CLIMATE GOVERNANCE

State governments across the United States committed to climate action have adopted different governance approaches to address climate change within their organizational structures. While multiple options exist, the following guiding principles—based on repeated research and on positive experiences from other states —should be considered in a design appropriate for Nevada.

INTERGOVERNMENTAL & INTERAGENCY COORDINATION

Robust communication, coordination, and collaboration within and across all levels of government is necessary for successful climate action (Moser & Ekstrom, 2010). Consequently, organizational structures need to ensure active participation across all agencies and departments of the executive branch, as well as with counties, cities, regional entities, and other government jurisdictions.

Robust communication, coordination, and collaboration within and across all levels of government is necessary for successful climate action.

The complexities of climate change make cross-scale, intragovernmental, and intergovernmental coordination essential. Risks evolve over time, vulnerabilities are intertwined across sectors and scales, climate impacts can cascade across sectors and geographies, and adaptation actions require input from multiple levels of government (Moser & Hart, 2015; Moser & Hart, 2018). Climate mitigation and adaptation actions require harmonization of local, regional, state, and oftentimes federal policies. Multi-jurisdictional concerns are also important as Nevada adapts to worsening drought, more-frequent floods, more-extreme heat, an extended wildfire season, and other consequences of climate change. These types of impacts are most often dealt with at local and regional scales, but the response can be supported by higher levels of government.

Already, multiple municipalities and regional organizations across the state have developed, or are in the process of developing, resilience or sustainability plans that directly address climate change. While a few of these efforts include components aimed at reducing GHG emissions, the majority are focused on how to address the impacts of climate change.

Northern Nevada Climate Resilience Advocacy Group

Extraordinary progress is happening right now in Northern Nevada due to action taken by the Climate Resilience Advocacy Group and the Solar Energy Innovation Network. The Climate Resilience Advocacy Group is a collaborative effort of city representatives focused on strengthening the resilience of the City of Reno to climate-related risks and mitigating impacts to critical resources such as drinking water, agriculture, and native wildlife species. Concurrently, the Solar Energy Innovation Network is working in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a valuation methodology to determine the value of resilience that can be provided by solar-plus-storage systems, including finding cost-savings opportunities, offering improvements to emergency response, and other public benefits. This work will ultimately inform future policy direction for the City of Reno for incorporating solar-plus-storage applications in resilience strategies for emergency response and public safety networks. These efforts are critical for Nevada, given the immense potential and opportunities for renewable energy solutions at the local governmental level. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, approximately 82% of the U.S. population resides in urban centers and this number is growing. In fact, the City of Reno makes up over half of the population of Washoe County, and the county saw a growth rate of 1.8% in 2017 alone (U.S. Census Bureau). This positions cities like Reno to be leaders in reducing emissions and advancing sustainable and resilient solutions.

STAKEHOLDER & COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Nevadans clearly indicate the future they want: cleaner air, better health, an equitable society, economic stability, investment in renewable energy, and a clean environment. In order to get there people need to be engaged in the planning process (e.g. Bockstael & Berkes, 2017). A robust and meaningful stakeholder engagement framework, including direct representation by Nevadans, should be integrated into a governance model.

Whether it is shifting to mass transit from driving alone to work, moving a winter-based recreation business to a model that supports more summertime activities, or modifying outdoor activity schedules to avoid poor air quality during wildfire season, people will have to change behavior in response to climate change. Given the scale of individual action necessary to mitigate GHG emissions and adapt to the changes that will come with increasing climate-driven disruptions that communities are facing, proactively engaging with Nevadans to build support and buy-in for climate action and to help shape the most appropriate responses is critical (Moser, 2014; Moser & Pike, 2015; Rumore et al., 2016).

A robust and meaningful stakeholder engagement framework, including direct representation by Nevadans, should be integrated into a governance model.

Throughout the climate listening sessions, during briefings, and via comments submitted by email, Nevadans were clear that they want to engage and they want to be a part of the process. Expanding the communication enterprise around climate, providing inclusive educational opportunities for the public to learn more about climate change, and continuing to seek input from communities across the state were common refrains.

Formal mechanisms that also ensure that representatives and advocates across different interest groups and communities have a voice should also be considered in developing an organizational structure for climate (Mohnot et al., 2018; USDN, 2017; NAACP, 2017). Advocates from underserved communities, environmental interest groups, and business and industry partners, among others, all have important perspectives, unique insights, and expertise that would contribute to the overarching goals of the State of Nevada Climate Initiative (NCI).

Integrating people into the climate-action framework could help the state address these concerns of the community, while building toward the collective vision of the future.

EXECUTIVE LEADERSHIP & STAFF

Another common barrier to climate action is lack of executive leadership that has authority on climate issues. High-level leadership on climate at any government level and in any organization helps ensure that climate action remains at the top of the agenda, becomes integrated in decision-making, sustains momentum, and has the necessary resources, capacity, and authority to be implemented (Moser et al., 2017). Given the multiple scales of coordination necessary across sectors and transcending governmental jurisdictions, dedicated leadership at least at the state level with a distinct focus on climate change should be in place.

Given the multiple scales of coordination necessary across sectors and transcending governmental jurisdictions, dedicated leadership at least at the state level with a distinct focus on climate change should be in place.

Addressing climate change appropriately requires unique expertise and skills. Traditional approaches to planning do not necessarily translate to climate change, particularly because of the scale, scope, and complexity of the problem and the uncertainties involved. Whether it’s flood-resistant roadways or opening cooling centers during heat waves or wildfire mitigation in forest-reliant communities, what worked in the past may not be sufficient for what is to come. Planning approaches that integrate climate change considerations are unique and focused more on managing risk than optimization. Dedicated leadership to help develop and advance climate action is more likely to ensure timely progress than mere calls for action without such capacity (Moser et al., 2017). Thus, to support the scale and scope of necessary climate action, a state-level staff focused specifically on climate change would need to be established and built out to meet the state’s needs.

Indeed, most states that are actively engaged on climate issues have a point person charged exclusively with addressing climate change issues with authority across the executive branch. In most states, this is a climate czar, chief resilience officer, or other chief executive in the governor’s office (e.g., Florida, Oregon, New Jersey, Virginia, Rhode Island); sometimes this is also a cabinet position leading an agency focused on climate (e.g., North Carolina, Colorado, New York, Michigan). Some states have adopted a ‘special advisor to the governor’ model (e.g., Colorado, Washington), and others have a chief resilience or sustainability officer embedded within an executive branch department or office that is granted authority across agencies. Some have some combination (e.g., California). Regardless of the model, all have or intend to expand staff in order to meet the growing demands to address climate in the state.

Clearly, based on the analysis of possible mitigation policies alone, and comparison with other states, there will be a need for additional investments to support climate action in Nevada, including support for an appropriate level of administrative leadership.

ADAPTIVE GOVERNANCE

Extreme weather events and many climate-related natural hazards are becoming increasingly volatile, posing risks to the health and safety of all Nevadans and compromising the state’s natural resources. Climate experts are confident that the extreme events of tomorrow will be quite different than those that most Nevadans are accustomed to, meaning that the systems that worked in the past may not be sufficient for the future (Milly et al., 2008; Chester & Allenby, 2018; Hasnoot et al., 2020). For this reason, it is important to implement a governance structure that is nimble and can pivot quickly in response to unprecedented events and emerging threats (Wurtzebach et al., 2019; Crowe et al., 2016; Plummer et al., 2013). A staff dedicated to dealing with climate change would be an important component here, as climate-related issues are not going to go away. Further, building capacity and institutional flexibility will also ensure that Nevada successfully navigates what is likely to be a fundamentally different future. This means, in part, adding capacity; but it also means training existing staff in how to adapt what they already know how to do for a continuously changing and frequently disrupted future.

It is important to implement a governance structure that is nimble and can pivot quickly in response to unprecedented events and emerging threats.

For example, the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn have necessarily reinvigorated planning for economic diversification across Nevada, led by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED). Given the significant opportunity to establish Nevada as an epicenter for electric vehicles across the entire supply chain—including lithium mining for batteries, advanced manufacturing of vehicles, and battery recycling technology—the state could establish and deploy a task force to develop a specific strategic thrust for climate-oriented economic development.

These types of targeted, specific climate efforts that leverage opportunities or that require rapid response in a crisis necessitate a team dedicated to climate issues.

SCIENCE-BASED CLIMATE ASSESSMENT

Over the past several decades, the primary mechanism for connecting climate science with decision-making has been through “climate assessments.” Assessments are processes that aim to distill the state of knowledge on climate change, identify key vulnerabilities, and establish how well challenges and potential solutions are understood. They often result in extensive reports that catalog impacts, risks and vulnerabilities, and identify opportunities for climate mitigation and adaptation. Crafted by climate experts and scientists over many years, these assessments are developed through a consensus process and are considered to be the authority on climate change science. They aim to be policy-relevant without being policy-prescriptive by providing decision-makers with the best-available knowledge and information to inform climate action. Examples include the Nobel-prize winning reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as well as the federally-mandated U.S. National Climate Assessment, and regional- and state-level assessments.

States across the West have adopted their own climate assessment processes in order to respond to climate risks and vulnerabilities unique to their part of the country.

Now, there is a movement toward “sustained climate assessment,” which is a more-flexible, accessible model that will better deploy climate science to inform decision-making than a series of reports. A federal advisory committee (FAC) was convened during the Obama administration to develop recommendations for how this new concept could be implemented for the U.S. National Climate Assessment. Although disbanded under the Trump administration, the FAC informally continued its work. The recommendations that emerged, while comprehensive, point toward a process that is iterative, engaging, focused on what decision-makers and practitioners need, and brings science into action (Moss et al., 2019; Moss et al., 2019). In addition to a federal commitment to such a flexible and sustained approach to assessment, the idea hinges on building out and drawing on a nationwide network of experts beyond those in federal agencies to bring the best-available expertise to bear on the complex challenges of climate change.

States across the West have adopted their own climate assessment processes in order to respond to climate risks and vulnerabilities unique to their part of the country (e.g., California, Montana, Colorado, Oregon, North Carolina). Some have employed the more-traditional approach of producing one-time or periodic assessment reports, while others have committed to a more-sustained assessment model to produce the information state- and local-level decision-makers need, and still others have adopted a hybrid. However, they all engage climate experts that provide objective perspectives and technical advice. Along with access to the most-credible and cutting-edge scientific insights, engaging experts through a formal mechanism has the added benefit of providing a unique resource to help identify and tailor climate information that will support policy development, planning, and decision-making (Box 1). This approach lends itself to transitioning to the sustained assessment model. Given the climate expertise in Nevada, particularly within the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE), the state could benefit from integrating science into the governance of climate. Science-based information about climate impacts is an important first step to support the assessment process, and more specifically, the directive to state agencies related to climate assessment in the governor’s Executive Order 2019-22.

Science-based information about climate impacts is an important first step to support the assessment process, and more specifically, the directive to state agencies related to climate assessment in the governor’s Executive Order 2019-22.

Box 1. Climate Data & Information

There is no one-stop-shop for climate information in the United States. The federal government’s Resilience Toolkit aims to be a central hub, but the EPA, NASA, NOAA, USDA, and DOI (among others) all have climate websites with datasets, visualization, and education tools. Indeed, climate has a touchpoint with the authorization of virtually every federal agency. However, states are making significant progress in tailoring information to meet the needs of their citizens. Many have developed custom data portals that integrate multiple threads of federal data that have been customized in collaboration with state and local planners, resource managers, and others who need to ingest climate information in order to make decisions that could be impacted by climate change (e.g., Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Oregon, Delaware, North Carolina, California). The available science can be tailored to Nevada’s needs in order to characterize local risks and create solutions. Further, by scientists directly engaging with decision-makers, researchers can learn where practitioners need more or better-tailored information, and then develop research programs and projects to fill those gaps. Integrating science and decision-making can optimize resources and minimize climate risks.

DEDICATED RESOURCES 

It is clear that billions of dollars could be saved in the long-term if upfront investments are made to 1) prepare communities for the impacts of climate change and 2) mitigate GHG emissions that would amplify these impacts in the future. While there are resources required to support climate action that protects state assets and the implementation of policies and programs at the state level, municipalities are likely to bear the bulk of the financial burden of building climate-resilient communities.

There are different mechanisms that states can adopt to finance climate action at multiple scales, include leveraging federal resources and putting a price on carbon. There are also specific ways in which state governments can deploy resources and coordinate with local entities to build climate-resilient financial systems (Box 2). The economic impacts of climate change are significant, but building resilient financial systems embedded in governance is critical to protecting the economic interests of Nevadans.

Box 2. Building Climate Resilience in Nevada: State Climate Resilience Checklist

Moving forward, Nevada will need to institute a robust approach to support climate-resilience planning. This approach should be embedded within the governance structure ultimately adopted, including integrating mechanisms to build resilient financial systems. The checklist below was developed to support the fundamental underpinnings of what is needed to develop, implement, and strengthen state resilience planning. The table below provides a framework for climate resilience described in “How State Governments Can Help Communities Invest in Climate Resilience.”

State Resilience FrameworkClimate-Resilient Financial Systems
Have an interdepartmental body to coordinate climate resilience actionProvide local governments with climate data and risk analysis
Have principles or other guidance for state investment in resilience buildingProvide local governments with technical guidance and assistance for developing climate resilience plans
Have a state climate resilience planProvide local governments with communications assets/support for building public commitment to resilience
Have resilience standards for state infrastructureProvide local governments with support in developing local “ready to go” projects for resilience building
Have resilience standards for state infrastructureProvide local governments with authority to generate and spend local funds for resilience
Have resilience policies for utilities (e.g., water, electric)Provide local governments with ways to leverage private investments for local resilience development
Have an insurance commission with climate-risk policies for the insurance sectorHave funds that can be used to buy out at-risk properties
Dedicate specific revenues/funds for use in climate resilience strengtheningProvide real estate developers or owners with incentives to strengthen property resilience
Generate additional revenue exclusively for resilience buildingHave building codes that require strengthened resilience of properties and buildings
Have criteria for investing state funds equitably in climate resilienceHave an infrastructure bank whose funds can be used for resilience strengthening
Have research, funding, outreach, or other resilience-building partnerships with universities, nonprofits, or networks
Have an agenda for federal policies/programs to support state and local resilience building
Include resilience building in the state’s all hazard mitigation plan
Provide ways for local governments to address regional and metropolitan resilience challenges and opportunities

NEVADA’S CLIMATE LEGACY: NEXT STEPS TOWARD CLIMATE ACTION IN NEVADA

The process and organizational approach to developing the 2020 State Climate Strategy could be used as a basis for building out a robust climate governance structure that would support the long-term goals of the State of Nevada Climate Initiative. For example, the collection of interagency working groups focused on different climate-related topics could serve as the mechanism for collaboration across the Nevada executive branch. Further, the momentum of the listening sessions has established a baseline for community engagement that can be expanded to solicit input on multiple, and perhaps more specific, climate-related topics, including responses to the different components of the first iteration of the State Climate Strategy.

Establishing a robust governance structure will ensure that the state is in a position to address the climate crisis on multiple fronts. An organizational construct with clear processes and related authorities to reduce emissions and manage the cascading impacts of climate change will position Nevada to navigate the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Nevada will continue to take action on climate change. Climate change is happening now and will demand that state leaders work effectively to minimize risk and put Nevada on a path to reduce its own contributions to this global problem while benefitting from emerging opportunities in clean and resilient technologies. Establishing a robust governance structure will ensure that the state is in a position to address climate on multiple fronts. An organizational construct with clear processes and related authorities to reduce emissions and manage the cascading impacts of climate change will position Nevada to navigate the challenges and opportunities ahead.