New Brown Climate Solutions Lab calls for executive action on climate change

A comprehensive report, "Presidential Climate Action on Day One: A Foreign Policy Guide for the Next U.S. President," issues a sweeping set of recommended actions, both domestic and international, to address climate change, this century’s defining global challenge.

"Despite the doom and gloom you sometimes hear, the U.S. federal government is not helpless to address climate change. There are many actions that the Executive Branch can take, even without help from the Congress,” said Jeff D. Colgan, Director of the Climate Solutions Lab and the Richard Holbrooke Associate Professor of Political Science at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. Presidential leadership must drive these 10 recommended policy changes. The report urges the United States to make changes domestically, collaborate and coordinate with foreign allies, and apply appropriate pressures to persuade reluctant foreign actors to engage. Colgan co-authored the October report with Fred Shaia, a Ph.D. student and Presidential Fellow in the Department of Political Science at Brown University, after extensive discussions with nationally-known climate change experts at Brown University and across the country.

Because former Vice President Joe Biden has issued the most assertive climate change plan in U.S. history – surpassing efforts by President Barack Obama – the report recognizes the Biden campaign’s climate commitments and proposes 10 additional recommended actions. Regardless of who wins the election, Colgan said, “The report contains recommendations that Democrats and Republicans can work together on, such as a climate club that commits to deliver a carbon emissions tax, which has gained support on both sides of the political aisle.” To that end, the report will be sent to Congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, Biden climate policy advisors, and nonpartisan think tanks such as Brookings, American Enterprise Institute and the Niskanen Center. It provides a timely and meaningful roadmap for the next president to implement and enforce climate change solutions.

The report contains recommendations that Democrats and Republicans can work together on, such as a climate club that commits to deliver a carbon emissions tax, which has gained support on both sides of the political aisle.

Jeff Colgan Director, Climate Solutions Lab
Jeff Colgan

Most of these recommendations can be done through Executive Orders, rather than legislative actions, added Colgan, so they can be implemented on Day 1 of the new presidential administration. Rejoining the Paris Climate Accord – which Biden has already committed to doing – and the World Health Organization, and elevating climate change action to WHO’s top priority are just two examples.

Some domestic recommendations include:             

  • Direct the Federal Reserve to address systemic financial risks created by climate change by taking specific actions that are detailed in the report; and
  • Declare a U.S. national climate emergency, including using military funding to secure and decarbonize the electricity grid, accelerate the expansion of clean energy technologies and issue loan guarantees to clean energy developers and utilities; and
  • Mitigate other climate risks to the domestic financial system.  

International recommendations, among others, are:

  • Create an international “Climate Club” of countries collectively committing to reducing emissions, penalizing non-participants through carbon tariffs and strengthening the World Trade Organization.
  • Launch a new partnership with the world’s 10 leading democracies and make climate change a core priority.
  • Protect the Amazon rain forest by working with Brazil and the international community; and
  • “Domestic policy and foreign policy must work together, hand-in-glove. Each policy is weaker without the other,” cautioned Colgan. “Continued inaction by the United States is very worrisome.” According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world must reduce our carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030 if we are to avoid further climate damages -- greater than the recurrent fires, hurricanes and floods that have already left parts of the world devastated.


Housed at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, the newly-launched Climate Solutions Lab, is dedicated to creating, learning and distributing solution-oriented climate knowledge, at Brown and across the world. The Watson Institute is a community of scholars, practitioners, and students whose work aims to help us understand and address these critical challenges. It is dedicated to meaningful social science research and teaching, and animated by the conviction that informed policy can change systems and societies for the better.

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