By Josh Archote
This piece was originally published on April 6, 2021, by The Reveille.
Nine LSU researchers joined committees and advisory groups for Gov. John Bel Edwards’s Climate Initiatives Task Force, an executive order signed in August of last year to reduce Louisiana’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.
By February 2022, the Task Force will submit a detailed plan to reduce Louisiana greenhouse gas emissions 26-28% by 2025, 40-50% by 2030 and net zero emissions by mid-century.
“Just as we have done with coastal protection and restoration, we are building an inclusive, science-driven process to lead us to solutions to an incredibly complex and difficult problem,” Edwards said in a press release.
The task force is supported by six committees pertaining to sectors of the economy, and four advisory groups focused on science, equity, law and policy and financial and economic concerns.
LSU chemical engineering professor Kalliat Valsaraj is part of the Science Advisory Committee, tasked with assessing the feasibility of scientific recommendations to attain carbon neutrality by 2050.
“It may be challenging to the Louisiana situation because of its reliance on the oil and gas industry, but the prospect of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 is certainly possible,” Valsaraj said.
The transition to renewable energy and carbon neutrality is crucial in mitigating the effects of global climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions increase temperatures in the atmosphere and the ocean, leading to sea-level rise, more extreme weather and a host of other devastating effects outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Almost every country joined the United Nations’ Paris Agreement, which aims to limit greenhouse emissions by transitioning economies away from nonrenewable energy, like oil and natural gas, to renewable energy, like solar and wind.
President Joe Biden rejoined the United States into the Paris Agreement on his first day in office, undoing the country’s November 2020 withdrawal from the agreement.
Louisiana is fifth among states in total carbon emissions and emissions per-capita, according to 2015-16 U.S. Department of Energy statistics. Much of Louisiana’s emissions come from the production of oil and gas at wells, the use of oil and gas as fuel in refineries and petrochemical manufacturing and from transportation emissions.
Edwards described Louisiana as the “poster child for climate risk,” during a meeting of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. Louisiana’s incidences of extreme weather and already-sinking coastline make the state especially vulnerable to climate-related impacts.
“Coastal erosion and the relocation of vulnerable communities will tax our state resources in the future,” Valsaraj said. “When you superimpose our already costly efforts at coastal restoration, even slight increases in sea level due to global climate changes (and arctic snow melts) will make our efforts even more difficult.”
Other LSU researchers in the science advisory group are petroleum engineering professor Mehdi Zeidouni, agriculture professor Chang Jeong and Richard Keim, a professor in the School of Renewable Natural Resources.
Keim’s research at LSU focuses on the interaction of forests and wetlands with the water cycle, specifically as it pertains to greenhouse gases and climate change.
“The task force needs this expertise because any proposed actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change need to include the role of ecosystems,” Keim said. “Forests and wetlands are major stores of carbon in Louisiana, and we can affect their carbon balances substantially by the way we manage them directly and by the way we manage the water they depend on.”
Ten percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions comes from agriculture, according to the EPA. Finding better practices and incentives for farmers to implement could result in reduced greenhouse gas emissions, according to agriculture professor Naveen Adusumilli, who works on the Agricultural Conservation Waste Management Subcommittee.
Another way agriculture will have impacts on the climate is through carbon sequestration, the ability of forests and grasslands to store carbon that would otherwise go into the atmosphere.
Forests and grasslands are referred to as carbon sinks because they store large amounts of carbon in their vegetation and root systems for long periods of time.
“There are several practices the farmers will be able to adopt,” Adusumilli said. “The goal is how to convince them and create a set of mechanisms so that they can adopt these practices on a long-term basis.”
Geography and anthropology professor Craig Colten has worked on environmental justice issues since he arrived at LSU in 2000. He’s currently researching how marginalized communities in the coastal region of the state are neglected by the state’s ambitious coastal master plan.
Colten will serve the Task Force’s Equity Advisory Group, which will consider how vulnerable, minority and marginalized residents of Louisiana will be impacted by either actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or by the continuation of the status quo.
“We often see inequitable impacts from environmental policies,” Colten said, “and our duty is to foreground the equity issues in the early stages of discussion, debate and policy formulation.”
Economics professor and director of the Public Administration Institute in the E. J. Ourso College of Business Administration James Richardson will serve on the Economics and Finance Advisory Group.
Richardson has worked with the Louisiana economy for over 50 years, helping create economic outlooks for the state and working with the legislature on tax policy since 1970.
“My focus has to be on the economic and financial impact perspective,” Richardson said. “But, obviously, any economic and financial impacts will be closely related to the science issues.”
Other LSU researchers working with the task force include petroleum engineering professor Richard Hughes on the Mining, Oil and Gas Production Advisory Group, and energy law professor Nick Bryner.
Edwards became the 25th governor to commit to carbon reduction goals in line with the Paris Agreement’s goals, but Louisiana’s efforts will need to be matched by other states and countries to limit global climate change.
“Whatever actions Louisiana may take has to be accompanied by similar or stronger actions from our neighboring states since CO2 does not recognize state boundaries,” Valsaraj said.