By Rebeka Ryvola
When President Obama announced the Climate Action Plan (CAP) in June of 2013, it was a landmark moment. The first-of-its-kind plan aims at achieving comprehensive action on climate change by way of a three-fold goal: cutting domestic carbon pollution, adapting the US to irreversible climate change impacts, and leading the international community in addressing climate change at the global level.
Since the CAP was released, progress has been made in each of the three areas. Shortly after the release of the CAP, the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force shared its rebuilding strategy to help communities with similar post-disaster challenges or facing climate risks. Also in 2013, Obama signed an executive order directing agencies to focus on resiliency at the community level. In 2014, Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum that directed the federal government to conduct the first ever Quadrennial Energy Review (to be explored in future posts). Recently, in August of 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the final rule for the Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut power plan carbon emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The wide-range of the milestones is encouraging: The Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) budget called for the creation of a $1 billion Climate Fund to help communities adapt, the Department of the Navy announced plans to purchase millions of gallons of biofuels, $2 billion in energy efficiency updates in Federal Buildings was pledged by the White House, and the list goes on. See a complete timeline of progress here.
Under the umbrella of the three overarching goals are many moving parts that span a wide range of federal agencies, jurisdictions, budgets, missions, issues and decisions. Unfortunately, for many of the action items, there are no specified timetables or deadlines, or no clearly specified lines of accountability, or no metrics or criteria for success – sometimes all three. Before he passed away last fall, Rick wished to collaborate with allies and draw on inside sources and independent experts to track key actions, call for transparency and accountability in reporting, and bring attention to problem areas in the Plan.
On this blog we’ll be analyzing the CAP shortcomings and tracking progress made. This includes, for goal one (cutting US carbon pollution), exploring the impacts and implications of new energy efficiency and clean power projects across the country. For goal two, we will take a deeper dive into the efforts of US agencies and communities across the country to build their resiliency to increasingly extreme weather events and other climate impacts. And on goal three, centered on the US stepping up as a global leader in the international climate policy realm, we’ll watch the lead up to the Paris UNFCCC COP 21 meeting, to see whether the United States delivers on its promise to lead the global transition from fossil fuels to a new energy paradigm.
A note on Rick and the lead up to the CAP: It’s important to recognize that the CAP exists largely as a result of Rick’s efforts in and outside of the government, and the work of his allies. Thanks to those efforts, the long virtual ‘climate silence’ in the White House that Rick committed his life to arguing against between 2009 and 2013 was finally broken and the concept of “climate preparedness” finally rose to the level of public discussion it required and a comprehensive CAP was finally issued. A presidential Executive Order was issued in November 2013 as part of implementing the Climate Action Plan, establishing adaptive preparedness and resilience to disruptive climate change impacts as an essential national priority. Thus, the “National Climate Change Preparedness Initiative” that Rick helped propose in 2008 with current CSPW Senior Contributor Anne Polansky, and his Climate Science Watch (CSW) program at GAP advocated for since, has become part of mainstream policymaking.
Consistent with CSW’s recommendations, the CAP identified a set of preparedness initiatives aimed at building stronger and safer communities and infrastructure, protecting the economy and natural resources, and using science to manage climate impacts. In our new CAP Oversight blog series, CSPW will be carrying on Rick’s important legacy by overseeing the actual implementation of these critical initiatives in the Climate Action Plan which Rick fought so hard to promote and realize.
Rebeka Ryvola has a master’s degree from Yale University focused on understanding and addressing climate change-related disasters and crises, is a former CSW alum, and is currently the Creative Director at Field Innovation Team (FIT) – a disaster preparedness and response organization where she is expanding FIT’s resilience efforts to include more environmental stewardship and climate change adaptation considerations.