4
Common Themes

The workshop presentations, panel, and roundtable discussions identified a number of common themes related to sustainability research and development activities on ecosystem services and biofuels. These are summarized below. While they are representative of the views expressed by many of the participants, they do not constitute consensus conclusions of the steering committee.

FRAMING SUSTAINABILITY

Many participants strongly cautioned against devoting too much effort to refining the definition of sustainability, noting that it was more important to emphasize the relationship between people and life support systems. Workshop participants also suggested that it might be easier to recognize that certain actions and trends are not sustainable over the long term rather than to describe those that are. In other words, moving away from unsustainable practices is a way to make the transition toward sustainability. Regardless of the topic, a number of participants stressed the importance of maintaining a sustainability perspective when determining research priorities and developing policies and programs.

REFOCUSING STRATEGIES

Many agencies are now using a sustainability lens to help focus their R&D activities as well as their natural resource management programs. For example, the USGS science strategy highlights plans for work on ecosystem services and



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4 Common Themes The workshop presentations, panel, and roundtable discussions identified a number of common themes related to sustainability research and development ac- tivities on ecosystem services and biofuels. These are summarized below. While they are representative of the views expressed by many of the participants, they do not constitute consensus conclusions of the steering committee. FRAMING SUSTAINABILITY Many participants strongly cautioned against devoting too much effort to refining the definition of sustainability, noting that it was more important to emphasize the relationship between people and life support systems. Workshop participants also suggested that it might be easier to recognize that certain actions and trends are not sustainable over the long term rather than to describe those that are. In other words, moving away from unsustainable practices is a way to make the transition toward sustainability. Regardless of the topic, a number of participants stressed the importance of maintaining a sustainability perspective when determining research priorities and developing policies and programs. REFOCUSING STRATEGIES Many agencies are now using a sustainability lens to help focus their R&D activities as well as their natural resource management programs. For example, the USGS science strategy highlights plans for work on ecosystem services and 

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0 TRANSITIONING TO SUSTAINABILITY biofuels. The EPA has issued a Sustainability Research Strategy (1) to improve understanding of the earth’s natural and manmade systems, (2) to assess threats to these systems, (3) to design and apply cost effective industrial processes and (4) to develop and apply new technologies and decision support tools. The EPA is also beginning the development of a strategy for sustainable biofuels. The For- est Service is now using the concept of ecosystem services as a framework for describing the benefits of forests, for evaluating the effects of policy and man- agement decisions and for advocating the use of economic incentives to protect private forest lands from development. Both the USDA and the National Science Foundation currently have sustainability councils to help guide R&D decisions. The USDA Council on Sustainable Development includes representatives from all the mission agencies and is focused on policies and programs supporting sus- tainable agriculture, sustainable forestry, and sustainable rural communities. KEY QUESTIONS While many of the workshop discussions focused on research gaps, partici- pants emphasized that there is much we already know especially regarding the natural sciences associated with ecosystem services and biofuels. The most sig- nificant gaps are in understanding the associated social, economic, political, and behavioral issues. Some specific research questions are listed below: • Is it possible to more clearly identify the effects of changes in ecosystem conditions on communities and vulnerable people? • What are the implications of expanded U.S. ethanol production for changes in habitat and biodiversity? • What are the economic and social impacts of biofuel production on rural communities and states? • Are available indicators matched with needs of local resource managers? Many participants noted the importance of developing indicators and metrics to evaluate programs, to track changes in ecosystem conditions, to assess pressures and drivers, to warn of potential vulnerabilities and “tipping points.” • How can the concept of ecosystem services be made “real”? Participants acknowledged that efforts to value ecosystem services were helpful but suggested that better information was needed to educate stakeholders about the functions of ecosystem processes and services and the benefits and costs associated with human interactions. 1 EPA’s Sustainability Research Strategy, Foreword, Accessed on 3/19/08, http://www.epa. gov/sustainability/pdfs/EPA-12057_SRS_R4-1.pdf

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 COMMON THEMES HOLISTIC APPROACH For both ecosystem services and biofuels, many participants emphasized the need to maintain a big picture or holistic perspective—drawing on multiple disci- plines, focusing on different geographic and temporal scales as well as recogniz- ing the needs of a diverse set of stakeholders. For example, in the case of biofuels, some participants suggested that biomass R&D efforts should be considered as one part of a mix of energy supplies or an energy portfolio. Furthermore, bioen- ergy R&D efforts should focus on more than the development and conversion of feedstocks to understand the effects of production and use on critical natural re- sources—water (quality and quantity), soils, and direct/indirect land use—as well as the impacts on transportation, local communities, and vulnerable populations. In addition, many participants noted important trade-offs between fuel feedstocks and food (for people as well as animals) both domestically and internationally. There was considerable emphasis on the value of place-based research related to both biofuels and ecosystem services as well as the link between increased production of biofuels and the vitality of local ecosystem services. INCREASED INTERAGENCY COLLABORATION There is considerable R&D collaboration among agencies in addressing both ecosystems services and biofuels. However there are additional opportunities for collaborative activities and to leverage activities of other agencies, especially at a local or regional level. The Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR), Ecosystem Services Task Team of the National Science and Technol- ogy Council2 (NSTC) provides one mechanism to share information on research related to ecosystem management activities and to identify opportunities for cooperation and collaboration. However, some participants noted that the CENR needs to be revitalized to take full advantage of the programs and new staff at the Forest Service, EPA, USGS, and other agencies. Several workshop participants also suggested that the Ocean Science Plan is a possible model for setting federal research priorities on ecosystem services, supporting federal funding requests and strengthening collaboration among agen- cies. However, they noted the difficulty in uniting agency budgeting processes. In the case of biofuels, R&D priorities are coordinated by an interagency board. The Biomass R&D Board, co-chaired by DOE and USDA, includes cabi- net level representatives from DOI, DOT, EPA and the Commerce Department. To date, R&D efforts have focused largely on feedstocks and conversion technolo- gies. Sustainability issues have not been a major focus. However, John Mizroch, the DOE Deputy Assistant Administrator for Energy Efficiency and Renewable 2The NSTC is led by the President’s Science Advisor and is responsible for coordinating the federal S&T policy making process; the ensuring the S&T policy decisions and programs are consistent with the President’s goals, and integrating the President’s S&T agenda across agencies.

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 TRANSITIONING TO SUSTAINABILITY Energy, announced that the “Billion Ton” study was to be updated with more attention to sustainability.3 In addition, a number of agencies represented at the Forum have significant research efforts underway to understand some of the key sustainability issues associated with the production and use of biofuels. KNOWLEDGE DISSEMINATION Participants from the academic and industrial communities noted the value of making information/knowledge from federal R&D activities more widely available. They explained that results of federal research activities are often not published in scientific journals, and thus dissemination is rather limited. A few participants suggested that the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ section on sustainability science4 might be used to facilitate more widespread dissemination. There was also talk about the need to scale-up knowledge from local R&D activities for application at state and national levels. LINKING KNOWLEDGE WITH ACTION Participants emphasized the need to focus on linking existing scientific and technical information to programs and policies at federal, regional, and local levels. While the knowledge-action link is often cited as a potential barrier in making the sustainability transition, it may be somewhat less of a barrier for federal researchers. Agencies such as USDA and DOI are directly responsible for managing federal lands (USDA, including the Forest Service, and DOI manage some 55 percent of US lands). The EPA uses the results of their R&D activities to support their regulatory programs, creating natural links to customers and constituents. A number of barriers, however, remain in linking knowledge to program and policy actions. Constraints include: • Limited understanding of how decisions are made at the local/regional level and of the importance of politics and institutions at all levels. For example, political incumbents may be reluctant to shift policies or pro- mote new, more sustainable programs if these might undermine their electability. There are also problems in integrating across political scales (local to federal) as well as across local jurisdictions. Many participants noted the importance of connecting scientists and local stakeholders, possibly through bridging institutions or networks, and of recognizing 3 Biomass as Feedstock for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry: The Technical Feasibility of a Billion Ton Annual Supply, Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the US Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture, April 2005. 4 PNAS, http://www.pnas.org/misc/sustainability.shtml. Accessed on: 1/7/2008

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 COMMON THEMES incentives and disincentives for working together (who benefits) and understanding how to promote trust. • A number of participants talked about uncertainty and/or the lack of complete information as a barrier to action. They suggested that it was important to take some initial steps, setting the stage for future action with what we already know works, while continuing to support R&D. Many environmental changes are happening with potential long term negative consequences. Programs and policy choices offer win-win op- portunities as shown by approaches to addressing global climate change such as improvements in energy efficiency. NExT STEPS Many participants suggested a number of steps that they might take with their own organizations or that could be undertaken by the National Academies. Some of the ideas discussed included: • Convening a regional forum with federal, state, and private partners to explore how R&D efforts are used (or not) to determine policies and local management programs, to identify the barriers to more effective local ecosystem services management efforts—including political, eco- nomic, and social barriers—and to understand the research needed by local decision makers. • Developing a set of indicators related to ecosystem services—something like a dashboard—that would reflect the status of critical ecosystems. These indicators could then be used to identify specific management priorities and provide a basis for examining political, economic and environmental trade-offs of various management strategies. • Exploring the possibility of creating regional centers of excellence to pool limited agency R&D resources and to create linkages between the research community and local decision makers. • Reinvigorating the NSTC Committee on Environment and Natural Re- sources, specifically the CENR Ecosystem Services Working Group to share information about R&D being done by different agencies, encour- age collaborative activities and communicate best practices. • Creating a framework for assessing bioenergy production and biorefiner- ies in the context of sustainability. The emphasis would be on identifying key issues along the supply chain, developing metrics, and focusing on key research and development opportunities. • Expanding place-based studies on biofuel production and use, recogniz- ing that soils, climate, water availability, and feedstock choices will have unique economic, social, and environmental impacts. • Examining changes required in the U.S. transportation infrastructure

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 TRANSITIONING TO SUSTAINABILITY to accomodate increased biofuel production, and the socio-economic, environmental, safety and health consequences associated with such changes and identifying needed R&D. • Convening a series of workshops between the science community and the investment community. This would provide an opportunity for the investment community to be exposed to the scientific perspectives which were a highlight of the recent Federal Forum and help inform invest- ment decisions that are likely to have a significant impact on prospects for long term sustainability. One topic could be biofuels with a focus on cellulosic ethanol providing an overview of the state of the science and technology, risks, and trade-offs. • Hosting a second federal R&D Forum looking at R&D activities related to oceans and coastal areas, possibly including the implementation of the new Ocean Research Priorities Plan, management issues in the Arctic, and examining the priorities of other countries for managing the oceans.