A Broad Ranging Conversation from Energy Policy to Social Injustice

As readers of this blog know, in our monthly podcast – “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program – produced by the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, I chat about policy and practice with interesting people who are working at the interface of economics, energy, and the environment, whether from academia, NGOs, business, or government.  My guest in our most recent podcast fits that description to a tee.  Vicky Bailey has had over 30 years of experience in high-level, national and international, corporate executive, and government positions in the energy sector.  You can listen to my conversation with Vicky Bailey here.

I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of knowing and working with Vicky for more than 20 years, originally as part of a multi-year Harvard energy project directed by my colleague Professor Bill Hogan

Vicky has served as Commissioner of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, appointed by President Bill Clinton, and as President and CEO of PSI Energy, Inc., Indiana’s largest electric utility, now Duke Indiana.  Reflecting her bipartisanship, she was appointed by President George W. Bush to be the first Assistant Secretary of Energy for both International Affairs and Domestic Policy.  In the Obama administration, she was appointed by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu to the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, and in 2014, to the National Petroleum Council by Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz.

Vicky is the founder of Anderson Stratton International LLC, management advisory services.  She has served on numerous corporate and non-profit boards, including the Board of Directors of Resources for the Future, the Washington-based think tank, which has brought Vicky and me together again!

At the outset of our conversation, Vicky notes that the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way people work and live, and thereby having profound effects on energy demand.  “Working from home will change energy demand. We can plan for some things, but this is something probably we hadn’t planned for, but we’re seeing energy demand come back.  Things are coming back, but it’s very slow and coming back in a different way.”

Reflecting upon what she thought might be the most significant change in the energy sector that she has witnessed, Vicky responds that discussions about energy, the environment, and climate change are much more politicized today than they were 20 years ago.  

“The words ‘climate change’ seem to now conjure up positions or sides. That wasn’t the way it was for me coming along.” She cited the important work of late Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, a moderate Republican who saw the threat of global warming through the lens of a farmer.  He was a strong supporter of climate because he recognized that the environment can cause stress on crops, which then has an issue as it relates to feeding, getting that produce, and getting that out to feed people.”  Validating how times have changed, we discuss the fact that the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 passed in the House of Representatives with the support of approximately 97 percent of Democrats and 85 percent of Republicans.

Near the end of our conversation, I note that the brutal killing of George Floyd in May of this year – and brutality toward many other black men and women over the years – has greatly increased national consciousness about personal and systemic racism – both in the United States and globally.  In this regard, I ask Vicky if she can share her perceptions, given her truly diverse set of experiences in business and government. Her response is heart-felt and full, and so I want to share with you an extended, albeit edited, part of what Vicky Bailey has to say:

“Yes. It has been a hard time. The murder of George Floyd that we all witnessed, or those of us who did see this video and see it on TV and other areas, you can’t unsee that.  And you have to say, why? Why is that happening? Why did it turn into that? And even if you thought, Well, okay, he did something bad, he did something criminal, doesn’t he at least get to make it to the jailhouse?   Can we make it to the jailhouse? Others seem to be able to do that, even though they commit horrendous crimes. They seem to be able to make it to the jailhouse, and our men and women don’t.  And so we’re weary of that.”

“And people are angry about that. They see other segments of society treated differently and given latitudes and benefits of the doubt, that other segments are not.  So, I don’t agree with violence and those of you who know me, I’m not a sharp elbow. I’m not a loud and boisterous kind of individual.  But there are those who feel that you don’t hear them. You don’t hear their cries.  You don’t feel their pain. Unless we come out and speak loudly, this behavior is just going to continue.  It just seems to continue. And for me, it’s a time for reflection. It’s a time for conversation. It’s a time to lend your voice. Don’t be afraid to do so.”

“But I am optimistic. I believe in America. I have said that through my own public service. And I believe we always aspire to do better, but we need our leaders. We need our leadership:  leadership and character, what we teach our children from kindergarten on.  We are a great country, but we continue to strive to do better.  And that’s what I want to appeal to. I want to appeal to that. That better side of us.”

All of this and more is found in the latest episode of “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.” Listen to this latest discussion here.  You can find a complete transcript of our conversation at the website of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.

My conversation with Vicky Bailey is the fourteenth episode in the Environmental Insights series.  Previous episodes have featured conversations with:

“Environmental Insights” is hosted on SoundCloud, and is also available on iTunes, Pocket Casts, Spotify, and Stitcher.


A Key Moment is Coming for the IPCC’s Future

About six month ago, I posted an essay at this blog (The IPCC at a Crossroads, February 26, 2015) highlighting some of the challenges faced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which plays an important role in global climate change policy around the world. [In previous essays at this blog, I wrote about problems with the IPCC process (Is the IPCC Government Approval Process Broken?, April 25, 2014) and about its significant merits (Understanding the IPCC: An Important Follow-Up, May 3, 2014; The Final Stage of IPCC AR5 – Last Week’s Outcome in Copenhagen, November 4, 2014)].

A Key Moment to Think About the Future of the IPCC

Now is an important moment to think carefully about the path ahead for this much-maligned and much-celebrated organization, because in early October of this year, the 195 member countries of the IPCC (who together constitute this “intergovernmental panel”) will meet in plenary in Dubrovnik, Croatia, to elect a new Chair, who will lead the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). There are some excellent candidates for the chairmanship. I hope they see (and read) today’s essay.

As I’ve said before, the IPCC is at a crossroads. Despite its many accomplishments, this institution, like many large institutions, has experienced severe growing pains. Its size has increased to the point that it has become cumbersome, it sometimes fails to address the most important issues, and – most striking of all – it is now at risk of losing the participation of the world’s best scientists, due to the massive burdens that participation entails.

In February of this year, we (Harvard) co-sponsored a three-day workshop on the future of international climate-assessment processes in Berlin, Germany, to take stock and reflect on lessons learned in past assessments – including those of the IPCC – as a means to identify options for improving future assessments. The workshop (titled “Assessment and Communication of the Social Science of Climate Change: Bridging Research and Policy”) was co-organized by: Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM, Italy), the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements (USA), the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC, Germany), and the Stanford Environmental and Energy Policy Analysis Center (USA).  The workshop was funded, in part, by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

How Can the IPCC and its Procedures be Improved?

In an essay published in the Review of Environment, Energy and Economics (“Assessment and Communication of the Social Science of Climate Change: Bridging Research and Policy.”), Carlo Carraro (FEEM), Charles Kolstad (Stanford), and I offered our thoughts on the path ahead, drawing on our reflections on the Berlin workshop. We described a set of challenges and opportunities facing the IPCC, and provided options for future improvements. Here are some excerpts in five key areas.

1.  The IPCC could better integrate and coordinate across IPCC Working Groups, as well as enhance interaction between scientists and governments.

The scoping process could include more interaction between governments and scientists, driven by policy questions governments want answered and issues scientists feel need addressing. More experts could be involved in the process leading up to scoping meetings so that draft outlines going into scoping meetings might better reflect broad scientific consensus.

Feedback among policymakers, scientists, and other stakeholders during the assessment process could be improved. A lack of coordination and discussion between policymakers and scientists during the scoping and writing process has sometimes led to controversies and misunderstanding at the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) government approval sessions, which might have been avoided through earlier consultation

The Chair of the IPCC could enhance coordination among Working Groups. The Chair could improve coordination between Working Groups at multiple stages of the assessment process, including in the preparation of the Synthesis Report (SYR).

Special Reports could be developed to more flexibly target emerging issues, develop closer interactions between Working Groups, and inform future Assessment Reports. Shorter reports would be easier to produce and involve shorter turnaround times.

2.  The IPCC could enhance its interface with social scientific disciplines and communities.

Involving experts from a more diverse set of social-scientific communities in the scoping process, prior to scoping meetings, could enhance the quality of the Working-Group outlines and reports. Scholars from a wider range of fields might contribute to the scoping process by suggesting policy-relevant questions and by indicating which questions from policymakers are most amenable to response.

The IPCC leadership could strengthen engagement with relevant research communities that may initiate research projects and consortia to address gaps of knowledge identified in the IPCC scoping or assessment processes. Such recommended research might then be evaluated and incorporated as appropriate into Assessment Reports.

Consider establishing more formal interfaces with professional societies and national academies of sciences to facilitate identification of authors from various scientific disciplines, including social sciences, during the author selection process. This could facilitate the task of the Bureau, Coordinating Lead Authors (CLAs), Technical Support Units (TSUs), and governments in identifying and recruiting the most appropriate disciplinary mix of scientists for the IPCC.

3.  The IPCC could increase its efforts to facilitate the contributions of expertise from developing countries.

Selecting CLAs and LAs on the basis of scientific skills, capability, and reputation is paramount, but it is also important to reflect the perspectives of both developed and developing countries. Today, excellent scholars are available from all regions of the world.

The IPCC could invite authors from developing countries with less regard to where they are currently based. There are a significant number of scholars of international repute from the developing world living and working outside their countries of origin. These scholars could contribute significantly to IPCC reports

New partnerships, including with national, regional, and international academies of sciences, could support the author-nomination process. The academies might support CLAs, TSUs, and national focal points in identifying excellent researchers from a diverse set of geographic regions.

The IPCC could facilitate efforts of other organizations to build scientific expertise in developing countries. While the IPCC does not have the mandate to finance or execute such capacity-building efforts, the IPCC could recognize and support other international organizations that help develop stronger developing-country scientific expertise.

4.  The IPCC could increase the efficiency of its operations and ensure scientific integrity through organizational improvements.

 Preparing IPCC Reports is a complex management operation. Operational aspects of the Assessment-Report process could be improved significantly in a number of ways:

The IPCC should ensure that Chair and Co-Chairs of the Working Groups are selected early in the assessment cycle, and particularly before the scoping meetings, in order to enable careful preparation of the overall assessment process. Having the Chair and Co-Chairs engaged in the process from the beginning would also help foster a more deeply-shared vision between IPCC leadership and governments of the ultimate assessment products.

The IPCC could improve the efficiency of TSUs, which is essential for effectively managing the Assessment-Report process. The functioning of the TSUs requires frequent and intense face-to-face collaboration among staff and with the Co-Chairs. This requires maintaining a single TSU for each Working Group, physically located in a single geographic location under the authority of the Working Group Co-Chairs, with clearly assigned responsibilities. Geographic balance can be increased via global searches for qualified professionals, including from developing countries, to serve on the TSU staff.

Work organization, in particular of Lead Author (LA) meetings, could be greatly improved. Inefficient organization and high workload significantly reduce the incentives for researchers to contribute to the IPCC process. Frequent LA meetings are putting a high travel burden on authors, and the IPCC could reduce the number and length of LA Meetings (LAMs) and use means of remote collaboration, communication, and organization. Chapter Science Assistants (CSAs) provide critical support for chapter teams, facilitating the functioning and organization of work between and during LAMs. The IPCC could allow them to participate in all meetings and provide dedicated funding streams for CSAs for all chapters. The money saved by holding fewer and briefer LAMs could partly be dedicated to this purpose.

Consider expanding the definition of conflict of interest to include not only economic conflicts, but also conflicts due to institutional affiliation. For example, authors, Bureau members, Working Group leadership, and other IPCC personnel with dual roles as national negotiators could be identified as having a potential conflict of interest. Also, authors who work for an organization that aims to influence climate policy might be defined as having a potential conflict of interest. While this expanded definition need not preclude these individuals from working with the IPCC, public disclosure of the potential conflict of interest should help assure the integrity of the IPCC process. It could be valuable to have such an expanded definition in effect early in the AR6 process.

5.  Outreach and communications could be strengthened.

The SPMs, as well as the Technical Summaries (TS), are widely considered by non-experts to be difficult to access and understand. It would be difficult to change the SPM process, given its negotiated character. However, the IPCC could consider engaging expert science communicators to help produce more concise TSs, making them more accessible to policymakers and the general public. In addition, re-naming the TS as “Executive Summary” could more accurately characterize this component of the Assessment Reports and draw the interest of a broader readership.

The impact of IPCC publications on the UNFCCC process may have suffered from not being more closely aligned in terms of timing. The IPCC could consider synchronizing the IPCC Assessment cycle with the UNFCCC negotiation schedule.

Next Steps

My co-authors and I are continuing to develop our thinking on these and other issues associated with the functioning of the IPCC. Whereas some commentators have argued that the IPCC has outlived its usefulness (or is irreparably broken), I prefer to resist the temptation to “throw out the baby with the bathwater.” Instead, I welcome your thoughts on how the IPCC and its procedures can be improved.