State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Summer 2020 Workshop in Environmental Policy Addresses Crucial Sustainability Challenges

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Photo: John Schnobrich on Unsplash

In May, a new cohort of students in Columbia University’s Masters of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy (MPA-ESP) program began their workshop projects. The distinctive Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Management allows students to evaluate environmental legislation by analyzing environmental issues and developing management plans for each new program. The workshop trains students to fully integrate their understanding of natural science and social science to address crucial sustainability challenges and translate environmental science to political decision makers.

This summer, under the guidance of faculty advisors, five workshop teams will focus on the science aspect of selected bills that have been proposed in Congress. Students will delve into environmental problems and science of the selected topics. They will also explore solutions proposed through the bills, the science behind them, as well as ways to measure their effectiveness. Read on to learn more about MPA-ESP summer 2020 workshop topics.

The MPA-ESP Summer 2020 Workshop held mid-term briefing on June 26, 2020. Watch the recording here.

Water Power Research and Development Act: H.R. 6084

Faculty Advisor: Howard Apsan

H.R. 6084 is designed to expand waterpower capacities and capabilities within the United States through research, development and demonstration of hydropower, pumped storage and marine energy. This program also has broader implications on topics including fossil fuel dependence as well as rivers, estuaries and coastal ecosystems. One of the bill’s key components is that it would establish programs for research, development, demonstration, and commercial application of water power generation technologies, technologies to improve hydropower systems, and marine energy technology. To further the depth and breadth of research and development, the bill also awards grants of up to $10 million each. The bill would also provide funding to establish new National Marine Energy Centers.

United States Department of Defense Climate Resilience and Readiness Act: H.R. 2759

Faculty Advisor: Steve Cohen

H.R. 2759, introduced to the United States Senate in May 2019, would require the United States Secretary of Defense to strategize resiliency efforts that would protect American people and land from climate-induced natural disasters, as well as improve resource allocation and energy efficiency within the Department of Defense. The bill aims to urge the Department of Defense of the United States to a) achieve net-zero energy by non-operational sources by the end of 2029; b) implement climate-conscious budgeting and contracting; c) incorporate climate-resiliency into existing strategies of the Department of Defense; d) conduct research, development, and demonstration of hybrid microgrid systems and electric grid energy storage. The bill would dictate that the Department of Defense meet the net zero energy targets both within the department and through the projects it contracts out, submitting a strategy to Congress one year after the bill is enacted.

Wildlife Conservation and Anti-Trafficking Act of 2019: H.R. 864

Faculty Advisor: Bob Cook

The illegal trade in wildlife negatively impacts biodiversity and helps to spread zoonotic diseases. The primary goal of H.R. 864 is to support wildlife conservation by improving anti-trafficking enforcement. The Act aims to: a) make serious wildlife trafficking violations predicate offenses (components of a larger crime) under federal racketeering and anti-organized crime laws; b) engage whistleblowers, through monetary incentives to provide actionable intelligence needed to bring down global wildlife trafficking rings; c) authorize the US Fish and Wildlife Service to station law enforcement officials and agency personnel abroad in high-intensity wildlife trafficking areas; d) have any penalties paid to the US government for wildlife trafficking violations support conservation efforts; e) crack down on illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing by foreign vessels or fraudulent seafood imports into the US.

Agriculture Resilience Act: H.R. 5861

Faculty Advisor: Matthew Palmer 

This bill aims to achieve net zero emissions from agriculture by no later than 2040. The Act proposes a number of ways to work toward this goal. These include: investing in on-farm renewable energy; reducing food waste through education and the standardization of food labels; investing in research topics such as soil carbon sequestration; preserving farmland; and promoting science-based farming practices such as pasture-raising livestock, planting cover crops, and using ecological-based pest management.

 Advancing Emergency Preparedness Through One Health Act of 2019: H.R. 3771

Faculty Advisor: Louise Rosen

Introduced into Congress in July 2019, this bill would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Agriculture to prevent, prepare, and respond to zoonotic disease outbreaks through a new collaborative One Health Framework. The framework is designed for a 10-year period and would work in coordination with other federal agencies. Goals and priorities include: a) scientific understanding of human, animal, and environmental health connections; b) agency coordination and collaboration; c) priority zoonotic disease identification, surveillance, and prevention; d) protocol to improve outbreak response and recovery; e) workforce development for prevention of and response to disease outbreaks.

Jiaqi Wang is an alum of the MPA-ESP program, Class of 2020.

If you’re interested in learning more about the MPA-ESP program, please contact the assistant director, Stephanie Hoyt (, or join us at one of our upcoming online information sessions. Register here.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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