On Obama’s new actions to support state and local climate preparedness

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New Jersey beach house on stilts that survived Hurricane Sandy (Photo: FEMA)

New Jersey beach house on stilts that survived Hurricane Sandy (Photo: FEMA)

It’s been a long time coming, but climate change preparedness has finally moved into the mainstream of national policymaking. Responding to the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience he established in 2013, the President announced a number of initiatives through which the federal government will support preparedness action by states and local communities to enhance resilience to global climate disruption. These are positive steps, though of course they fall far short of a comprehensive strategy, there is little in the way of new funding, and only proactive state and local leaders are involved, not the denialist governors and other ‘leaders’ who won’t take action to protect their people.

On July 16 the President announced a series of actions (summarized below) to respond to input from the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience he established last November. The Task Force, made up of 26 officials from across the country, held its fourth and final meeting in Washington, D.C., on July 16. They will make their final recommendations in the fall on how the federal government can best support communities in dealing with the impacts of climate change.

Obama included climate change preparedness as one of the three fundamental components of the Climate Action Plan he announced in June 2013. This was followed in November 2013 by his Executive Order on “Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change.” The new initiatives, following on that Executive Order, continue the development of a national climate change preparedness process. This is something Climate Science Watch called for in March 2008. It took 25 years – since the global warming problem was first recognized as a major public issue — to get to this stage, with climate change preparedness planning and action being framed as a U.S. presidential order to the Executive Branch.

The new initiatives are steps in the right direction. They involve federal-state-local cooperation, and they include actions by multiple federal agencies (USDA, NOAA, EPA, FEMA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs). Thus they exemplify the essential principle that climate change preparedness must address a very wide range of potentially disruptive impacts, and thus planning and action will need to be woven throughout a very wide range of relevant institutions, jurisdictions, missions, policies, budgets, and programs. Where we are today should be seen as still near the beginning of what will be an ongoing process through which thinking and acting strategically on climate change becomes part of society’s decisionmaking.

In that context, it must be noted:

What has been proposed so far in the way of federal action falls far short of a comprehensive strategy commensurate with the scope and urgency of the problem of disruptive climate change impacts.

There is not a whole lot of new funding, so the actions rely on creative thinking to stimulate innovation, getting the ball rolling in some new areas, and pilots and other programs with limited coverage in some cases. It will be difficult to get the federal preparedness effort up to where it needs to be in the absence of legislative and funding support from a Congress that has been worth less than zero on climate issues during the past few years.

The State, Local, and Tribal Leaders task force includes some of the more proactive public officials, who are not at war with climate science. That’s who is out there for the federal government to work with on initiatives like those proposed this week. There are still many state and local ‘leaders’ who are AWOL on climate change. For example, we see global warming impacts denialist governors in Texas, Florida, North Carolina and other states whose retrograde approach to the problem, in effect, stands in the way of protecting the people of their states from what is to come, for example, in the way of drought, wildfires, sea level rise, and coastal storm surge.

And clearly, preparedness can take a community, a state, a nation only so far in the absence of effective action to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions and expedite a transformation of the fossil-fuel-based energy system. Preparedness is necessary in order to build resilience ttry to manage the impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. But on the current global trajectory of energy use and emissions, we are on course to run well up into the ‘dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system’ realm — a situation that would likely overwhelm society’s ability to adapt to the impacts.

The federal preparedness actions announced by the President this week include:

The U.S. Geological Survey and other federal agencies are launching a $13.1 million 3-D Elevation Program partnership to develop advanced 3-dimensional mapping data of the United States, for use in flood risk management, water resource planning, mitigation of coastal erosion and storm surge impacts, and identification of landslide hazards as an essential component of supporting action on climate resilience.

New details were announced for a nearly $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition, which will make resources available to communities that have been struck by natural disasters in recent years. The year-long competition will have two phases: (1) risk assessment and planning; and (2) design and implementation. The best proposals will receive funds for implementation to demonstrate how communities across the country can build a more resilient future.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is launching a new $10 million Federal-Tribal Climate Resilience Partnership and Technical Assistance Program that will help tribes prepare for climate change by developing and delivering adaptation training.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced awards totaling $236.3 million in funding for eight states to support improved rural electric infrastructure, including deployment of smart grid technologies.

USDA is announcing additional funds to help rural communities that have experienced or are likely to experience a significant decline in the quantity or quality of drinking water due to severe drought and other emergencies.

To ensure that States are preparing for the impacts of climate change, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will release new guidance for State Hazard Mitigation Plans that calls upon States to consider climate variability as part of their requirement to address the probability of future events in state planning efforts — for example, preparing in advance of a disaster to identify and drive actions for more resilient and sustainable recovery, such as elevating or relocating homes and businesses to reduce flood risks associated with sea-level rise and more intense storms or rebuilding to higher standards.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced program guidance and  $1.5 million of competitive funding to help states and tribes make improvements to their coastal management programs, to better prepare for the impacts of climate change and improve the safety of their communities.

The Environmental Protection Agency is launching a Green Infrastructure Collaborative among government agencies, NGOs, and other private sector entities to advance green stormwater infrastructure. Federal agencies will provide funding assistance in at least 25 communities across the country for green infrastructure projects, technical assistance to create integrated green stormwater management and hazard mitigation plans, and recognition and awards programs for innovative green infrastructure projects.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new guide, “Assessing Health Vulnerability to Climate Change,” to help public health departments assess local vulnerabilities to health hazards associated with climate change.

Earlier posts:

Obama Executive Order on climate change preparedness (Part 1) — a long-overdue step forward (November 4, 2013)

Obama Executive Order on climate change preparedness (Part 2) — a long-overdue step forward (November 5, 2013)

Cities taking initiative on climate change preparedness (June 19, 2013)

2014 National Climate Assessment key findings, Part 1: Overview and Our Changing Climate (May 12, 2014)

White House climate change preparedness event and Climate Data Initiative (March 19, 2014)

See also:

Natural Resources Defense Council, No Longer Lost: A Roadmap for State Climate Change Preparedness

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