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Former US Presidential Advisor David Livingston returns to USC

Former US Presidential Advisor David Livingston returns to USC


Holcim, one of the world's largest makers of building materials, plans to replace 1,000 diesel trucks with zero-emission vehicles by 2030. Microsoft has committed to buying about 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide removal credits over the next 11 years.

These efforts, and many more, grew out of our participation in the First Movers Coalition, a coalition of more than 100 of the world's largest companies that have committed to purchasing next-generation clean technology products and services in industries like steel and shipping, with the idea that this large-scale demand will increase production, lower the cost of these products, and help create more sustainable markets.

The project was developed in part by David Livingston, who graduated from the University of Southern California's Doonsaif School of Letters in 2010 with a bachelor's degree in international relations.

Livingston helped launch efforts like the coalition when she served as senior adviser and managing director for energy in the Office of the President's Special Envoy for Climate Change, then led by Secretary of State John Kerry.

He recently served as the first Innovation and Sustainability Practitioner based in the USC Dawnsaif Environmental Studies Program, helping USC students learn how to advance this kind of forward-thinking, market-driven environmental stewardship.

“I'm passionate about environmental issues not only from an environmental conservation perspective, but also from the forefront of social and technological change,” he says.

First California, then the world

Livingston's interest in nature began at an early age. He grew up in California, and during his childhood he often went backpacking in the Sierra Nevada mountains with his father and uncles. His mother nearly lost her home in the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Northern California, and many of his friends' families were not so fortunate. These experiences, he says, helped him understand not only the beauty of nature on a changing planet, but also its fragility.

But as an undergraduate at the University of Southern California, Livingston learned that natural resources are also crucial to a country's success.

In a class on Soviet political economy taught by Robert English, an associate professor of international relations, Slavic languages ​​and literatures, and environmental studies, Livingston gained an understanding of the important role that Russia's aluminum and nickel industries have played in the economy and politics. Livingston wrote his senior thesis on how those industries influenced Russia's climate policy and approach to carbon markets.

By his senior year, Livingston realized his curiosity was global. “I have a huge interest in the world, and I couldn’t imagine limiting myself to one region, one country, or one culture,” he says. Solutions to climate change, which affects every part of the planet and requires both private and public solutions, were the perfect career focus.

After graduating, Livingston was a Carnegie Junior Fellow before earning a master's degree from Oxford University in 2013. He went on to work for a number of organizations, including Eurasia Group conducting trend research, and the World Trade Organization and the United Nations conducting trade and industrial policy research.

Tackling this challenge has opened up incredibly rich career opportunities across a huge variety of disciplines and methodologies, he says.

In 2020, Livingston joined the Biden Administration, serving as Senior Advisor to Secretary of State Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change. In addition to his work with the First Movers Coalition, Livingston worked on several other initiatives, including co-leading the creation of the Agriculture Innovation Mission on Climate Change.

Led by the United States and the United Arab Emirates, the coalition of more than 50 countries is committed to scaling up public-private partnerships and investments in climate-smart agricultural technologies.

Agriculture is often overlooked in the conversation about environmental innovation, where flashy electric cars and solar panels dominate consumer attention, but it is a sector where it can have a huge impact: Agriculture produces 10% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, but it also represents a great opportunity for efficiency and productivity gains, Livingstone says.

When people think of clean technology, Livingston says they should also think about things like low-carbon fertilizers, drought-tolerant crops and electric tractors and farm equipment.

A faithful Trojan

Staying connected to USC has always been a priority for Livingston. Since 2015, he has been teaching classes through the USC Dawnsaif Washington DC program, which brings USC students to the nation's capital to study and work for a semester. The program is headquartered at the recently opened USC Capital Campus.

As a resident practitioner on the University Park campus, Livingston taught a course on innovation and competition in the global energy transition and met regularly with groups across USC, such as the Energy Transition Business Initiative at the USC Marshall School of Business, helping to build what he calls a “streak” of intellectual engagement and collaboration around clean technology on campus.

Livingston's inside experience benefited the students, allowing them to hear first-hand about diplomatic negotiations and global power shifts that often take place out of public view but have enormous impact on our collective future.

His goal is to inspire new ideas among both students and campus researchers about how innovation and technology intertwine with and shape the geopolitical debates, collaborations, and competition around climate change.

“It's critical for tomorrow's generation of leaders to understand the paradigm of addressing climate change by addressing technological change and geopolitical dynamics,” Livingston said. Understanding these underlying forces will enable us to be more effective in creating lasting, sustainable progress on climate change.

His work as a resident practitioner may have ended, but he's remaining at USC. Going forward, Livingston will be working to drive a new climate and carbon management initiative at the USC Dawnseife Wrigley Institute for the Environment and Sustainability. Recently awarded a $4 million gift from the Ballmer Group, the initiative aims to accelerate innovation and research on decarbonization.




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