Mainstreaming Climate Change Adaptation Across the Federal Government

Today we released a report on climate change adaptation and the role of the federal government.

As we continue to await Senate action on a comprehensive bill that limits carbon pollution and grows the clean energy economy, the words of NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco resonate:

“Climate change is happening now and it's happening in our own backyards and it affects the kinds of things people care about.”

Ambitious greenhouse gas reduction programs are essential to prevent the worst impacts, but some impacts are unavoidable, such as more intense Midwestern heat waves, Western wildfires, and coastal threats from rising sea levels. If you haven’t already, check out this great map from the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s report on climate change impacts across the United States or look at EPA’s recent report on climate change indicators.

GCRP: Climate Change Impacts in U.S.
Source: U.S. Global Change Research Program. Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States. 2009. http://www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/scientific-assessments/us-impacts/usimpacts-brochures.

If we hope to minimize the costs of these impacts we’re going to have to better understand our vulnerabilities to climate change and begin to take steps to adapt. A number of localities and states recognize this and have already begun developing climate change adaptation programs and policies. While these efforts are critically important, the federal government’s involvement is vital for a number of reasons: federally owned land and infrastructure are at risk; federal guidelines, standards, and regulations can encourage appropriate adaptation measures; federal technical support is essential for addressing climate impacts; and federal coordination can reach across state and local jurisdictions.

Today we released a new report—Adapting to Climate Change: A Call for Federal Leadership—that focuses on the federal government’s role in implementing an effective, coordinated approach to climate change adaptation and calls for “mainstreaming” adaptation within and across the federal government.  In addition to providing some guiding principles, the report proposes a path forward for the federal government that includes the creation of a National Adaptation Program with three main components:

  • An Adaptation Strategic Planning Initiative to provide overarching program goals, objectives, and priorities;
  • A National Climate Service to provide stakeholders (including state and local governments and private sector entities) with much-needed information on climate impacts and adaptation options; and
  • An Adaptation Research Program to ensure that adaptation research receives appropriate emphasis as part of the larger federal climate research effort.

We are encouraged that the federal government is making progress in this direction. President Obama’s Executive Order 13514 called on the Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to initiate the Climate Change Adaptation Task Force. This task force includes representatives from more than 20 federal agencies and has recently issued an interim progress report that recommends key components to include in a national strategy on climate change adaptation.

- The new report, Adapting to Climate Change: A Call for Federal Leadership, was supported by a generous grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.-

Heather Holsinger is a Senior Fellow for Domestic Policy