the_white_housePresident Obama’s Executive Order “Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change” takes a step on implementing the administration’s Climate Action Plan issued in June. This Part 2 of our summary covers Federal Agency Planning for Climate Change Related Risk and the creation of a government-wide Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience and a State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.

This is a continuation of our November 4 post: Obama Executive Order on climate change preparedness (Part 1) — a long-overdue step forward

“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 President 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 (second of two parts, Part 1 here), with a few comments:

Section 5, Federal Agency Planning for Climate Change Related Risk, directs federal agencies to build on existing agency Adaptation Plans first issued in 2013, by continuing “to develop, implement, and update comprehensive plans that integrate consideration of climate change into agency operations and overall mission objectives.” The plans must identify and assess “climate change related impacts on and risks to the agency’s ability to accomplish its missions, operations, and programs;” describe the agency’s plans and actions “to manage climate risks in the near term and build resilience in the short and long term;” describe how they will deal with any climate change related risk “that is deemed so significant that it impairs an agency’s statutory mission or operation;” and discuss how they will consider the costs and benefits of actions needed to improve climate adaptation and resilience.

Agencies will submit their plans to the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review, and report progress and updates though their annual Strategic Sustainability Performance Plans. This annual reporting will provide a general basis for evaluating the agencies’ efforts. But government accountability advocates will need access to more inside information on how seriously and effectively the agencies are moving on preparedness, on whether they have the necessary capabilities and resources to implement preparedness actions, on whether they are getting essential ongoing political support from the White House and agency heads, and on whether OMB is facilitating or hindering progress on climate change preparedness. People in the agencies who are working on preparedness can provide valuable information of this sort for helping to hold the administration accountable.

Section 6 establishes an interagency Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience to “coordinate interagency efforts on, and track implementation of priority Federal Government actions related to climate preparedness and resilience…”; “support regional, State, local, and tribal action to assess climate change related vulnerabilities and cost-effectively increase climate preparedness and resilience…”; and “facilitate the integration of climate science in policies and planning of government agencies and the private sector…”

The Council includes senior officials from at least 30 departments, agencies, and Executive Offices and will be co-chaired by the chair of CEQ, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.  

(I note that the Council membership includes the office of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. Perhaps the NSA and other security state agencies will be engaging in some climate change-related surveillance and intelligence activity? Or what?)

This sort of high-level, government-wide entity is hardly likely to meet regularly as a whole. Rather, the Council can be expected to create more specialized interagency working groups to address particular policy issues, staffed by managerial level worker bees. This is basically how the Council’s predecessor, the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, operated. Adaptation Task Force working groups produced some significant priority-setting work, such as Managing Freshwater Resources in a Changing Climate (October 2011). This priority-setting was developed by knowledgeable managers across much of the federal government. The new Council would do well to get serious about providing the staffing and resources necessary to implement it.

Section 7 establishes a State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, chaired by the White House and made up of invited elected State, local, and tribal officials.

Within one year the Task Force will make recommendations to the President for how the federal government can support State, local, and tribal preparedness for and resilience to climate change, such as on how the feds can “remove barriers, create incentives, and otherwise modernize Federal programs to encourage investments, practices, and partnerships that facilitate increased resilience to climate impacts, including those associated with extreme weather; [and] provide useful climate preparedness tools and actionable information for States, local communities, and tribes…”

Task Force members are listed here. Announced members include eight governors, 16 local officials, and two tribal officials. The governors include several who have been notably active on climate change policy, including Martin O’Malley (D-Maryland), Jay Inslee (D-Washington), and Jerry Brown (D-California). Local government members include the mayors of Los Angeles, Sacramento, Philadelphia, Houston, Salt Lake City, Des Moines, and Knoxville.

Strengthening connectivity between the federal, state, and local levels is essential for national climate change preparedness. Significant initiatives are already being undertaken in some forward-looking States and cities. They could use more coordinated help and resources from the federal government. This Task Force and its recommendations must not amount to just a one-off report, but rather should be a step forward in creating an effective ongoing process for coordinated intergovernmental management of the climate preparedness process.

As Peter Sinclair at Climate Crocks said: Governing as if science was real. What a concept.

Earlier CSW posts:

Obama Climate Plan archive

Climate Change Preparedness archive