Is it Now or Never for US Climate Policy?


                    We must not squander our Congressional Democratic Majorities and jeopardize
                              the once-in-a-generation opportunity to create historic change….
                                                            Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives

  • History is not on the side of a sitting president’s party keeping control of Congress.
  • Congressional Democrats must do what needs doing to put President Biden’s once-in-a-generation climate plan on the books, in the next 100 days.
  • No state interest, no congressional career, no company, no individual is more important than the task of ensuring a habitable environment for current and future generations.
  • What needs to be done to secure America’s future now that the budget resolution has been enacted is passage of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill and the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package—along with raising the debt limit on the nation’s credit card.

The closing 100 days of 2021 will be looked back on as among the most critical in the environmental history of the United States—rivaled only by those in the 1970s when the cornerstones of today’s environmental protections were laid.[i]

Whether today’s policymakers will be deserving of applause or derision depends upon the outcomes in four highly partisan battles now taking place over the: $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill; $3.5 trillion budget resolution and the associated package of spending programs termed budget reconciliation; and raising the debt limit on the nation’s credit card.                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
Even before President Biden’s missteps in Afghanistan, the passage of his sweeping plan to confront climate change head-on was in doubt. Images of Afghanis desperately chasing airplanes down the tarmac in an attempt to flee Taliban rule are emboldening Republican politicians to oppose all parts of the Democrats’ domestic agenda in anticipation of their retaking one or both chambers of Congress in the 2022 midterm elections.                                                                                                                                                                           

History is not on the side of a sitting president’s party keeping control of Congress. The Democrats’ ultra-thin majorities in the House (3 votes) and Senate (even split of 50/50), along with the internal party conflicts between moderates and progressives, add layers of uncertainty to an already problematic situation.

What unites Republicans is their basic opposition to the entirety of the Democratic agenda. What divides Democrats is how best to ensure future generations a habitable environment and a strong, sustainable economy.

Should the Democrats fail to enact the sweeping reforms needed to address the climate crisis within the next 100 days, national energy and environmental protection policies will remain resting on shifting political sands—at the mercy of presidents—well into the 2030s.

The following paragraphs describe the political hurdles to clear and chasms to cross in the remaining days of 2021 for President Biden’s once-in-a-generation climate plan to have any chance of passage.

Infrastructure bill

Following weeks of debate and posturing, the Senate overwhelmingly approved the roughly $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Heralded as a generational investment, the Senate’s action was perhaps most remarkable for its bipartisan support. Cross-aisle cooperation on Capitol Hill is hard to come by these days.

Although far short of the $2.2 trillion initially proposed by the President, the bill provides $550 billion in new federal spending and redirects $450 billion in funds that were previously appropriated but remain unobligated.

Much of the conflict between Republican and Democratic negotiators centers on the definition of infrastructure. Biden’s definition of infrastructure exceeds traditional shovel-ready grit-and-gravel projects like roads and bridges.

Instead, thelegislation sent to Capitol Hill by the White House included such items as [solidi-fying] the infrastructure of our care economy by creating jobs and raising wages and benefits for essential home care workers.

The White House’s initial proposal contained significant climate-related measures like building, retrofitting, preserving more than two million homes and commercial buildings and modernizing our nation’s schools and childcare facilities to make them energy efficient.

Although the bipartisan bill passed by the Senate was heavy on traditional grit-and-gravel projects, it includes funding for less traditional ones. These include connecting rural communities to high-speed internet ($65 billion), improving railways ($66 billion), cleaning up abandoned mines and oil and gas wells ($21 billion), and for electric and low-emission school buses ($5 billion).

The Senate approved the infrastructure bill by a vote of 69 to 30. The 30 Republican senators opposing the bill did so primarily based on the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) estimate that it would add $256 billion to the national deficit over the next ten years. The bipartisan group that put the bill together calculated it to be revenue-neutral.

The House is primed and ready to take up the Senate’s infrastructure bill. It promises, however, to be a very contentious fight.

The fiercest fights over the infrastructure bill are shaping up to be within the Democratic caucus. The battles go beyond various substantive provisions of the proposed act, e.g., whether electric vehicle charging stations should be included in the infrastructure bill.

At issue are such parliamentary matters as the order in which the bills would be brought up for final passage by the House and Senate. To fully appreciate the political drama surrounding the consideration and enactment of the various bills, readers need to be ever mindful of the mistrust borne by hyper-partisanship.

Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) claims the House is not some cheap date and will do what it needs to concerning the legislation. The Congressman is chair of the powerful House Rules Com-mittee through which bills have to travel on their way to the House floor for a vote.  

House members—both moderate and progressive—are generally angry over the Senate’s dis-regard of legislation they’ve already written and, in some cases, passed. Their feelings on this run deep.

Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) has already scorched the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure negotiations before they’ve hardly begun. It’s reported that he’s expressed his hopes the talks will fail. Why?

DeFazio is the House Transportation Committee chair and the lead sponsor of HR 3684, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The $715 billion measure passed the House and now sits in the wings awaiting Senate action. Given that the Senate bill appropriates a meager $110 billion for transportation measures, it’s hardly surprising DeFazio finds it inferior to the bill passed by the House.

The Senate’s disregard of House actions is not all that’s troubling DeFazio and his liberal colleagues. Representative Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and other progressives promise to sink the infrastructure bill should Senate Democrats not deliver on the reconciliation bill. Why?

Although House progressives recognize the infrastructure bill as a big and bold package of needed projects, they believe it wholly inadequate to the tasks at hand. According to DeFazio, the Senate package:

Unfortunately… falls short when it comes to addressing climate change like the existential threat it is, and the world’s scientists only reinforced the need for additional action in the IPCC’s[ii] latest alarming report. That is why I’m committed to continuing to fight for transformational funding and policies in the reconciliation process that will reduce carbon pollution from the transportation sector, support American manufacturing and ingenuity, and create infrastructure that is smarter, safer, and made to last.

The reconciliation bill is the vehicle for many of the aggressive climate-related provisions proposed by the President in his $2.2 trillion plan that couldn’t be brokered as part of the Senate bill. Other outcasts from the Biden bill include production and investment tax credits for solar, wind, and other clean technologies, as well as a national clean electric standard[iii].

As I’ll explain in a moment, the reconciliation bill is much more than a catch-basin for dis-carded infrastructure provisions. It’s the vehicle Democrats need to make good on many of Biden’s election promises on climate, e.g., net-zero carbon emissions from the power sector, and crucial societal matters, e.g., expanded Medicare coverage.

Progressives are not the only members of the Democratic caucus who’ve issued an ultimatum in recent days about the infrastructure and budget bills. As reported by Roll Call, nine centrists have written a letter to Speaker Pelosi warning her they will not consider voting for a budget res-olution until the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passes the House and is signed into law.

Pelosi is facing two opposing Democratic factions—either of which could deliver mortal blows to the leadership positions of both the Speaker and the President. Pelosi’s two predecessors, Ryan (R-WI) and Boehner (R-OH), were neutralized as effective leaders by a small ultra-conservative Republican faction they could not control—the House Freedom Caucus. Pelosi is facing a similar situation.

Up to this point, Madam Speaker has succeeded in keeping House Democrats all moving in a similar direction. What’s required now is having all caucus members moving along the same orderly paths.

The paths, in this case, are the passage of a stand-alone $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, the $3.5 trillion package of spending programs under budget reconciliation, and raising the debt limit on the nation’s credit card. 
Budget resolution and reconciliation

The House and Senate have both approved the $3.5 trillion budget resolution. The resolution is vital for several reasons. Although non-binding, it is a clear statement of the majority party’s policy and program priorities. It illustrates those priorities in several ways, including how it divvies up the monies the government has to spend in the immediate fiscal year.

Higher priority items will naturally receive relatively greater budgetary support.  Greater can be defined as more than a program has previously received or compared to other expenditures in the category.

As important as the division of funds are the instructions that go along with them to the sub-ject matter committees. The just-passed resolution directs a dozen committees in the Senate and 13 in the House to write what will amount to a $3.5 trillion package that would implement significant changes in health care, social, and climate policies.

For example, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will receive $198 billion of the total $3.5 trillion. The Committee is chaired by Joe Manchin (D-WV), a coal-state conserv-ative.

According to a draft memorandum to Democratic senators, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee is being allocated $198 billion to be spent on the following:

  • Clean Electricity Payment Program[iv];
  • Consumer rebates to weatherize and electrify homes;
  • Financing for domestic manufacturing of clean energy and auto supply chain technologies;
  • Federal procurement of energy-efficient materials;
  • Climate research;
  • Research infrastructure for DOE National Labs;
  • Hard Rock mining; and,
  • Department of Interior programs.

The Committee is receiving the third largest amount of program funds behind only the Committees on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions ($762.4 billion) and Banking Housing and Urban Affairs ($332 billion).

According to Roll Call, reconciliation instructions sent to the multiple House and Senate panels direct them to increase the deficit by $1.75 trillion. The higher deficit amounts are expected ultimately to be offset by changes to the tax codes and reductions in unspecified spending.

Under a regular order of business, subject matter committees would put together separate appropriations bills that would then be debated and acted upon by the full House and Senate—sometimes individually, at other times as part of a package. Differences between the bills would t go to a conference committee to work out the kinks and then be sent back for final votes.

Decades of hyper-partisanship have changed all that—particularly on the Senate side of the Hill. Whereas both chambers need a simple majority to pass most legislation, the Senate can keep a bill from being brought to a vote through a filibuster.

A filibuster, sometimes called talking out a bill, is a tactic by which a senator refuses to relinquish the floor for a vote to take place. The title-holder for the longest spoken filibuster in US history goes to Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. An opponent of the Civil Rights Act, Thurmond spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

Although the needed number of votes for cloture has dropped from the original two-thirds (66) to three-fifths (60), cloture is still challenging to achieve. Moreover, the days of senators continuously occupying the podium and their colleagues moving cots into the Old Senate chambers are over. Today, a senator need only say they intend to filibuster a particular bill for it to happen.

The way around a filibuster is through the budget reconciliation process. Created by the Cong-ressional Budget Act of 1974, reconciliation allows for expedited consideration of certain tax, spending, and debt-limit legislation. (Emphasis added)

The filibuster-proof procedure was used to pass President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill in March. The Republicans used the process to enact their 2017 tax cuts.

Most of the climate-related programs and policies that didn’t make it into the infrastructure bill and other non-climate-related campaign promises of the President will be packaged into a single reconciliation bill. The final tab will likely total between $1.5 and $3.5 trillion. However, the final say over what makes it into the reconciliation bill is left to the Senate Parliamentarian.

There is zero likelihood, at this point, that any Senate Republican will vote in favor of the reconciliation package—whatever its final cost. The same is likely to be the case in the House. At the end of the day, even those who voted in favor of Trump’s impeachment will stay true to their fiscal conservative Republican roots.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill has a reasonable chance of passage as a stand-alone proposition. New construction of roads, bridges, and repairs of railways and airports are long overdue across Republican and Democratic congressional districts. According to the World Economic Forum, the US is ranked 13th globally in terms of its infrastructure.  Singapore is ranked first and Austria tenth. The UK and the United Arab Emirates are eleventh and twelfth, respectively.

As job producers in a tenuous economic time and in competition with other nations all the time, members of Congress are hard-pressed to vote down any investments that keep the country both working and competitive in world markets. In any event, it’s a risk Democratic congressional leaders seem willing to take.

Timing is everything

Pelosi has consistently spoken of the reconciliation and infrastructure bills as a pair—with the infrastructure bill being voted on first. Early in the negotiations, Biden also spoke this way—going so far as to say he wouldn’t sign the infrastructure bill if the larger reconciliation pack-age weren’t also given to him for signature.

The President pulled back from the contingency almost immediately to prove to Republican and Democratic moderates that his preference was for bipartisan action. Why is Biden concerned about Republican moderates?

As a stand-alone bill, infrastructure will need 60 votes to make it through the Senate. Assuming all 48 Democrats and the two independent senators, Sanders (VT) and King (ME), sing from the same songbook, the script, ten Republicans in the Senate will be needed for cloture on a filibuster to prevent a vote on the bill. It’s unlikely that all of the 19 Republican senators that voted for the Senate measure can be counted on to support the House amended bill—or even something close to it.

The House can pass the infrastructure bill with a party-line vote. However, it could go down to defeat should four or more Democrats vote no.

Pelosi, Schumer, and other leading congressional Democrats are confident there’s only one way to make good on their and Biden’s promises on climate, health care, and other societal priorities. By making the infrastructure bill essentially contingent on the passage of the much larger and meatier reconciliation.

But first, they must make a good-faith effort to find a bipartisan compromise. Collaboration has occurred with the infrastructure bill; unfortunately, a partisan wall has been hit on recon-ciliation.

Debt ceiling

If all of this weren’t complicated enough, there’s the matter of the debt ceiling. Early in August, Treasury Secretary Yellen urged Congress to raise the national debt limit, which now stands at $28.5 trillion.

Raising the debt ceiling doesn’t cover new spending, e.g., the proposed infrastructure bill. It allows the Treasury to pay for things that have already been approved.

The majority of the debt to be covered pre-dates Biden’s being sworn in as president. According to Yellen, the failure to meet those obligations would cause irreparable harm to the US economy and the livelihoods of all Americans.

The Treasury Secretary has reminded US lawmakers that raising the ceiling and protecting the full faith and credit of the nation has always been a shared responsibility.

Notwithstanding all of this, 46 of the 50 Senate Republicans have signed a “pinky-finger-pledge” that they will not help their Democratic colleagues raise the debt ceiling. According to the ringleader, Ron Portman (R-WI): If Democrats threaten a default, it will only be because they refuse to vote for the debt ceiling increase necessitated by their own irresponsible spending.

The problem—Senator—is that most of those checks were written by the Trump administration. According to Reuters:

The national debt ballooned by almost 40% to nearly $28 trillion under former President Donald Trump, fueled by the passage of tax cuts in 2017 and a flood of spending in 2020 to counter the economic hit from the coronavirus pandemic.

The four senators who didn’t sign the letter were Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Richard Shelby (AL), and John Kennedy (LA. The problem is it takes 60 votes to raise the debt ceiling.

What happens if the 46 Republicans stand pat? The government closes down, and the nation defaults on its obligations. Will it happen? President Biden thinks not, but these days who knows.

The bottom-line

There’s no overstating the dire consequences of the federal failure to enact sweeping climate legislation before the end of 2021. Even assuming that everything goes Mother Nature’s way in the next 100 days, it will take three to five years just to put in place the necessary regulations covering things like a national clean electric standard and more strident forest management practices. Why?

Because when the legislative battles are over, the legal ones begin. Saving the planet from the worst consequences of Earth’s warming is not something that can be done by flipping a switch a minute before midnight.

The Democrats’ loss of either the House or Senate in 2022 means gridlock. The loss of the presidency and either chamber in Congress in 2024 means gridlock. The Democrats’ loss of both the White House and the Congress means further damage to a national environmental protection framework already weakened by the Trump presidency.

I don’t mean to bash Republicans out of hand. It’s just that most Republican lawmakers have been as unwilling to act on the urgency of climate science as they have on medical science these past 14 months. It could change, will it?


[i]The Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, et al.

[ii] The Sixth Assessment Report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

[iii] There are a host of other social provisions, e.g., universal pre-Kindergarten and expanding Medicare to include dental and vision, that would also be addressed in the reconciliation bill. In total, the reconciliation bill is to carry out most of the climate and non-climate promises made by President Biden and Democrats in the 2020 elections.

[iv] This is a form of a national clean energy standard.

Lead image: A weary senator rests on a cot in the Old Senate Chamber during a lengthy filibuster. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, senators opposed to civil rights and anti-lynching legislation successfully blocked such measures, often through use of the fili-buster.  (US Senate Historical Office)

A Monster Storm Tests New Orleans

Ida Remnants Bring Torrential Rains to East

Because the Northeast is where a lot of tropical storms go to die, big precipitation events are going to keep getting much, much worse.

Ida churns up tension on infrastructure vs. climate change

In a Busy Week for Hurricane Season, Kate Is Downgraded to a Tropical Depression

The post In a Busy Week for Hurricane Season, Kate Is Downgraded to a Tropical Depression appeared first on Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Breaking down the congressional budget process

Congress reconciliationBreaking down the congressional budget process

By Flannery Winchester

Even on the best of days, the legislative process in Congress can be wonky and complicated. In a moment like this, with major packages of legislation evolving daily, it’s even harder to keep up with where the process stands. 

In other words: “If you’re confused, it’s because it’s confusing,” Tony Sirna, CCL’s Strategy Director, reassures us. Let’s break it down.

What is budget reconciliation?

Budget reconciliation is a process that Congress can use to fast-track a budget related bill. They can generally do it once per fiscal year, and it can be passed with a simple majority of just 51 votes in the Senate. All provisions in the bill must be budget related — an official called the “Senate parliamentarian” will make that call. She could toss out any provisions that she judges not to be relevant.

Over the last six weeks, CCL volunteers have been calling the Senate and the House, asking members of Congress to include a carbon price in the budget reconciliation package. A price on carbon is definitely relevant to the budget, so it would easily pass the parliamentarian, and it would make the overall package stronger on climate in a lot of ways.

Where is the budget process now?

So far, the House and Senate have both passed “budget resolutions,” which are the start of the reconciliation process. The budget resolution provides instructions to each committee on how much they are allowed to spend or expected to generate as part of the budget. These instructions don’t give much detail and are not even binding.

Dr. Danny Richter, CCL’s VP of Government Affairs, points to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works as an example. Their instructions simply said, “The Committee on Environment and Public Works of the Senate shall report changes in laws within its jurisdiction that increase the deficit by not more than $67,264,000,000 for the period of fiscal years 2022 through 2031.” 

Senate committee

Each committee gets a different topline number. A Senate memo earlier this summer gave a few bullet points outlining some policy recommendations, which we have explored in past blog posts. But otherwise, that’s it!

So right now, based on those instructions, committees in both the House and Senate are working out the details of what policies they want to include in the budget to meet those topline numbers. That’s what this handy graphic shows, which you can share with any other folks in your CCL chapter or your network who want to understand what Congress is up to:

Congress reconciliation

When will we know what’s included in the budget?

The next step of the process is for the committees to release their drafts publicly. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer asked Senate committees to have their drafts ready by September 15. 

“September 15 is the date that all those committees are supposed to go from those few bullet points to something that resembles legislative text,” Danny explains. “That’s why we’ve been generating those tens of thousands of calls to Congress to maximize the possibility of a carbon fee being included.”

Keep in mind: Each chamber of Congress will put together a version of the budget that they think can pass, but the Senate version is likely to be the final version that is approved. The House may produce and even vote on their version of the budget in the coming weeks, but it’s the Senate version to pay the most attention to. Why? Because you can always pass something through the House with a bare majority, but this is the only chance to pass something through the Senate with 51 votes instead of 60. 

So, we are pushing hard for a carbon price to be included in the draft legislation released by the Senate in mid-September. If it is included in the draft legislation, our job as CCLers will be to cheer the carbon price and the entire reconciliation package through the rest of the legislative process, and ultimately across the finish line of passage in the Senate, passage in the House, and into law.

If a carbon price is not included in the draft legislation, that would mean the path for getting it included in the budget this year is narrowing slightly. Still, there would be hope in that scenario. It could take weeks or even months for Congress to finalize the package, and during that time, a carbon price could still be added. We’re prepared to push as long as needed to make the package as strong as possible.

What can you do today?

If you haven’t already, contact your Senator and contact your representative about including a carbon price in the budget reconciliation package. Phone banking efforts will continue through mid-month to prompt more CCLers to contact Congress, so you could sign up for a shift.

You can up the ante by adding the voices of your community leaders into the mix, too. Have your local elected officials, business executives, and faith leaders personally call their members of Congress. This will help to increase support (or reduce opposition) for carbon pricing in Congress.

Take your message to the media, as well, by writing letters to the editor and op-eds to publicize the benefits of carbon pricing and to urge Congress to enact this crucial policy.

This is the best shot we have had in a decade to get climate solutions at the scale we need. And as this summer’s hurricanes and wildfires have shown, climate change isn’t slowing down, and we can’t waste any more time getting our emissions under control. Let’s take advantage of this moment and push hard!

The post Breaking down the congressional budget process appeared first on Citizens' Climate Lobby.

Improving Food Security Through Capacity Building

In Brief:

Millions of people suffer from food insecurity around the globe. With the help of Earth-observing satellites, the NASA-USAID SERVIR project is hoping to reduce that number.

Food security – the consistent availability and affordability of food – is a basic human need, yet it remains elusive for billions of people around the world. The United Nations’ 2021 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, released in July, paints a grim picture of this reality: in 2020, nearly 1 in 3 people globally did not have enough to eat, up by more than 300 million people from the previous year.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt food systems and supply chains on a global scale, but the heart of the problem – and the solutions to it – are far more diverse than any single factor. In Kenya, climate change, water shortages, and land degradation jeopardize crops and rangelands. In Southeast Asia, rising temperatures, increasingly variable weather, and low water levels along the Mekong River threaten livelihoods and food production. In Nepal, areas reliant on rain-fed agriculture are extremely susceptible to drought, a phenomenon becoming more frequent in an ever-warming climate.

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There is no one-size-fits-all solution to these challenges; however, each region has a common ally: a fleet of Earth observing satellites working around the clock to take measurements of everything from snow melt and soil moisture to land cover and plant health. This data is the ultimate tool in building capacity within food systems – and is often the difference between anticipating drought with enough time to prepare or losing crops to lack of water.

Because each region’s infrastructure and challenges are unique, the trickier task is getting relevant data into the hands of the people who need it and in a way that is easily accessible.


A joint NASA-USAID initiative called SERVIR is paving the way to do just that. The goals of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and NASA complement each other well: NASA uses the unique vantage point of space to look back at our home planet while USAID, working in over 100 countries, understands development needs from the ground level.

In addition to this expertise, SERVIR partners with leading regional organizations around the world to meet specific needs.

“Our model is very different than many traditional projects,” said Dan Irwin, SERVIR’s Global Program Manager based at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “Rather than building something and expecting it to be adopted, we collaborate hand-in-hand with people in the countries where we work to identify needs and implement sustainable solutions together.”

SERVIR works in more than 50 countries through five regional hubs. The hubs are entirely staffed by local experts, and each have their own partnerships with organizations working toward the same goals. What services and day-to-day operations look like depends on the specific needs identified and infrastructure present in each region.

Eastern and Southern Africa

Lilian Ndungu, Agriculture and Food Security Lead for SERVIR’s Eastern and Southern Africa hub, attends the 2018 AGU meeting poster session to discuss food security.
Lilian Ndungu, Agriculture and Food Security Lead for SERVIR’s Eastern and Southern Africa hub, attends the 2018 AGU meeting poster session to discuss food security.
› Full image and caption

Lilian Ndungu, Agriculture and Food Security Lead for SERVIR’s Eastern and Southern Africa hub, wears many hats. On any given day, she may go into the field in Kenya to collect data, consult with high level government officials on the co-development of services that improve food security, or head into the office to work on advocacy, technical program development and training programs.

More than half of the working population in the region works in agriculture in some capacity, mainly on small, family-run farms. Most of these farms are not irrigated and instead rely on rain, making them especially vulnerable to changes in climate and water availability.

With the right information, farmers and local governments can be proactive rather than reactive in their response to these challenges, and in doing so, improve food security. It is this information that Ndungu and SERVIR aim to provide. The Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) in Kenya, which hosts SERVIR’s Eastern and Southern Africa hub, helps bridge data and science with decision makers to support decision making processes that reduce risk.

“One project that has had an impact on food security in East Africa is our crop monitoring project,” Ndungu said. “Crop monitors are web-based portals that make it easy for non-technical people to access observational tools that incorporate satellite and ground data in order to make better agricultural decisions.”

Ndungu has lead the integration of these crop monitoring tools, developed by NASA Harvest researchers at the University of Maryland in close partnership with agricultural experts of the GEOGLAM Crop Monitor initiative, into crop monitor systems in Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia.

The tools – which incorporate satellite data on vegetation conditions, soil moisture, rainfall, and land use – produce localized maps of where plants are growing and how healthy they are. They can also indicate where and to what extent drought conditions may become problematic.

While the crop monitors are a success story, getting to the point where tools and services like this are widely implemented and sustainable – which is the ultimate goal –takes time.

“It takes a high level of engagement. You cannot just call someone in the government today and then call again in six months and expect to have made progress,” Ndungu said. “But through consistent communication and consultation, often over several years, you end up co-creating something that meets their needs and the buy-in and commitment to make it happen.”

In some areas, the SERVIR Eastern and Southern Africa hub is also working to get satellite and crop health data incorporated into crop insurance programs. Rather than having to inspect farms in person, stakeholders can assess the health of farms – and quickly identify areas in need of financial assistance – without needing to send staff into the field. In Kenya, this little bit of automation has already reduced the cost of providing crop insurance by 70%.

The Lower Mekong Basin

Nearly 5,000 miles away, in Southeast Asia’s Lower Mekong basin, food security and economic prosperity are largely contingent on a crop dubbed “white gold” by farmers: rice. In 2020 alone, the region — which includes Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam — exported $6.8 billion dollars’ worth of it.

“Rice is a very water-intensive crop. You need lots of water to grow it,” said Susantha Jayasinghe, Agriculture and Food Security Lead for SERVIR’s Mekong hub, hosted at the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center in Thailand. “What we learned from the countries and agencies working closely on agriculture and food security in the region is that they didn’t have a good information system to monitor and forecast drought and water availability, so this is where we began.”

Working closely with the Mekong River Commission (MRC) and other regional and national partners, SERVIR-Mekong brought together satellite imagery, ground-based measurements, and local expertise to produce water resource maps, drought forecasts, and other online data resources. These products help the MRC and other agencies prepare for and respond effectively to drought. They’re available at the regional level in several Lower Mekong countries and at the provincial level in Vietnam.

NASA SERVIR’s drought and crop watch tool allows users to choose a region and see current drought conditions and future outlooks. The image shows conditions in Vietnam on Aug. 5, 2021(left) and a one month forecast starting on Aug. 12, 2021 (right).
NASA SERVIR’s drought and crop watch tool allows users to choose their region and see current drought conditions and drought outlooks for the future. The image shows conditions in Vietnam on Aug. 5, 2021(left) and a one month forecast beginning on Aug. 12, 2021 (right).
› Full image and caption

Moving forward, SERVIR-Mekong plans to expand the use of drought information tools to other provinces in Vietnam and other countries of the Lower Mekong Region—and they hope to use even more enhanced technology to do it.

“NASA has planned a new water monitoring satellite called Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT),” said Ankit Joshi, SERVIR-Mekong’s Communications Lead. “SWOT’s higher resolution sensors will enable SERVIR-Mekong to improve forecast accuracy using more granular data thereby providing better insights to policymakers and farmers.”

SWOT is being jointly developed by NASA and Centre National D'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) with contributions from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and United Kingdom Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory leads the U.S. component of the project which is scheduled to launch in 2022. SERVIR-Mekong is ready to be one of the earliest users of its data.

The Himalayas

The remote countries in the Himalaya and Hindu Kush (“HKH”) mountain ranges have been experiencing worsening drought conditions over the past few decades – and climate change isn’t helping. But, by fostering drought resilience, SERVIR-HKH, hosted by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Nepal is.

“Our main focus is on drought monitoring and assessing drought impacts on crops,” said Faisal Qamar, Agriculture and Food Security Lead for SERVIR-HKH. “We combine data from satellites with water system models and weather forecasts to create a framework for forecasting drought in the region.”

This SERVIR hub works with governments and stakeholders in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal, among others. Each country has a different approach to managing agriculture, so the design and communication of the product must be tailored to the specific needs of each country.

“We have to be persistent, and to work with teams within the governments, and then prove how the use of satellite information is better than the traditional way in terms of the quality of the information and the value of money,” said Mir Matin, the hub’s Geospatial Solutions Lead. “Having a tool become mainstream requires substantial investment so partnerships and capacity building are important.”

To build capacity, the hub offers on-the-job training to partners on the development and application of products and tools. They train staff from other agencies to use these services and work to link their products with multilateral agencies for greater uptake and sustainability. The hub also offers trainings through schools and universities – including programs aimed at increasing the equity and role of women in agricultural solutions.

“Connecting space to village,” an apt motto for SERVIR, highlights how the program provides stakeholders with specialized information to make the best possible decisions in the face of ever-growing environmental challenges. Making the right decisions now will bring us one step closer to a food secure future.

News Media Contacts

Jane J. Lee / Ian J. O'Neill

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

818-354-0307 / 818-354-2649 /

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