Climate Change and Business Research Initiative Gains Traction

January 6, 2012
By: Andrew Cohen, Berkeley Law


Ethan Elkind.
Research fellow Ethan Elkind

Environmentalists and corporations don’t always see eye-to-eye on climate change. But an innovative program run by the Center for Law, Energy & the Environment and UCLA School of Law has shown that the two sides’ objectives can not only co-exist, but be mutually beneficial.

The Climate Change and Business Research Initiative—which connects leaders from business, government, nonprofits, and academia—concluded a productive 2011 with a wrap-up conference last month in Berkeley.

“It was gratifying to see how much ground we covered and how these research efforts have already helped lead to legislative and regulatory changes,” says Ethan Elkind, a research fellow with a joint appointment at Berkeley Law and UCLA Law.

Since winter 2009, the Bank of America-sponsored initiative has conducted a series of one-day workshops at Berkeley and UCLA on pressing climate change topics facing California.

Using those workshops as a launching point, Elkind authored white papers on each issue. His reports explained how climate change will create opportunities for certain business sectors, and how policymakers can best facilitate those opportunities.

“We turned these discussions into targeted recommendations for California’s decision-makers in business and government,” he said. “Along the way, we worked closely with key stakeholders and became a kind of clearinghouse for the latest research on climate change policies.”

Tackling Tough Issues

Elkind’s reports offer ways to achieve sustainable development, conserve urban water, implement state land-use and climate change legislation, and increase renewable energy production on big buildings and other local spaces. They also outline how to bolster investments in public transit and launch a statewide retrofit program for existing residences and small businesses.

Specific recommendations include tax benefits for energy storage projects, retrofit workforce licensing standards, better land use surrounding transit stations, and increased renewable energy on farms by expanding net metering and feed-in tariff programs.

With one year left on the Climate Change and Business Research Initiative, Elkind hopes to accelerate its momentum in Sacramento. “We’ll continue to work with and meet individually with key policymakers,” he said. “That’s why it was so important to include them throughout the process, so that we can achieve important policy changes and not just operate in a vacuum.”

The initiative has yielded some promising early results. They include helping to resolve renewable energy issues related to agricultural development, convincing business leaders to advocate for sustainable residential development, and assisting the creation of new regulatory incentives for improved energy storage.

In 2012, the initiative’s leaders will continue to promote its existing reports, develop a new white paper, hold informational events, and meet with state and federal policymakers.

“True partnership between our environmental and business communities is the only way California can meet its climate change mitigation goals and its legislative mandate that utilities generate one-third of their power from renewable resources by 2020,” Elkind said. “We’ve made a lot of headway, but there’s plenty left to do.”