Transition Recommendations For Climate Governance and Action



Christy Goldfuss | Tim Profeta | Joseph Aldy | Robert Bonnie | Michael Boots | Jason Bordof | Megan Ceronsky | Rick Duke | Joseph Goffman | Jason Grumet | Andrew Mayock | Nat Keohane | Kate Konschnik | Brenda Mallory | Jeremy Symons | Dan Utech | Climate 21 Project

Climate change is unique among the issues facing the President, because both the effects and the policy solutions to the challenge defy neat categorization. Climate change is already or will soon affect every sector of the economy, every community in the nation, and every nation in the world. Reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change and helping communities adapt to the unavoidable climate impacts already baked into the system requires domestic investment, rulemakings, and policy changes, as well as robust international diplomacy. That means that every agency has some degree of responsibility for addressing climate change—and so does every policy council in the White House.

This diffusion of responsibility for addressing climate change and furthering climate policy can all too easily lead to confusion and inaction. When everyone is partially responsible, no one is ultimately in charge. That is why the single most important thing a new White House committed to climate action must do is commission as Assistant to the President (AP) an experienced, respected Counselor or Senior Advisor who is 1) a credible leader on climate policy, 2) who sits in the West Wing and 3) who has direct access to and is trusted by the President of the United States, to lead the Administration’s domestic and international efforts on climate change.

Beyond appointing and empowering an AP for climate, there are other important White House organizational changes needed to create an integrated domestic and international vision for climate policy executed across the EOP and the federal government. The White House must have the staff capacity and credibility to manage a whole-of-government effort; policy councils must be bought into the structure of the White House climate effort and actively collaborate on climate policy where needed; and non-policy offices must have dedicated support for the climate effort. Senior White House staff should also regularly engage with senior agency leadership to develop an ambitious climate agenda, monitor implementation, and identify opportunities to increase ambition.

To meet these criteria, the President should:

Issue an Executive Order to create a National Climate Council that is co-equal to the Domestic Policy Council and the National Economic Council to organize and drive White House and Administration actions. (Day 1)

For too long, climate policy has been sidelined as solely an environmental issue. Creating a National Climate Council by Executive Order would elevate climate change as an issue worthy of sustained, national policymaking and communications and create a consistent organizational mechanism for climate change policy in the White House from year to year. The NCC should be headed by the AP for Climate, with a Deputy Assistant to the President for Climate Change and Energy Policy; at least three SAPs, with one dual-hatted to the NEC, one dual-hatted to the NSC, and one dual-hatted to CEQ; and at least eight to ten further FTE staff to begin. Additional FTE positions can be filled using flexible hiring authorities available to CEQ and OSTP.

Launch a 90-day, Cabinet-level effort to craft a Climate Ambition Agenda, to hold the Administration accountable to meeting the President’s stated goals—and go further. (Day 1)

The next administration will need to set ambitious goals and design and implement policies that will put the United States on a path to achieving net-zero emissions no later than mid-century, and restore the U.S. to a position of global climate leadership that incentivizes increasingly strong climate commitments from other major emitters.

To translate those goals and other important policy priorities into a governing plan that will hold the Cabinet accountable for delivering—and delivering on time—the next administration should revive the successful Climate Action Plan approach from the second term of the Obama-Biden Administration. Specifically, at the same time the NCC is created, the President should launch a 90-day Cabinet-level task force to write and publish a new, four-year Climate Ambition Agenda, containing specific, agency-by-agency actions on greenhouse gas mitigation and the clean energy transition, climate change adaptation and resilience, and international climate diplomacy and development.

Embed key aspects of the climate change agenda in other White House policy councils and functions, including CEQ, NSC, OSTP, OMB, and USTR, and cross-functional offices like Communications, Cabinet Affairs, Legislative Affairs, OPE, WHCO, and PPO.

Even with the creation of a National Climate Council, other policymaking councils and cross-functional offices have critical roles to play in furthering an ambitious climate agenda and responsible staff from those councils and offices should be consistently included in NCC meetings and policy planning. As detailed in the full memo:

• The Council on Environmental Quality is best suited to elevate environmental justice to the White House and to lead the agenda on climate change resilience, in addition to its statutory responsibilities for NEPA and historic responsibilities for managing conservation and species issues.

• The International Economics directorate should be re-established within the NSC, with a team of 3-4 staff (one SAP dual-hatted to the NCC, and two to three director-level positions), to work with the State Department on international negotiations and coordinate climate inputs into the President’s bilateral and multilateral engagements.

• The Office of Science and Technology Policy urgently needs to be re-empowered to support federal climate science and clean energy innovation in the U.S. and internationally.

• The Office of Management and Budget can and should be a stronger partner to federal agencies on climate policy. Senior political staff at OMB and its sub-agencies and offices, notably OIRA, should clearly understand that supporting the President’s climate agenda is a central part of their mandate.

• Cross-functional offices, including the White House Counsel’s Office, the communications shop, and the Presidential Personnel Office, should have staff who are dedicated to working on the climate portfolio and empowered to support ambitious activities.

To download the full report, please click here.


Christy Goldfuss (Co-Chair), Center for American Progress; former Managing Director at CEQ

Joseph Aldy, Harvard Kennedy School; former Special Assistant to President Obama

Vicki Arroyo, Georgetown Climate Center; former Special Assistant, EPA

Robert Bonnie, Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions; former Undersecretary at USDA

Michael Boots, former Acting Chair at CEQ

Jason Bordoff, Center on Global Energy Policy, Columbia; former Special Assistant to President Obama

Megan Ceronsky, Center for Applied Environmental Law and Policy; former Special Assistant to President Obama

Rick Duke, Gigaton Strategies; former Special Assistant to President Obama

Joseph Goffman, Harvard Law School Environmental and Energy Law Program; former Associate Assistant Administrator/ Senior Counsel at EPA

Tim Profeta (Co-Chair), Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

Jason Grumet, Bipartisan Policy Center

Andrew Mayock, former Deputy Director at OMB

Nat Keohane, Environmental Defense Fund; former Special Assistant to President Obama

Kate Konschnik, Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

Brenda Mallory, Southern Environmental Law Center; former General Counsel at CEQ

Jeremy Symons (Project Manager), Symons Public Affairs; former Climate Policy Advisor at EPA; former Deputy Staff Director at Senate Environment & Public Works Committee

Dan Utech, Yale School of the Environment; former Deputy Assistant to President Obama