This week, Congress begins the first round of confirmation hearings for President-elect Trump’s Cabinet. After a bombastic Presidential campaign that was often short on policy specifics, the Cabinet selections provide an initial glimpse into how first-time public officeholder Trump will actually govern. While the role of rural America in electing Trump has been well documented, the first impression from the proposed Cabinet is troubling and is raising red flags for how the Trump Administration will respond to key rural issues. It is notable that a position very important to rural America, the Secretary of Agriculture, remains vacant and appears at the bottom of the list of priority positions.
In too many rural communities, natural resources and profits are extracted for the gain of outside—often multinational—investors at the expense of the people that live there. The Rural Compact, an effort we contributed to in 2008 as part of the National Rural Assembly, outlines a set of values and priorities for rural America and continues to be relevant today in assessing Trump’s appointees. The Compact states:
Rural America is more than the land…When rural communities succeed, the nation does better, and cities and suburbs have more resources on which to build. Conversely, when rural communities falter, it drains the nation’s prosperity and limits what we can accomplish together.
As Trump’s appointees make their way through the confirmation process, we’ll be looking at how the proposed Cabinet addresses four key challenges particularly relevant to rural communities:
As evidenced in the 2016 election, the long-standing urban-rural voting gap is widening. At least part of this gap comes from the fact that rural communities often have different cultural, economic, and community concerns than urban communities. Climate change specifically will impact rural and urban communities differently, yet many climate solutions and policies focus on urban and suburban perspectives. To address this, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Jefferson Center organized a State Convening of rural Minnesotans, state agency representatives, and nonprofit organizations last September in St. Paul. Participants strategized together to improve the effectiveness of state agency program offerings and make them relevant to rural needs and priorities.
The State Convening was the culmination of three Rural Climate Dialogues that took place from 2014-2016 in Morris, Grand Rapids, and Winona, MN. The Rural Climate Dialogues were created to provide a space for rural residents to think critically and plan strategically to address local challenges related to extreme weather and climate change. All three dialogues identified the need to strengthen connections between local efforts and state agencies and programs.
Earlier this week, the European Parliament approved the Paris climate agreement, joining more than 60 other countries in signing the deal and paving the way for this historic global effort to enter into force. While the Paris deal is truly a major step forward, countries will have to overcome a series of hurdles created by trade agreements to reach their climate goals. An escalating fight at the World Trade Organization (WTO)—attacking renewable energy initiatives in two of the world’s biggest polluting countries (the U.S. and India)—shows why untangling trade agreements from climate goals should be the next big step.
As part of the Paris agreement, countries submitted voluntary climate plans, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). But the ability of countries to reach those climate goals will depend on rewriting trade rules at the WTO—and a series of regional and bi-lateral trade agreements—that consistently favor corporate rights over the climate.
On 21 September 2016 the United Nations (U.N.) newly convened High-level Panel on Water (HLPW), called for a fundamental shift in the way the world looks at water. Supported by the World Economic Forum and its water initiative, the HLPW was formed to help “build the political momentum” to deliver on the U.N. mandated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on “water and related targets” that the U.N. member governments agreed to in 2015.
The HLPW is co-convened by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the President of the World Bank Group Dr. Jim Yong Kim. Co-chaired by the presidents of Mexico and Mauritius, the Panel is comprised of 11 sitting Heads of State and Government and one Special Adviser “to provide the leadership required to champion a comprehensive, inclusive and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water and sanitation related services”.
But will the HLPW provide this leadership? How do we ensure that the leadership is inclusive, transparent and accountable?
The two-day Minnesota Rural Climate Dialogue State Convening got underway today bringing together citizens from rural communities in the state. Over the past two years, Rural Climate Dialogues held throughout Minnesota in Stevens, Itasca and Winona Counties brought together groups of rural citizens to learn and deliberate about the effects of climate change and extreme weather in their communities, and create plans for how their communities should act to sustain and improve resilience. Over the course of two days, rural citizens from each of the three communities are convening to recall and share their community plans, form statewide rural climate priorities and present them to state agency staff to connect them with existing financial and technical assistance programs.
The day kicked off with introductions. People shared what they do for work—the group included sustainability and healthcare professionals, timber mill and railroad employees, and farmers—but everyone focused primarily on the pride they have for their communities. People talked about the beauty of rivers, bluffs and forests and their towns’ engaged residents. Everyone agreed that their communities had countless assets worth preserving, and that many of those assets are at risk from extreme weather and climate change impacts.
Free trade deals, and in particular the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), have taken a beating this election season. Most of the noise on trade from Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton has focused on the loss of jobs linked to the offshoring. Much less attention has been paid to the serious impact the TPP and past trade agreements will have on our ability to respond to climate change.
In a new report on the TPP and climate commitments made by countries as part of the Paris climate agreement, we found that trade rules consistently benefit multinational corporations in high greenhouse gas emitting sectors like agriculture and energy, while creating barriers for governments in setting climate-related policies.
Our analysis found that the Trans Pacific Partnership expands the scope of past trade agreements to harm the climate in three important ways:
This month marks the one-year anniversary of the announcement of the Clean Power Plan, President Obama and the EPA’s regulation to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants. While the Clean Power Plan focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it also includes a program to make sure all communities benefit from a clean energy transition. This program—the Clean Energy Incentive Program—is currently open for comment, providing an important opportunity to shape the environmental justice and rural implications of the Clean Power Plan.
The Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP) is a voluntary part of the Clean Power Plan that provides support for low-income communities to undertake renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. The CEIP will match state funds to incentivize early investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency before the Clean Power Plan’s first compliance deadline in 2020. The renewable energy projects can happen anywhere, but the energy efficiency projects must happen in low-income communities. This is an excellent opportunity to level the playing field for low-income communities, which often face barriers to accessing renewables and energy efficiency upgrades.
On a wintry day in March, residents from Winona, Minnesota gathered around tables with flip charts and markers to develop a plan for how the Mississippi River community could respond to climate change. The plan included strategies to expand local energy production and efficiency, and shift toward land use and farming practices that could slow floods that have plagued Winona over the last decade.
This type of essential community-level climate adaptation planning is happening in various forms around the country, but these efforts are often limited by divisive climate politics at the national level. A new report from the non-partisan, independent General Accounting Office (GAO) examines how other countries are establishing national-level climate adaptation planning strategies and the growing financial toll the U.S. faces by not taking stronger climate action.
The Clean Power Plan is the predominant plan in the U.S. to address climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is encouraging states to set up regional carbon markets to comply with the plan; however, carbon markets to date have not achieved their intended goals. If states follow the EPA’s advice and set up new carbon markets across the country, they must learn from past mistakes to prevent more of the same underwhelming results.
California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) is the most prominent U.S. example of a carbon market that has resulted in unexpected outcomes. AB 32 includes a cap-and-trade program to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The program sets a statewide emissions cap and then distributes emissions allowances to industries covered under the regulation (“covered entities”). A majority of the allowances are given away for free—a reversal of the polluter pays principle—and the remainder are auctioned off quarterly. Each year, the emissions cap and the number of free allowances each covered entity gets are ratcheted down. Ratcheting is intended to increase the value of allowances, but this strategy has not worked as of yet.
In early March, farmers and rural residents of southeast Minnesota gathered for three intensive days of presentations, discussion and deliberation around the thorny issue of climate change. The Winona, Minnesota Climate Dialogue participants, most of them in shirts and jeans, were a blend of ages, cultural backgrounds and jobs. Some had lived in the community their whole lives, while others had moved to the area recently. All said they loved where they lived and cared about its natural beauty—ideally positioned where fertile farmland meets the deeply carved Mississippi River Valley. But, all certainly did not come to the table with any shared view of climate change or common political perspective.
There is a common misconception that you can’t talk about climate change in rural communities because the issue is considered too polarizing. Many would likely wage a bet that a climate discussion would paralyze Winona residents, divide them, and lead to more finger pointing than hand holding. But not here. Despite their differing viewpoints, the 18 participants in the Winona County Climate Dialogue produced a collective statement and action plan, crafted solely using participant input, based on six topical presentations from local experts on weather trends, energy use, water, insurance, public health and agriculture in Winona County.