the_white_house“Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change,” a presidential Executive Order issued November 1, continues the development of a national climate change preparedness process, which we first called for in March 2008, back in the Bush-Cheney climate policy dark ages. It has taken 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.

U.S. presidents issue Executive Orders to give direction to federal agencies on managing government operations within the Executive Branch. Executive Orders have the full force of law and can have significant influence, within the constitutional and statutory authority of the President.

“Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change” (Fact Sheet here) takes a step on implementing one of the three core components of Obama’s Climate Action Plan (Cut Carbon Pollution, Prepare the U.S. for the Impacts of Climate Change, and Lead International Efforts), which was issued in June. A summary (first of two parts), with a few comments (see also our November 5 companion post, Obama Executive Order on climate change preparedness (Part 2) — a long-overdue step forward):

Section 1 of the Executive Order is a general policy statement and includes this:

The impacts of climate change — including an increase in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, more heavy downpours, an increase in wildfires, more severe droughts, permafrost thawing, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise — are already affecting communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies, and public health across the Nation. These impacts are often most significant for communities that already face economic or health-related challenges, and for species and habitats that are already facing other pressures. Managing these risks requires deliberate preparation, close cooperation, and coordinated planning by the Federal Government, as well as by stakeholders, to facilitate Federal, State, local, tribal, private-sector, and nonprofit-sector efforts to improve climate preparedness and resilience; help safeguard our economy, infrastructure, environment, and natural resources; and provide for the continuity of executive department and agency (agency) operations, services, and programs.

The Federal Government must build on recent progress and pursue new strategies to improve the Nation’s preparedness and resilience. In doing so, agencies should promote: (1) engaged and strong partnerships and information sharing at all levels of government; (2) risk-informed decisionmaking and the tools to facilitate it; (3) adaptive learning, in which experiences serve as opportunities to inform and adjust future actions; and (4) preparedness planning.

Section 2, Modernizing Federal Programs to Support Climate Resilient Investment, lays out a set of actions to be taken by federal agencies and various existing interagency groups (on infrastructure, ports, Alaska energy, and environmental justice), and specifies a general procedure for regular progress reports.

The various kinds of actions are stated in broad terms, and the proof will be in the skill, energy, and resources made available for implementing them, and in whether the agencies can and will place a high priority on executing. Fully implemented, it would do a fair amount to weave climate change preparedness thinking, policy, planning, and programmatic action through many components of the Executive Branch. It’s the sort of thing that will play out over an extended time period. It will be a challenge for government accountability advocates to get a handle on what is actually happening and how to evaluate the results.

Section 3, Managing Lands and Water for Climate Preparedness and Resilience, directs relevant agencies to work with the Executive Office of the President

to complete an inventory and assessment of proposed and completed changes to their land- and water-related policies, programs, and regulations necessary to make the Nation’s watersheds, natural resources, and ecosystems, and the communities and economies that depend on them, more resilient in the face of a changing climate. … The assessment shall include a timeline and plan for making changes to policies, programs, and regulations.

As Section 3 notes, agencies can build on efforts partially underway that are outlined in federal agency climate Adaptation Plans, which were issued for the first time this year, as well as interagency priorities already developed for Managing Freshwater Resources in a Changing Climate (October 2011); National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy (March 2013); and the National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan (April 2013). These earlier planning projects contain a lot of worthwhile material developed by knowledgeable managers across much of the federal government. They are the result of actions initiated by an Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force that Obama established four years ago, in his first year in office.

There have been times, especially during the several years of virtual ‘climate silence’ from the White House, when we’ve wondered whether Obama would ever directly acknowledge, let alone direct putting into action, ideas and recommendations contained in this extensive management-level climate preparedness work.

(Now, as Moses said on being given the Ten Commandments: “Sure, but what about funding?”)

Section 4, Providing Information, Data, and Tools for Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience, directs relevant agencies, working together and with the support of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, “to develop and provide authoritative, easily accessible, usable, and timely data, information, and decision-support tools on climate preparedness and resilience.”

Done properly, perhaps this effort could cover some of the ground, and even go beyond in some ways, the Climate Service proposed earlier to be established at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – an effort that was attacked and blocked by congressional Republicans (here, here, and here).

We’ll cover Sections 5 (Federal Agency Planning for Climate Change Related Risk), 6 (Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience), and 7 (State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience) in a follow-up companion post.

Earlier CSW posts:

Obama Climate Plan archive

Climate Change Preparedness archive