Climate change is already here. It is clear from current trends and future projections that we are now committed to a certain amount of changes and impacts, making climate adaptation planning a critical part of responding to this complex challenge. Coordinated adaptation planning can help limit the damage caused by climate change to our natural resources and communities, and will require new approaches, additional resources, and a pragmatic perspective.
Most simply, climate adaptation means helping people and natural systems prepare for and cope with the effects of a changing climate. More specifically, the IPCC defines climate adaptation as:
"Adjustment in natural or human system in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities."
Climate adaptation is an essential complement to climate change mitigation, which refers to efforts to decrease the rate and extent of climate change through reducing greenhouse gas emissions or enhancing carbon uptake and storage.
This Strategy is a key component of the growing effort by federal, state and tribal governments and non-governmental entities to reduce risks and impacts of climate change. The Strategy drew from existing adaptation efforts by States, Federal agencies and others and is designed to complement and support such efforts.
At the federal level, several climate change planning efforts are underway that relate to the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy, and involve multiple agencies, departments, and jurisdictions. The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is working to help align these efforts and to ensure a coordinated and comprehensive response to the impacts of climate change on public health, communities, coasts, wildlife, and water resources. Efforts include:
- President Obama recently laid out a new comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, prepare our country for the impacts of climate change, and lead global efforts to fight it. The Plan is a recognition that climate change is unequivocal, its primary cause is greenhouse gas pollution from burning fossil fuels, and it is threatening the health of our communities, natural systems, and the economy. The Plan specifically references the development of the national strategy to address impacts of climate change on fish, wildlife and plants, and supports important adaptation as well as mitigation efforts. Learn more.
- U.S. Global Change Research Program: The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) coordinates and integrates federal research on changes in the global environment and their implications for society. The USGCRP began as a presidential initiative in 1989 and was mandated by Congress in the Global Change Research Act of 1990. The USGCRP oversees the National Climate Assessments including the 2009 Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States report.
- National Climate Assessment: The U.S. is conducting a comprehensive National Assessment of climate impacts and response options every four years as required by law. The National Assessment provides a mechanism for engaging communities at the regional, tribal, state, and local levels to build a shared vision of our nation's most pressing challenges related to climate change.
- Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force: The Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force (Task Force) was established in 2009 to provide recommendations on how the policies and practices of Federal agencies can be made compatible with and reinforce a national climate change adaptation strategy. CEQ is co-chairing the Climate Change Adaptation Task Force with the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and NOAA. The Task Force cuts across sectors (water, health, coasts, insurance, etc.) and is comprised of over 200 federal agency staff, broken into various workgroups.
- The Task Force has issued two Progress Reports to the President in 2010 and 2011, which included the recommendation to develop the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy and identified a set of guiding principles that public and private decision-makers should consider in designing and implementing adaptation strategies.
- National Action Plan for Freshwater Resources: In October of 2011, CEQ released the National Action Plan: Priorities for Managing Freshwater Resources in a Changing Climate to provide an overview of the challenges that a changing climate presents for the management of the Nation's freshwater resources, and describe actions that Federal agencies propose to take in response to these challenges. The Interagency Task Force’s Water Resources Working Group led the development of this national plan with input from key stakeholders.
- National Ocean Policy: In July of 2010 the President called for the development of a Strategic Action Plan to Strengthen the Resilience of Coastal, Ocean, and Great Lakes Ecosystems through Executive Order 13547. The Order established a National Ocean Policy and tasked the interagency National Ocean Council with developing strategic action plans to achieve nine national priority objectives that address some of the most pressing challenges facing our ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes.
- In January of 2012, the National Ocean Council released a draft National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan to address some of the most pressing challenges facing the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes. It includes series of actions to address the Resiliency and Adaptation to Climate Change and Ocean Acidification priority objective, one of nine priority objectives identified by the National Ocean Policy (NOP).
- Landscape Conservation Cooperatives: Landscape conservation cooperatives, or LCCs, are self-directed, applied conservation science partnerships that will drive successful conservation at landscape scales. Collectively they create a national network of interdependent partnerships between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, other federal agencies, states, tribes, NGOs, universities and other entities which will inform resource management decisions to address national-scale stressors, including climate change.
- Agency Adaptation Planning: In June of 2012, federal agencies submitted Climate Change Adaptation Plans evaluating climate and extreme weather related risks to their missions, policies, and services, as part of their annual Sustainability Plan.
A wide variety of state-level climate change planning is either in place or in progress across the country. The majority of states have produced or are developing climate action plans laying out goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and many have developed impact assessments to examine how climate change will continue to affect local resources, communities, infrastructure, and landscapes. Many states have also worked to integrate management recommendations for habitats or species impacted by climate change into existing State Wildlife Action Plans.
In addition, a growing number of states are putting forward true climate adaptation plans or strategies, detailing strategies for addressing and reducing climate impacts and planning for coming changes. These adaptation efforts have been instigated through both executive orders from the governor as well as legislative mandates, and often involve cross-sector working groups or advisory councils with representatives from various state agencies as well as academics, industry, and the public.
Many Tribes across the country are working to plan and prepare for coming climate changes on their lands and natural resources. For example, the Swinomish Tribe has recently put together an adaptation plan to address potential impacts to the Swinomish Reservation from climate change. The Tribe is also facilitating the development of the Skagit Climate Science Consortium, which works to assess ongoing research, identifying gaps in the science, developing Skagit River Basin specific climate models, and to explain those models to local decision makers. A variety of other Tribes and Native American groups have been working on planning at the regional and local level: look for more examples to be posted here shortly.
Visit the Media & Materials section for more examples of federal, state, and tribal climate adaptation plans and efforts.