltimore students and residents who are proud to have this public land in their city.

    The organizations that support parks and other public lands are invaluable to maintaining and promoting them in their hometowns, but they often lack the resources they need for this critical work. The Toyota grant will support these local organizations in becoming as effective as possible in their work on public lands, whether it's a small city green space or one of our treasured national parks.

    Supporting these groups' efforts in communities across the country makes us proud. Their dedication and initiative are tremendous. We have seen this interest in protecting our public lands grow with more than 170,000 volunteers participating in NEEF's annual National Public Lands Day, of which Toyota has been the national sponsor for what will be the 14th consecutive year in 2012.

    The public-private partnership that this grant represents echoes President Obama's America's Great Outdoors Initiative, which encourages grassroots, community-based conservation. We hope other members of the business community will join us in supporting the great work of these groups and their volunteers, who exemplify the spirit of this nation.

    For more information about the Toyota grant and NEEF's Every Day Grants program for these organizations, please visit www.neefusa.org.

    Michael Rouse is Vice President, Philanthropy and Community Affairs at Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc.

  • A New Tool for Ocean Planners

    Today the Administration launched ocean.data.gov, a new portal that gives all Americans transparent access to the same data and information that Federal agencies have about our oceans and coasts. The portal collects all of the latest Federal ocean data and planning tools in one place, and makes them available to the public to serve as a one-stop hub for anyone who wants to use it—from fisheries management councils, to businesses, to state and local governments, to regional planners, to you.

    Click here to read the blog post announcing ocean.data.gov.

    Here's what members of the ocean and coastal community have to say about the new tool:

    "The new Ocean.Data.gov website brings together a huge amount of previously difficult to access data in one place. It will become an essential source of information for managers of coastal resources and communities, researchers, students, and interested citizens who are seeking to understand the US coastal ocean, one of our nation’s most valuable natural resources."
    Andrew A Rosenberg, Ph.D., Chief Scientist, Conservation International

    "I envision using the site as a resource for updating data for which I don’t have direct access such as distribution of fishing effort and survey catches. This portal will allow me to ensure I have the best available information when helping to develop fishery management plans." 
    James Armstrong, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council

    "Supporting the health of our oceans will require that we breakdown silos and ensure that all stakeholders and agencies are working with open and clear collaboration--as I called for in my bill Oceans 21. This portal is a great step forward in that direction. I want to commend the Obama Administration for taking action to better coordinate data collection and communication, which will ultimately result in increased efficiency and improved conservation of our marine resources."
    Congressman Sam Farr, Co-Chair of the House Oceans Caucus

    "This portal may very well be an outstanding tool for states and federal agencies to utilize to make sure information is readily available to the public at a single, easy to access and navigate through site."
    Bill Walker, Chair of the Gulf of Mexico Alliance Management Team and Executive Director of the MS Department of Marine Resources

    "The new National ocean data portal allows diverse American ocean stakeholders a one-stop shop for easy access to the ocean data and information produced by multiple agencies. It’s a great start with its built in features that offer the opportunity to join a community to advise government on how to make it better, and how to ensure that our ocean continues to provide the goods and services that people want and need."
    Jay Odell, Mid-Atlantic Marine Program Director, The Nature Conservancy

    "The National Ocean Council is finally breaking through some of the barriers that have prevented this kind of seamless data sharing in the past."
    Doug Myers, Director of Science, People for Puget Sound

    "The National Ocean Data Portal provides for the first time a single access point to coastal and marine data hosted by the various federal agencies. It will be immediately useful to ocean managers and industries, and provides a model for other regional and state information networks."
    Nick Napoli, Director of Marine Planning Programs, Seaplan

    "This is the best data portal I have seen yet. This portal provides valuable one-stop shopping for ocean data and a useful hub to build relationships with other members of the community."
    Justin Manley, Senior Director, Business Development, Teledyne Benthos

    Jay Jensen is Associate Director for Land & Water Ecosystems at the White House Council on Environmental Quality

  • Opening Our Oceans With Data.Gov

    [Ed. Note: Cross-posted from the National Ocean Council blog]

    Today, we are pleased to announce the release of ocean.data.gov, the newest community on Data.gov.  This effort is the result of two important initiatives of the Obama Administration: the development and implementation of the National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, our Coasts, and the Great Lakes and the creation of Data.gov to make Federal data more accessible to the American people.

    Since President Obama signed the Executive Order establishing a National Ocean Policy, the Administration has been working steadily to implement this policy.  One cornerstone of the policy is the Framework for Effective Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning, a science-based, regional planning process conducted jointly with states and tribes that guarantees the public and stakeholders a voice in decisions affecting the ocean.  Making the science that is available to the Federal Government accessible to all ocean users is a key to the success of this initiative.  That's why the National Ocean Council has teamed with the Data.gov initiative to create an open and accessible website that houses and references a wealth of information and tools available to support ocean planning efforts.  

  • A Student's Clear Lesson on Clean Air

    Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Naomi Shah, the sixteen-year-old winner of the Google science fair for her project focusing on the effects of air quality on asthma, and the importance of clean air in ensuring human health.

    After watching both my dad and brother suffer from chronic allergies year-round, I was driven to find out why their symptoms persisted well past the pollen season. I started researching and found that the culprit was indoor air pollutants, which can also be influenced by outdoor air pollutants. I also discovered that people spend more than 90 percent of their lives indoors, and that the economic burden of asthma exceeds that of AIDS and Tuberculosis combined.

    As soon as I realized this, I found myself investigating the underlying relationship between four pollutants and the lung health of asthmatic patients. At first, I just wanted to find out which pollutants had the biggest impact on lung health. But soon after, I developed a novel mathematical model which can be used by doctors and environmental specialists to quantify the effect of the pollutants on the lung function as measured by the peak expiratory flow rate-- which is essentially how much a person can breathe out in one breath.

    What surprised me is that no model currently quantifies this relationship between environmental pollutants and lung health. I independently designed experimental methods that are scientific and HIPPA compliant and I studied the air quality and lung health in over 100 human test subjects in the Portland-metro area. Identifying which pollutants impact them the most can improve treatment and target remediation efforts.

    I have participated in many science fairs since middle school; however, being a finalist winner in Google's Inaugural Global Science Fair opened many doors, including meeting with President Obama in the Oval Office in October 2011! Additional highlights of our trip to DC included meeting EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Directors of the National Institute of Health, and other government officials. I was very inspired by everyone I met on my trip to Washington, DC and was honored that so many people had heard about my research and believed that as a high-school student, I could impact many lives.

    Yet, despite all the evidence implicating both indoor and outdoor air pollution's harmful impact on public health, we still have so much to do to clean up our act. We have the technology to clean up the unhealthiest sources of air pollution, and my research reiterated for me that we can't afford to wait too long to clear the air. I believe that as citizens and as a nation, we have a responsibility to provide for the common good and the common health. As long as we have the will to defend our right to clean air, we can ensure a brighter and healthier future.

    Naomi Shah is the sixteen-year-old winner of this year's Google science fair.

  • The President's Big Boost to Sacramento's Green Economy

    Editor’s note: This blog introduces readers to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. Mayor Johnson  is one of 60 CEOs, mayors, university presidents, and labor leaders who joined President Obama today in announcing nearly $4 billion in combined federal and private sector energy upgrades to buildings over the next 2 years. 

    I just finished one of the most important meetings in my term as Mayor of Sacramento. Last night, I took a red-eye flight and rushed this morning to the White House for a meeting with President Obama, former President Clinton and 60 university presidents, CEOs and elected leaders from around the country. 

    The topic? Jobs -- and the incredible opportunity Sacramento has by partnering with President Obama in his plan to invest nearly $4 billion in combined federal and private sector energy upgrades for our nation's commercial buildings through the Better Buildings Initiative

    This outstanding news could not have come at a better time. Sacramento is one of five cities that has taken the President’s Better Buildings Challenge, which translates into new jobs in our construction industry, where the unemployment rate has topped 30 percent. That's what I mean when I talk about putting Sacramento on the map! 

    Thanks to President Obama and our work through our Greenwise initiative here in Sacramento, hundreds of workers from the Sacramento region will return to job sites and begin retrofitting commercial buildings, and eventually schools and government offices, making them more energy efficient. And the work won't be done at taxpayer expense. Private companies will finance the upfront costs, and they will be paid back through the energy savings that result from the improvements. 

    In Sacramento, we have committed to retrofitting 12 million feet of commercial property. And that's just the beginning. There's $100 million available for energy upgrades to property owners within the city, thanks to our partnership with Ygrene Energy Fund. 

    The Ygrene program translates to 1,500 jobs -- and that's before we add schools and universities to the program and achieve a 20 percent energy use reduction by 2020.  The 1,500 jobs do not include the 4,100 paychecks that will be created by our new Entertainment and Sports Complex, which will be one of the greenest and most energy efficient civic centers in the world. 

    This is huge. Sacramento is thinking big, acting big and generating jobs in a big way through smart investment in energy efficiency. 

    Kevin Johnson is Mayor of the City of Sacramento.