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University Awards over $80 million in State-funded Grants to Spur Climate Action

August 22, 2023
By University of California Office of the President
Planning for emergency evacuations using electric vehicles is the subject of one of the grants awarded to UC Merced.
Planning for emergency evacuations using electric vehicles is the subject of one of the grants awarded to UC Merced.

Four UC Merced researchers will share in the new California Climate Action Seed Grants and Matching Grants, which are the result of an historic partnership between the University of California and the state of California.

The University today announced it is awarding over $80 million in climate action grants to spur implementation of solutions that directly address state climate priorities.

UC Merced professors Emily Moran and Ricardo de Castro are the principal investigators on two projects out of 38 awarded. Professors Josué Medellin-Azuara and Rebecca Ryals will also share in the funds as collaborators on other projects.

De Castro will receive $1.1 million in seed money for a project entitled “Improving Preparedness of Communities for Evacuations using Zero Emission Vehicles.”

“California is at high risk of severe weather phenomena, such as wildfires, floods and earthquakes. Extreme events might disrupt the electric grid, introducing blackouts and limiting zero-emission vehicles recharging. In the worst-case scenario, lack of charge accessibility might compromise safe evacuation of communities using electric vehicles, especially if the evacuation needs to be performed on short notice,” de Castro said. “Evacuation strategies were designed with vehicles with internal combustion engines in mind. My project will develop planning, decision-aid tools and policy recommendations that can help communities and government officials in California improve their preparedness for emergency evacuations using electric vehicles.”

Moran will receive $900,000 in seed money for a project entitled “Increasing Publicly Available Tools for Climate-smart Seed Sourcing and Forest Restoration.”

“Climate change is intensifying drought and fire and increasingly, we need to identify seed sources for reforestation that are well adapted to the warmer, drier conditions trees will face in the future,” Moran said.

Finding those seed sources is challenging. Moran’s project would take a three-pronged approach: test how a currently available, Web-based tool is performing at predicting the near-term survivability of seedlings in existing planting experiments; use mathematical models to assess how “bet hedging,” or replanting with a portfolio of multiple seed sources, may improve reforestation success; and develop a new set of tools to identify high-priority areas for seed collection and figure out when increased seed production is expected.

The California Climate Action Seed Grants and Matching Grants will fund projects that collectively involve more than 130 community, industry, tribal and public agencies, as well as 12 University of California (UC) locations, 11 California State University (CSU) campuses and two private universities.

Seed grants were awarded to 34 teams totaling $56.2 million. Four teams received matching grants totaling $26.9 million to support larger projects that could leverage additional funding from non-state sources. The $83.l million total is part of $185 million allocated by the state for UC climate initiatives advancing progress toward California’s climate goals.

“As the state’s preeminent research institution, the University of California is proud to partner with the state to pursue our shared climate goals. The innovations catalyzed by the Climate Action awards will make our communities safer, more sustainable and more resilient,” said UC President Michael V. Drake, M.D. “I am grateful to the state Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom for providing funding to support this critical research on climate change in California.”

“With these investments, California is harnessing the ingenuity of our world-renowned universities and people to deliver climate action across our state,” said Gov. Newsom. “California is leading the charge in tapping our natural resources to protect our people, our communities and our planet.”

The Seed and Matching Grant projects will mitigate wildfire risks, combat soil degradation and erosion, address water management in the state and create land stewardship partnerships led by Indigenous communities. The selected projects aim to improve the health of farmworkers; increase resilience of state water and power systems; and identify innovative nature-based solutions toward biodiversity degradation, sea level rise and wildfire risk. Other projects align with the state’s solar and conservation goals.

The two-year grants cover every region of the state.

Two of the largest grants go to projects that aim to broaden community involvement in the management of California’s lands and waters. With a $5.5 million grant, one project will form a Wildland-Urban Interface Climate Action Network (WUICAN) of tribes, community groups, universities and land managers to collaborate with agencies on methods to protect landscapes from catastrophic climate events.

Medellin-Azuara will receive $550,000 as a collaborator on UC Berkeley’s nearly $8.2 million grant for the COEQWAL (COllaboratory for EQuity in Water ALlocations) project to develop new water planning tools to advance sustainable, inclusive and equitable water distribution for California’s population of nearly 40 million.

Ryals will get $280,000 as a collaborator on UC Santa Cruz 's project “Rapid Decision Support for Optimal Carbon-Nutrient-Water Benefits from California’s Methane Policy.”

“The scale of these grants will produce tangible improvements in the lives of Californians,” said UC Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs Katherine Newman. “These awards put UC’s world-class research into action and show what we can accomplish when California’s universities and diverse communities come together.”

The awards align with state priorities to advance climate resilience and social equity, particularly in communities where the effects of climate change are felt most acutely. These state priorities align with UC’s long record of initiatives to mitigate the impacts of climate change. The selected projects use both high-tech and people-centered solutions to the climate crisis and include a broad range of community voices.

The governor and the legislature approved $185 million in funding to the University of California for climate action as part of the 2022–23 State Budget Act. The University quickly launched the initiative in December 2022.

Recognizing the historic opportunity to leverage this investment to strengthen community participation in shaping climate solutions, the state’s Strategic Growth Council is providing funds to the University to supplement the Seed and Matching Grants. The Community-Engaged S/Hero Award Supplements will provide 10 projects with $20,000 each to identify best practices for engaging communities around climate risks, and to provide leadership, resources and counsel to all climate award teams on community engagement.

“The persistent climate challenges faced by California have put the state in ‘code red’ emergency status. Making California truly resilient requires thoughtful partnerships and full engagement of every sector of society. These awards reflect the brain trust and united voices across the state to achieve collective impact,” said Theresa Maldonado, UC Vice President for Research & Innovation.

More information on the University’s efforts on supporting climate action research can be found here. A full list of awardees can be found here.