US government agencies to roll out climate change training for officials to help meet targets

By on 06/09/2022 | Updated on 06/09/2022
President Joe Biden stands in front of a blue sign at COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021.
President Biden – pictured here at COP26, Glasgow, in November 2021 – has introduced a range of climate change policies since taking office. Photo by Alan Harvey / UK Government via Flickr

The White House has issued instructions to agencies on how to achieve the federal government’s climate change goals, including through the development of sustainability-focused training programmes for departmental staff.

The information from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) sets out how to implement an executive order on climate action, signed by president Joe Biden in December last year.

The order – Catalyzing Clean Energy Industries and Jobs Through Federal Sustainability – directs agencies to be carbon-pollution electricity free by 2030, to stop purchasing ‘emission vehicles’ by 2035, and to establish net-zero buildings by 2045. It also called for a federal workforce “with the knowledge and skills to effectively apply sustainability, climate adaptation, and environmental stewardship across disciplines and functions”.

The new guidance from the CEQ has therefore called on agencies to “develop, conduct, support, and promote training, education, and engagement activities” for federal staff, including through seminars, working groups, employee involvement in developing sustainability goals and recognition programmes.

Read more: Biden’s challenge: rebuilding climate expertise in government

It said agencies must monitor capacity-building strategies, and that it would consider metrics for tracking progress towards “a climate- and sustainability-focused workforce” no later than September 2023, in coordination with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Sustainability plans, target setting and reporting

In terms of reaching the overarching goals outlined in the executive order, the head of each agency has been tasked with proposing annual targets. The CEQ said it and the OMB would issue guidance for setting initial targets, and that leaders’ and interagency groups should be established to report on progress. Agencies must submit sustainability plans and climate adaptation and resilience plans annually, and plans must be publicly available on their websites.

Read more: US Senate passes milestone climate change bill

Each agency must also designate a chief sustainability officer, and incorporate climate action goals into employee performance plans “where practicable”.

The guidance on implementing the order also includes sections on areas of focus such as carbon-pollution-free electricity, waste management, procurement, climate resilient infrastructure and operations, and incorporating environment justice.

“Achieving these ambitious commitments requires action by each and every agency, starting today,” the CEQ said.

Read more: Biden beefs up federal requirement to assess environmental impact of infrastructure after dilution by Trump

The CEQ said a soon-to-be-issued OPM report titled ‘Climate Adaptation, Sustainability and the Federal Workforce: Analysis of Agency Engagement, Training and Leader Capabilities’, would further guide agencies on setting up relevant programmes and initiatives.  

Biden has introduced a range of climate change policies since taking office in January 2021. Last month, senators pushed through the Inflation Reduction Act after 18 months of wrangling. The major piece of legislation, which allocates US$454bn to tackle climate change, subsidise healthcare and reform taxes, was subsequently signed into law on 16 August.

The act’s key provisions include spending US$369bn on climate change measures, US$60bn of which will be spent on clean energy including solar and wind power.

Biden said the bill “makes the largest investment ever in combatting the existential crisis of climate change” and that it would strengthen energy security, create jobs in solar panel, wind turbine and electric vehicle manufacturing, and “lower families’ energy costs by hundreds of dollars each year”.

It is hoped the Act will help the country reduce its domestic emissions by at least 40% by 2030, against a 2005 baseline.

Read more: Biden’s management agenda prioritises federal employee engagement

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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