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While the need and best way to reduce carbon emissions is still (obtusely) being debated in Congress, the federal government has begun a widespread effort to detail and respond to the long-term risks posed to the U.S. by climate change.

Climate Change

Report Details Federal Action to Address Climate Change Risks, Impact

While the need and best way to reduce carbon emissions is still (obtusely) being debated in Congress, the federal government has begun a widespread effort to detail and respond to the long-term risks posed to the U.S. by climate change.


While the need and best way to reduce carbon emissions is still (obtusely) being debated in Congress, the federal government has begun a widespread effort to detail and respond to the long-term risks posed to the U.S. by climate change.

These findings are put forward by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) in an updated report, “Climate Change Adaptation: What Federal Agencies Are Doing.” The report details efforts by federal agencies to analyze climate change impacts on their respective missions and operations, commit each agency to adaptation planning, and prepare a climate adaptation plan by June 2012.

Environmental and Economic Impact

The Obama Administration’s Executive Order 13514, which aims to reduce the federal government’s emissions 28 percent by 2020, is the primary driver for these efforts.  While the order was announced in 2010, C2ES notes federal activities to respond to climate change have doubled since their first report on the topic in April 2010.

Even though federal actions will have an environmental impact, they also make economic sense, according to Steve Seidel, senior advisor at C2ES:

Federal agencies are under growing pressure to reduce costs, eliminate unnecessary regulations, and make certain the public is getting a good return on the tax dollars they invest in government. In the context of climate change, federal agencies are reviewing the programs they operate and the facilities and resources they manage to identify cost-effective steps to minimize their vulnerability and enhance their resilience to increased risks of extreme weather and a changing climate. With our nation having experienced a record number of extreme weather events last year, each causing economic damages exceeding $1 billion, it’s both common sense and smart fiscal policy to analyze and minimize the vulnerability of federal assets to extreme weather and climate impacts.

Executive Branch Leads the Way

As would be expected, most action has happened in the Executive Office of the President. In addition to Executive Order 13514, the C2ES report highlights multiple initiatives by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), including instructions for federal agencies to implement climate change adaptation as well as plans to address impacts on freshwater resources, fish, wildlife, plants, and oceans.

A lesser-known program, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRA), has also been quite busy. USGCRA has led efforts to integrate climate change adaptation science, effects on human health, and a national climate assessment into federal efforts.

Efforts Across All Agencies

While notable, adaptation efforts have not been limited to the executive branch. Department-wide efforts have been undertaken by every federal agency, including an adaptation plan specific to each agency, and may ultimately have a greater effect on U.S. adaptation efforts. The comprehensive list of agency efforts is lengthy, but notable highlights include:

Department of Commerce

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides planning guidance and training to communities to build capacity to prepare for climate change.
  • NOAA launched the Climate Services Portal to provide climate data, products and services

Department of Defense

Department of Health and Human Services

  • Center for Disease Control’s Climate and Health Program is working to incorporate health impacts of climate change into public health operations.

Department of Homeland Security

  • Federal Emergency Management Administration is developing a Risk Map to provide data for, and increase awareness of climate change rise to the US.

Department of Housing and Urban Development

  • HUD’s Partnership for Sustainable Communities is improving planning efforts, land use, and zoning across the US.
  • Long-term Disaster Recovery Working Group is helping protect communities against climate change effects.

Department of the Interior

  • DOI is identifying resources vulnerable to climate change and implementing adaptive actions for 50 percent of the country.

Environmental Protection Agency

  • EPA’s National Water Program Strategy identifies climate change impacts on water and goals/objectives to respond to expected impacts.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  • NASA’s Applied Sciences Program uses Earth science information and data to support other agency planning and response to climate change.

Image courtesy of Associated Press-Bill Poovey

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