The U.S. government should move toward a coordinated national climate change adaptation strategy, says a federal interagency task force in a recent report to the President. Obama should take ownership of this issue with a strong statement of recognition and support for the recommended policy goals:  Mainstream government-wide planning for climate change impacts, under White House leadership. Strengthen support for needed scientific research and do more to integrate science into decision-making. Increase federal support for meeting local, state, and Tribal climate adaptation needs. Develop a government-wide international adaptation strategy to support multilateral and bilateral adaptation activities and integrate adaptation into relevant U.S. foreign assistance programs.

The Obama administration has put admirable effort into jump-starting movement toward a national strategy to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.  President Obama signed an October 5, 2009 Executive Order directing the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force to “recommend how the policies and practices of Federal agencies can be made compatible with and reinforce a national climate change adaptation strategy.”  The Task Force recently released a Progress Report recommending actions for the federal government to take in support of a national climate change adaptation strategy. The Task Force based its work on issues identified in the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) 2009 scientific assessment report, Global Climate Change Impacts on the United States, as well as on current agency climate initiatives across the federal government, and on the outcomes of listening sessions and public outreach events held with stakeholders over the past year.

The recommendations reflect both the federal government’s stake in adaptation practices that affect its operations and its role in promoting and supporting climate adaptation carried out at multiple levels of government.  They are considered an initial set of priorities the federal government should pursue to advance a national adaptation strategy.

The report states:

“Climate change is affecting many aspects of our society, our livelihoods, and our environment.  Communities across the Nation are experiencing climate change impacts, such as changes in average temperatures, more extreme weather events, and rising sea levels.  Historically, societies and ecosystems have adjusted or adapted to natural variability in climatic conditions.  However, the pace and impacts of climate change are occurring outside the range of past experiences, rendering many of our current adaptive mechanisms insufficient.  In addition, climate change impacts do not act in isolation; rather, climate-related changes interact with and often magnify the impacts of existing non-climatic stressors.  Decision-makers across the Nation will need to take proactive measures to better understand and prepare for current and future changes in climate conditions.” (15)

Many adaptation activities are already underway within the federal government, and the Task Force considered the following in forming its recommendations:

Interagency Activities

  • The USGCRP has invested significant resources in understanding and modeling the physical science of climate and has also funded research on the implications of climate change for natural systems and human health and welfare. These include observing systems in the oceans, on land, and in the atmosphere; research on climate impacts and vulnerability; and science in support of decision making. USGCRP is currently in the process of establishing a new Adaptation Strategic Program Element to provide accessible information to support adaptation decisions at all scales.
  • The National Climate Assessment (NCA), which is required every four years under the Global Change Research Act of 1990 and conducted under the USGCRP, will identify science needs for understanding current and future climate impacts and regional or sector-related vulnerability to those impacts, supporting adaptation and mitigation decisions, and informing effective translation of science into services and applications.

Agency Activities

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) proposed Climate Service will seek to combine the agency’s climate science and technical capabilities with new and existing service development, delivery, and communication capabilities to create an organization that advances scientific understanding, engages users collaboratively, and delivers services.
  • The Department of the Interior (DOI) is developing a network of eight regional Climate Science Centers and 22 Landscape Conservation Cooperatives to inform science-based adaptation and mitigation strategies and adaptive management techniques in partnership with resource managers. In cooperation with other Federal and state agencies, this network will help to connect natural and cultural resource managers to relevant science support, and work with local partners to provide tailored information for regional adaptation decisions.
  • The Department of Agriculture (USDA) has integrated climate change objectives into its strategic plans and is expanding its focus on climate-related research and delivery capacity across its agencies to provide climate services to rural and agricultural stakeholders through existing programs, including the Cooperative Extension Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Districts, and the USDA Forest Service’s Climate Change Resource Center.
  • The Department of Transportation (DOT) is analyzing the vulnerabilities of critical transportation infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico region, and developing risk management tools that can be applied in the Gulf and elsewhere.
  • The Department of Energy (DOE) is developing energy technologies that will significantly contribute to climate change adaptation, including programs focused on reducing the energy and water intensity of electricity generation and use, and transportation fuels production. DOE is also developing information and tools that will help local and regional planners anticipate climate change effects and adaptation needs.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supporting local decision makers through a variety of programs and online tools, including the Climate Ready Estuaries program and the Climate Ready Water Utilities Working Group. EPA has also taken the lead on a number of regional climate adaptation projects.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Office of Policy Development and Research is helping to develop a toolkit of HUD initiatives that will provide new resources to communities to address the challenges resulting from climate change and growth patterns at the local level.
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has created an integrated effort between its Earth Science Division and Environmental Management Division to look at the longterm effects of climate change for its Centers, many of which are in climate-sensitive areas, and to enable more informed future planning for its Centers and resource management.
  • The Department of the Navy established Task Force Climate Change which has developed and begun to implement two roadmaps for climate change adaptation in the Arctic and across the globe. Activities include conducting joint and combined exercises in the Arctic, initiating education on climate change science and security, and incorporating adaptation in Navy strategic objectives and plans.
  • The Department of State is contributing to adaptation through the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and related funding mechanisms, and is leading international efforts to foster more effective coordination among institutions engaged in adaptation.
  • The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has prepared a guidance document on integrating adaptation into foreign assistance programs, sponsored the development of the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, and developed or contributed to several other analytical tools, databases, and guidance materials on international adaptation.
  • The Department of the Treasury oversees U.S. contributions to several multilateral investment funds that help developing countries improve their adaptive capacity, such as the UNFCCC Special Climate Change Fund and the World Bank’s Pilot Program for Climate Resilience.
  • The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is helping Federal agencies to develop a coherent national architecture for these and other Federal climate assessments and services.

Policy Goals Toward a National Adaptation Strategy

Building upon current activities and programs, the Task Force recommended the following as policy goals for the federal government in progressing toward a coordinated national adaptation strategy:

1. Encourage and Mainstream Adaptation Planning across the Federal Government

The Executive Office of the President should support the implementation of agency adaptation planning—the CEQ Office of the Federal Environmental Executive works in concert with the Office of Management and Budget.  The CEQ Chair will issue implementing instructions to agencies within 120 days of this report.

Recommended Actions:

  • Implement adaptation planning within Federal agencies
  • Employ a flexible framework for agency adaptation planning
  • Used a phased a coordinated approach to implement agency adaptation

2. Improve Integration of Science into Decision Making

Recommended Actions:

  • Create a “roadmap” of existing Federal science efforts that inform and support adaptation
  • The new Adaptation Science and Research Element within the USGCRP should develop a “roadmap” that identifies existing adaptation science and service capabilities and gaps across Federally-sponsored programs.
  • Prioritize activities that address science gaps important to adaptation decisions and policies
  • The Federal Government should prioritize scientific activities that address critical gaps in understanding to better inform and support adaptation decisions.  USGCRP should consider options for identifying and expanding opportunities to address these gaps through interagency coordination and its strategic planning process.
  • Build science translation capacity to improve the communication and application of science to meet the needs of decision makers
  • Explore approaches to develop an online data and information clearinghouse for adaptation

3. Address Key Cross-Cutting Issues

Recommended Actions:

  • Improve water resource management in a changing climate
  • Protect human health by addressing climate change in public health activities
  • Build resilience to climate change in communities
  • Facilitate the incorporation of climate change risks into insurance mechanisms
  • Address additional cross-cutting issues

4. Enhance Efforts to Lead and Support International Adaptation

Recommended Actions:

  • Develop a Government-wide strategy to support multilateral and bilateral adaptation activities and integrate adaptation into relevant U.S. foreign assistance programs
  • Enhance collaboration on adaptation among international development, national security, and technical support agencies
  • Engage global development partners and the private sector to promote knowledge sharing and coordinate investments

5. Coordinate Capabilities of the Federal Government to Support Adaptation

Recommended Actions:

  • Build and maintain strong partnerships to increase responsiveness of Federal Government activities to support local, state, and Tribal needs.
  • Develop regional climate change adaptation consortia among Federal agencies
  • Establish performance metrics for evaluating Federal adaptation efforts

Recommended Near-Term Steps

The Task Force will continue to meet over the coming year, and will produce another Progress Report by October 2011.  In the interim, the Task Force recommends that the government take key steps towards implementation of national adaptation strategy, summarized below:

  • Implement adaptation planning within Federal agencies to consider and address climate change impacts on missions, operations, and programs.
  • Strengthen interagency coordination to build a robust body of accessible science and tools to inform and support adaptation decisions.
  • Enhance the Government’s ability to support and implement adaptive actions for the cross-cutting issues discussed in this report, and address additional cross-cutting issues over the next year (including coastal and ocean resilience and fish, wildlife, and plants).
  • Develop an international adaptation strategy that builds on and enhances ongoing efforts, supports the core principles and objectives of the President’s new Global Development Policy, and coordinates resources and expertise across the Federal Government to support international adaptation initiatives.
  • Improve coordination of Federal efforts at the regional level to create efficiencies in climate science and services and to meet local, state, and regional adaptation needs.
  • Establish a partnership committee composed of local, state, and Tribal representatives to allow the Task Force to consult with critical partners as the Federal Government begins to implement the actions contained in this report.
  • Develop methods for evaluating the effectiveness of Federal actions to increase national adaptive capacity and resilience, which will be critical for continuously refining and improving the Government’s approach to adaptation.

Earlier posts:

Preparing for Climate Change” – Steve Schneider continues to confront us with inconvenient truths

Martin Hoffert: “No. No. No to decoupling the issues of human energy systems from climate change.”

UK national assessment of preparedness for climate disruption says action needed now

Latest NRC report charts path for federal government in supporting national climate preparedness

Climate change preparedness – what about the risks that may come with adaptation and mitigation?

Holdren at Adaptation Summit: We’re not serious until we put a price on greenhouse gas emissions

Text of remarks by Obama science adviser John Holdren to the National Climate Adaptation Summit