Wind turbines and fog



The UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and the Economy (Policy Institute) exists to cultivate sustainable communities by making sound research and meaningful policy inseparable.


We envision a future where research-informed policies support a healthy economy, help achieve carbon neutrality goals, improve environmental conditions for historically marginalized communities, and equitably benefit all members of society.

About Us

There is an urgent need for public policy that genuinely improves our lives. We have more scientific tools and technical resources available to us than ever before. Yet there are large and unnecessary gaps between problems addressed by scientific research and the problem-solving power of policy. Against this backdrop, decision-makers at the local, state, regional, and national levels seek more research-based insights to identify the policies that are most likely to achieve their vision. Too often, academic research is difficult to find, interpret, and apply to real problems. While no amount of research can guarantee a particular outcome, sound research is the best way to close the gap between what we know and what we simply hope for.

Founded in 2011, the Policy Institute leverages world-class university expertise and engages directly with policymakers and stakeholders to deliver credible, relevant, and timely information and analysis to inform better energy and environmental policy at local, statewide, national, and international levels.

Key activities of the Policy Institute include:

  • Identifying existing and new research for immediate policy needs
  • Amplifying University of California expertise, efforts and resources 
  • Developing ongoing relationships that connect those with questions to those with answers
  • Facilitating constructive engagement between policy makers and the research community

Our Focus

Given UC Davis’ unique position as the premier research university in the Sacramento region, the Policy Institute places particular emphasis on informing California state legislation, policies, and programs. Policy Institute activities focus on areas in which UC Davis has unique strengths and where there is a pressing need for research-informed policy. These are:

  • Energy systems
  • Affordable access to energy services such as temperature control, lighting, water heating, and information technology is essential to expanding economic opportunity and improving quality of life. The energy systems that provide these services come with challenges, including financial cost, intermittent reliability, pollution, and inequitable distribution of benefits and consequences. The Policy Institute works with UC Davis researchers to identify innovative ways to address these challenges while enabling policymakers to meet renewable portfolio standards, integrate high levels of clean energy into the grid, improve energy efficiency, and achieve other goals.

    UC Davis collaborators: Energy and Efficiency InstituteEnergy Graduate Group

  • Water and ecosystems
  • Water and ecosystems are intricately connected everywhere. In arid regions, water scarcity limits plant growth. When rain does fall, the lack of water-absorbing soil and vegetation can result in powerful flash floods. In wet regions, plants release enormous quantities of water to the atmosphere, influencing global precipitation patterns. In cities, uptake of nearby water resources for human use and discharge of wastewater and runoff can profoundly affect local environmental quality.

    Understanding complex interactions like these is key to ensuring clean, sufficient water supplies and healthy ecosystems for generations to come. The Policy Institute works with other UC Davis institutions as well as individual researchers and practitioners to characterize how natural systems are changing, and what the related environmental, human, and economic impacts are. These insights help to inform drought planning, flood management, water-quality regulations, and other water and ecosystem policies in California and beyond.

    UC Davis collaborators: Center for Watershed SciencesTahoe Environmental Research CenterJohn Muir Institute for the Environment

  • Future cities
  • Cities already play a critical role in addressing some of the greatest challenges of our generation, including climate change, resilience, and social equity. Fifty percent of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, and that figure is expected to grow in the coming years. Cities have the ability and motivation to transform the lives of their residents for the better, but often lack the resources and expertise to stay on the cutting edge of research and policy. With more support, leading cities can rapidly pilot innovative solutions to societal challenges, which in turn can catalyze large-scale change. The Policy Institute works to connect cities with relevant research that can help policymakers build the cities of the future.

    UC Davis collaborators: Energy and Efficiency InstituteCenter for Regional ChangeInstitute for Transportation Studies

  • Sustainable transportation
  • Transportation systems provide essential services for individuals, business, and every sector of the economy. However, transportation is a major expense, presents safety concerns, requires enormous amounts of land, and is now the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. UC Davis is a world leader in sustainable transportation research, with decades of research on topics such as cleaner fuels, efficient and electric vehicles, vehicle automation, land use, and active transportation such as walking and biking. The Policy Institute leverages this expertise to support decision making on key transportation topics such as vehicle standards and mandates, fuel standards, urban planning, and preparing for the coming “3 Revolutions” of shared, automated, and electric transport.

    UC Davis collaborators: Institute of Transportation StudiesNational Center for Sustainable TransportationTransportation Technology and Policy

  • Environmental justice
  • Energy, transportation, and other key infrastructure systems in the United States are often designed in ways that disproportionately impact vulnerable and voiceless communities. Moving forward, we must work across boundaries to remedy injustices and ensure that all perspectives are incorporated into decision-making processes that affect planning and resource allocation. UC Davis is a leader in building diverse engagement on big challenges, including those facing energy, transportation, and the environmental. The Policy Institute works to better connect between historically disadvantaged groups with the policy process, and supports emerging leaders in developing strong voices in energy and environmental topics.

    UC Davis collaborators: Center for Regional Change, Transportation Equity and Environmental Justice Advisory Group (TEEJAG)

  • Climate neutrality
  • The science is clear: simply reducing carbon emissions is not enough to avoid catastrophic climate impacts. Rather, the world must achieve “climate neutrality,” where the uptake of greenhouse gases fully offsets emissions. Achieving this goal will require concerted, coordinated efforts to mitigate emissions from energy systems, transportation, industry, and agriculture, coupled with better land-use strategies and, potentially, carbon-removal technologies. Many countries, as well as states like California, are setting ambitious climate-neutrality goals and timelines. Meeting these will require a robust body of research to inform policy specifics. The Policy Institute works to amplify collaborative climate-related work across UC Davis and increase its use in the policy process.

    UC Davis collaborators: UC Davis One ClimateJohn Muir Institute for the Environment

For each of these areas, the Policy Institute works with UC Davis partners, and other University of California campuses and community groups as appropriate, to identify challenges that governments and other policymaking bodies face in balancing sustainability, equity, and economic growth, and proposes research-based, action-oriented solutions.