Wish List for Obama: Environment Experts' Top Requests

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Cap and trade would set limits on emissions and dole out allowances for how much carbon each business, or country, could pump into the atmosphere, creating a market for carbon credits.

A cap-and-trade scheme will help create a more stable environment for businesses, who expect mandatory emissions cuts in the coming years as policy makers try to stem global warming, he said.

This is what CEOs of big companies such as General Electric have been requesting for years, DiPeso said.

"A good climate bill can reduce emissions but can also stimulate jobs and get money moving into the economy again."

Details of how the system will work can be decided later, DiPeso said.

"The important thing is to get the bill adopted and get it on the books, then the president can go to [global] negotiations in Denmark [for the 2009 climate talks] with a climate law in his pocket. The U.S. will be better positioned."

Green Economy

If Carter Roberts, president of the conservation group WWF in the United States, could set the agenda, he would "rebuild the economy around efficiency."

"The way we produce energy, food, and manufactured goods requires more water, energy, and [natural resource] inputs than we can sustain over the long haul," Roberts said.

The first step for Obama would be to help create a global climate protocol that sets CO2 reduction targets, creates a carbon market, and develops a framework for companies to benefit from CO2 emissions reductions, he said.

"Businesses that figure out how to make do with fewer inputs will win over the long haul, and we should rebuild our economy around those businesses."

For example, he said, Wal-Mart is now demanding that its nearly 60,000 suppliers meet high standards for efficient resource use. The company is part of the Carbon Disclosure Project, which helps retailers monitor the greenhouse gas emissions of their suppliers.

Equally important is to make environmental protection an explicit part of bilateral trade agreements with developing countries such as China, Roberts said.

Environmental protection in China is fundamental to saving the future of the planet, Roberts said. The popularity of Western consumer habits, combined with China's high rates of pollution, are putting huge demands on the Earth.

Focus on Water

The U.S. faces significant challenges in the coming decades, including drought, floods, pollution, and the loss of wetlands, said Jane Rowan, president of the American Water Resources Association.

The group is a nearly 50-year-old umbrella organization for engineers, educators, biologists, hydrologists, lawyers, and others who deal with water issues.

First and foremost, she said, Americans need an update on a 20-year-old assessment of water resources.

"We can't measure the affects [of water and climate changes] on communities if we can't collect the data," Rowan said.

Obama should adequately fund the U.S. Geological Survey, which maps water resources and helps the public understand the affects of climate change on lakes, rivers, agricultural operations, and sewer systems.

Clean Electricity and Poverty Alleviation

Richard Goldman, president of the Board of Directors for the Goldman Environmental Prize, supports "everything that Al Gore stands for."

For instance, the former U.S. Vice President advocates 100 percent clean electricity in the U.S. by 2018.

Part of the solution is replacing coal and foreign oil with less polluting domestic sources, such as wind and solar energy.

In Gore's model, gas-guzzling cars would be replaced with plug-in vehicles that use renewable sources of electricity.

Goldman's other environmental concern is how to provide for a population that may already exceeds the Earth's carrying capacity.

When World War II ended there were 2.5 billion people, said Goldman, a longtime philanthropist who now awards seed money to grassroots environmental efforts worldwide.

There are now more than 6.5 billion.

"It is very hard to accommodate those people and still maintain some balance in the way life functions."

There is no question that poverty is related to population growth and that poverty alleviation is part of the solution, he added.

Renewable Energy and Public Transit

"President Obama is expected to make a big push for new energy investments via both and economic stimulus and a stand-alone bill," said Sujatha Jahagirdar, program director of Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs).

As head of a network of campus organizers in 20 states, Jahagirdar said PIRGs will be rallying around energy and transportation next year.

"My sense is that what young people want to see is big visionary policy on energy," she added.

She shares Gore's vision of 100 percent renewable energy, and would like to see oil consumption cut in half.

The PIRGs will also be advocating for doubling public investment in public transit, including more money for high-speed rails.

Work With Farmers to Shape Policy

With nearly 40 percent of U.S. land and 70 percent of water dedicated to agricultural production, there is an undeniable connection between farming practices and environmental protection, according to Jimmy Daukas, Managing Director of Agriculture and the Environment for the American Farmland Trust (AFT).

The AFT is asking Obama to work more closely with farmers and ranchers on environment and climate policy.

Daukas said he thinks the president-elect should offer policies that put a monetary value on resource protection or pollution reduction.

One possible action would be creating markets for water-quality trading, in which, just like in the carbon market, farmers would be allowed a limited amount of nitrogen and phosphorus run-off from fertilizers and manure.

These chemicals, when flushed into water sources, contribute to dead zones, killing off aquatic species and shutting down fisheries. If a farmer came in under the limit, she would be able to sell her remaining credits.

The first thing the administration would have to do is make it clear that water-quality trading is legal under the Clean Water Act, he added.

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