America’s natural resources—including our public lands—are a rich heritage that have made enormous contributions to our economy, health, environment, and society. It is critical that the public, nonprofit, and private sectors effectively steward natural resources and protect the environment for ourselves and future generations. As a nation, we have made significant progress reducing air and water pollution, managing waste materials and preserving threatened species and habitat. In the early 1970s Congress enacted the modern environmental legal system that delivered these changes from which we currently benefit, and now we must determine how best to meet the significant challenges of the 21st century. Climate change and habitat stress from development are major “force multipliers” creating deeper challenges. They are also national security threats. For example, a report from the Under Secretary of Defense in 2019 on climate change stated: “The effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defense (DoD or the Department) missions, operational plans, and installations.” Beyond the direct impact of climate change on U.S defense installations, it is already destabilizing sensitive and vulnerable regions around the world.
The Working Group believes that significant actions should be taken at the domestic and international levels by the Administration in 2021 (whether reelected or newly elected) to adequately address this Grand Challenge. These efforts require major improvements to current law and regulatory practices, and they can be achieved only if new and innovative partnerships with the private sector and between the federal, state, tribal and local governments are established. To mitigate climate change, the country needs to engage the world in strong diplomatic efforts to reduce global emissions. This Working Group report does not attempt to identify the robust and ambitious legislative and regulatory efforts needed to fully address the Grand Challenge. This set of recommendations are geared toward early action while larger plans and policies are debated and developed.
The Working Group’s recommendations are intended to help the Administration as it gets started in 2021. If the Administration does not seek to undertake comprehensive action in this area, it still may wish to implement some elements of these recommendations. Alternatively, if the Administration in 2021 seeks much more comprehensive legislative and regulatory changes, it will have time before such an ambitious program is enacted, in which case the Working Group’s proposed actions could be implemented early in 2021 as foundational elements of a broader set of actions.
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