Esri puts federal action on climate change on the map

David Hayes, Special Assistant to the President for Climate Policy

What is the federal government doing about climate change? Lots, it turns out, but nothing tells a story like a map, which is why federal authorities are using Esri geospatial information systems to track the changing climate, visualize where it might be going, and help people to live there.

David Hayes, special assistant to the president for climate policy, is a friend of Jack Dangermond, CEO and founder of Esri, the leader in geographic information systems (GIS). Unsurprisingly, he’s also a fan of maps, which he talked about during his keynote at the Esri User Conference.

“My proposition to you is that geospatial mapping tools may be the most important weapon we have to fight climate change,” Hayes said Monday during his keynote address at UC 2022, the first in-person conference that Esri has curated since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a point man in President Joe Biden’s White House climate office, Hayes is responsible for helping direct tens of billions of dollars of funding that Congress has authorized to be spent on climate change-related efforts. . Much of that work is being done through the National Climate Taskforce, a group of 25 cabinet-level leaders from various federal agencies that Biden created right after his inauguration to implement his climate change agenda.

The working group has three main objectives:

  1. Reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 50% below 2005 levels by 2030;
  2. Achieve 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035;
  3. And achieve a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.

The group is also responsible for ensuring that 40% of the funds the federal government spends on climate and clean energy are spent in disadvantaged communities. GIS plays a role in all of these initiatives, Hayes said.

VSarbon Mapper tracks the source of CO2 and methane in air and space

Reduction of emissions

Modern maps and mapping tools will help achieve goal number one: controlling greenhouse gas emissions, such as CO2 and methane. Hayes cited a nonprofit group called Carbon Mapper that uses mapping tools to identify the source of these odorless, colorless gases from air and space.

“Their data collection and geospatial mapping efforts are a model for industry, government and citizen scientists,” he said.

Natural environments, such as forests and wetlands, have the capacity to absorb up to a third of the greenhouse gas reductions President Biden wants to achieve under his plan, Hayes said. But where, exactly, is the appropriate land for this? The answer lies in Landsat, NASA’s Earth mapping initiative.

“Is it possible to see these changes on our landscape? Yes, through maps! Thumbs up in that regard for the images… from Landsat,” Hayes said. “Landsat has vividly documented climate-destroying land conversion over time, an invaluable tool for all of us, which is now being extended with the successful launch of Landsat 9 last year.”

(This is also Landsat 50e birthday this year. “Let’s celebrate!” says Hayes.)

Maps of protected areas are also important to fulfilling another of President Biden’s conservation initiatives, the “30 by 30” plan, which calls for protecting 30% of land mass and 30% of water by 2030. The plan , also called “America Beautiful,” is illustrated with maps as part of a Stewardship Atlas project, powered by Esri’s ArcGIS.

“We’re looking for common ground that a lot of people can support,” he said. “We need to see it, feel it and find it on a map.”

Carbon-free energy

The second step in Biden’s climate agenda is to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to green energy, Hayes said.

GIS can help locate renewable energy infrastructure, Hayes says

“We also need smart cards here,” he said. “We need to know the strength of the offshore wind resource off the Atlantic coast in the United States so that we can install offshore wind turbines in the optimal location. We must also be smart to avoid conflict when we lease these waters. »

The maps also inform the placement of “large footprint” initiatives, such as large solar farms in the Mojave Desert, and the new power lines that will connect them to the grid. “We need tens of thousands of new transmission lines to unlock the renewable energy resources we have in the Great Plains and Intermountain West. How do we find the best places to put these lines? ” He asked. “Again, maps.”

The same goes for electric car charging stations. Congress has allocated $10 billion for new charging stations, and Hayes and his team will work to figure out where they should go.

Net-Zero Nation

The third leg of the climate stool revolves around resilience and adaptation to climate change. Hayes cited a NOAA website that lists the impact of climate change. Last year it recorded $145 billion in damage from 21 “major extreme weather disasters”, he said.

Tracking the potential impact of a changing climate is no easy task, especially with all of the federal agencies involved. To help cross agency lines and bring data together in a cohesive way, Hayes’ office is working with Esri to create a “Climate Resilience Portal.”

Climate change adaptation projects also rely on GIS, said Hayes

Sean Bryer from Esri presented a demo of the Climate Resilience Portal. There are maps that show predictions of the spread of extreme heat, as well as increased risk of flooding. “It’s exciting to hear that federal agencies are coming together to develop and share information in support of climate resilience,” said Sean Bryer of Esri.

Breyer shared another map that shows the impact of dry weather in Fresno County, which is currently in week 83 of the current drought. If the drought continues, approximately 40,000 jobs that generate $6 billion in economic activity are at risk.

Another map shows that 1.8 million residents of the Las Vegas metropolitan area depend on hydroelectricity, which is increasingly uncertain given the historic low water level of nearby Lake Mead. Combining these types of geographic and non-geographic datasets is a specialty that will be leveraged in the Climate Resilience Portal.

“Moving from science to action requires a different type of map, called political maps — maps designed to show impact,” Breyer said.

Hayes seemed grateful for the extra-governmental help.

“It’s not easy to create such a portal…for the federal government,” he said. “I’m very excited about the Climate Resilience Teaser Portal which could bring together great information on the climate impacts that are happening right now, most of which exists on various websites, many of them on the websites of different federal agencies, but which can be difficult. to find and assemble.

Including equity

President Biden’s northern star is fairness, and that has led him to commit to spending 40% of federal money earmarked for climate change and resilience on disadvantaged groups, or the Justice40 Initiative. , said Hayes. But will the North Star be enough to reliably guide the spending of tens of billions of taxpayer dollars? Probably not.

David Hayes, Special Assistant to the President for Climate Policy, spoke about the need for good maps and GIS tools during his keynote address at Esri’s UC 2022 User Conference on July 11 in San Diego.

“So how do you identify and locate disadvantaged communities and check where the benefits are going? Hayes said. “You guessed it: smart geospatial maps.”

According to Hayes, the White House Environmental Quality Council has released the beta version of a climate and economic justice screening tool that will use GIS data to determine whether certain groups are eligible for federal money. .

The selection tool will use eight main criteria, including: climate impacts; access to clean energy and energy efficiency; clean transit; affordable and sustainable housing; reduction and remediation of legacy pollution; access to drinking water and wastewater infrastructure; health burdens; and workforce training and development.

The impacts of climate change will vary by geography, so it makes sense to take a geographic approach to meeting the challenge, Hayes said.

“What we need is good information to do this planning in the right way and in the right place, and that’s where geospatial mapping comes in,” he said. “So let’s spend that money wisely at the local level, where one size doesn’t fit all, where disadvantaged communities in particular need special attention. So all of you fellow believers in the power of mapping, let’s raise our game, show where the common ground is, and beat climate change.

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