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.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has issued "Final Guidance for Federal Departments and Agencies on Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the Effects of Climate Change in National Environmental Policy Act Reviews."
Years in development, the guidance instructs agencies to consider both the project’s impact on climate change (i.e., greenhouse gas emissions caused, directly or indirectly, by the project, potential for sequestration, etc.) as well as the effects of climate change (i.e., projected sea-level rise for a coastal project, whether a bridge will be able to withstand the future weather extremes, etc).
The guidance specifically notes that interagency adaptation strategies including the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy provide good examples of the type of relevant and useful information that can be considered.
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, the Administration though the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is working to plan for steady action to reduce carbon pollution and to ensure a coordinated and comprehensive response to the impacts of climate change on public health, communities, coasts, wildlife, and water resources across agencies and departments. The National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy (Strategy) is an important part of this larger climate change response. Related efforts include:
- Climate Action Plan: In June of 2013, President Obama 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 Climate Action Plan recognizes 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. It specifically references the Strategy’s focus on fish, wildlife and plants, and supports important adaptation as well as mitigation efforts.
- Executive Order 13653: As called for in the Climate Action Plan, President Obama signed Executive Order 13653: Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Chang on November 1st, 2013. The order created a Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, replacing the previous Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, to integrate climate resiliency into federal programs; provide information, data, and tools for the public on climate change preparedness; and update the agency adaptation plans annually. In addition, the Executive Order created a State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience to inform federal efforts.
- Priority Agenda: In October 2014, the President's Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, (established by Section 6 of Executive Order 13653) released its Priority Agenda for Enhancing the Climate Resilience of America’s Natural Resources. The Agenda specifically references the Strategy and many of its recommendations echo those called for in the Strategy, including the completion of landscape conservation designs by the LCCs in a handful of flagship regions.
- The Council on Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience has convened a Climate and Natural Resources Working Group (CNRWG) to complete an inventory, assessment, and plan 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 CNRWG includes Departments of Defense, Interior, and Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
- Federal Climate Adaptation Plans: In response to Executive Order 13653, in October 2014 all federal agencies released updated Climate Change Adaptation Plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change impacts. The DOI 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Plan highlights needs of fish, wildlife, and plants and describes implementation of the Strategy.
- National Ocean Policy: The National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan was released in April of 2013, in response to the President’s call 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. It includes series of actions to address the adaptation to climate change and ocean acidification. Development was well coordinated with the Strategy and many recommendations are shared.
- 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. Implementation of this Action Plan is being well coordinated with implementation of the Strategy.
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.
- State, Local and Tribal Recommendations: In November 2014, the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience released recommendations for how the federal government can assist communities dealing with impacts of climate change, including recommending full implementation of the Strategy.
Selected State Efforts:
- California Climate Adaptation Strategy
- Florida’s Resilient Coasts
- A Framework for Climate Change Adaptation in Hawaii
- Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report
- New York Interim Climate Action Plan
- Oregon: Climate Ready Communities
- Pennsylvania Climate Adaptation Planning Report
- Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts
Tribes across the country are working to plan and prepare for coming climate changes on their lands and natural resources. Many tribes are already seeing impacts from climate change firsthand, and are developing innovative adaptation and mitigation strategies at the regional and local level.
For more information on resources for tribes working to build understanding of climate change and its impacts on their communities, visit:
Selected Tribal Efforts:
- Swinomish Climate Adaptation Action Plan
- Nooksack Indian Tribe: Rivers and Glaciers
- Nez Perce Tribe: Clearwater River Subbasin Climate Change Adaptation Plan
- Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes: Climate Change Strategic Plan
- Jamestown S’Klallam Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Plan