NREL’s Expert Contributions to Renowned Climate Change Assessment Strengthen Leaders’ Ability To Make Informed Decisions

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“The world says, once we were separate and now we must move in unison,” the Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5) begins.

The landmark publication, released approximately every four years, evaluates the state of the science and current impacts of climate change in the United States. It serves as a mechanism for experts to provide insights for decision makers working on climate policies around the country and globally, from legislators to local agencies and beyond. In fact, the report has been hailed by the White House as “the most comprehensive federal effort to assess the state of climate science and communicate the impacts of climate change.”

This congressionally mandated, policy-neutral report on climate change impacts, risks, and current and emerging responses in the United States is produced by hundreds of scientists and Indigenous and local experts with traditional cultural knowledge, from countless areas of climate and energy expertise—including a select group of researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Dan Bilello is the director of the Strategic Energy Analysis Center at NREL and co-authored Chapter 5 of the Fifth National Climate Assessment. Photo by Joe DelNero, NREL

The NREL researchers who contributed to the development of the NCA5 include Dan Bilello, director of NREL’s Strategic Energy Analysis Center and one of the co-authors of Chapter 5 on Energy Supply, Delivery, and Demand; and Senior Researcher Ariel Miara, who served as the chapter’s review editor and ensured that chapter authors meaningfully considered and responded to expert and public feedback. This chapter outlines how climate change poses a threat to energy systems, how compounding and cascading hazards disproportionately impact overburdened communities, efforts to increase energy system resilience, and what an energy transition would require.

Matteo Muratori is a distinguished researcher and group manager at NREL and co-authored Chapter 32 of the Fifth National Climate Assessment. Photo by Werner Slocum, NREL

Distinguished Researcher and Group Manager Matteo Muratori co-authored Chapter 32 on Mitigation, which discusses efforts to reduce emissions in different sectors. Most notably, this chapter delves into greater detail on mitigation than previous reports. It explores not only what mitigation strategies exist and could come online but also the current and potential impacts of these strategies on emissions and on human lives. The chapter, citing NREL research numerous times, highlights the pathways to reach net-zero emissions, which include key solutions already being explored at the laboratory: “improvements in energy efficiency, greater reliance on solar and wind energy, widespread electrification, and reliance on emerging technologies.”

A Meaningful Contribution

The NREL researchers on this project describe the NCA5 as an important, high-profile resource, in which NREL contributes its research expertise and insights but also gets great value from participating.

“Having a seat at that table and being able to bring all of the insights from the lab and our various connections, partnerships, and related work to shape the conversation and report’s development is so impactful,” said Bilello, who was also a co-author on the Fourth National Climate Assessment in 2018.

Ariel Miara is a senior researcher at NREL and was the review editor for Chapter 5 of the Fifth National Climate Assessment. Photo from Ariel Miara

Miara added, “NREL’s contribution shows the lab’s leadership in climate change research and the importance of the work we do, from climate impacts on power systems and the energy transition to transportation and resilience.”

The capabilities, research, and insights explored in the NCA5 reflect much of NREL’s own paradigms for sustainable systems research. The NCA5 highlights the cascading and interconnected impacts of climate change effects on human systems such as energy generation, land use, national security, agriculture, mobility, and much more. NREL’s cross-cutting research similarly reflects an understanding that sustainability solutions do not function in silos—technologies need to work together and meet the needs of diverse human communities and ecosystems.

Considering All Perspectives

The NCA5 is not solely a resource for subject matter experts and political leaders. The report’s Front Matter section describes its intention to be accessible to anybody “who need[s] to make timely decisions about the climate impacts they are facing.” Appropriately for an assessment encompassing many topics for such a wide array of audiences, the report is the result of a complex collaboration involving 14 federal agencies and hundreds of experts and technical contributors. The process included many rounds of review and input from the general public, agencies, and a committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Miara said the public and peer feedback is crucial—”climate change affects people in different ways and these perspectives need to be considered.”

Bilello, Miara, and Muratori were all honored to be a part of the NCA5 and to share their knowledge with report collaborators and those reading the assessment. “NREL’s expert contributions provide pioneering science, techniques, and analysis to enable leaders to make informed decisions on a most urgent problem,” Muratori said. Miara, reflecting on NREL’s takeaways from the process, added, “By being part of the NCA5 and engaging with other leaders from across the country, we are all able to learn from each other, including where there are gaps in research, to ensure that our work stays on the cutting edge and remains meaningful for both the public and decision makers.”

To learn more about the National Climate Assessment, check out the informational webinar series hosted by the U.S. Global Change Research Program. There is also a companion podcast.

Learn more about NREL’s sustainable transportation and mobility research. And sign up for NREL’s quarterly transportation and mobility research newsletter, Sustainable Mobility Matters, to stay current on the latest news.

Learn more about NREL’s energy analysis research, and sign up for NREL’s energy analysis newsletter.

Article courtesy of NREL.

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