Preparing Now for Our Climate Future

Our climate is changing.  We are not just seeing global increases in air and ocean temperatures, we are seeing changes across the United States:  extended periods of unusual heat, a greater number of heavier downpours, more severe regional drought and wildfires in parts of the American West, permafrost thawing in Alaska, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise threatening coastal communities.  At the same time, much of our Nation’s infrastructure has been designed for the climate that we have had, and not the changing climate we now are experiencing and can expect in the future. 

President Obama believes we have a moral obligation to future generations to leave them a planet that is not polluted and damaged.  That’s why, last year, he launched a comprehensive Climate Action Plan to reduce the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change, prepare for the impacts of a changing climate on American communities and businesses, and lead international efforts to address this global challenge.

Even as we act to reduce carbon pollution, we know some impacts of climate change are already unavoidable. The Federal Government has an obligation to support American communities by protecting critical infrastructure and natural resources, advancing science that informs planning and investments, establishing policies that promote resilience, and ensuring that Federal operations and facilities continue to protect and serve citizens in a changing climate. The President’s Climate Action Plan prioritizes this work and integrates consideration of climate impacts and risks into Federal programs so that we are making the best possible use of our taxpayer dollars.

In his Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2015 being transmitted to Congress today, President Obama is following through on those commitments and taking a wide range of steps to “up our game” in promoting preparedness for, and resilience against, the impacts of climate change.  This includes robust support for State, local, and tribal preparedness efforts, analysis of vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure, creation of incentives to address those vulnerabilities, and development and dissemination of better information and planning tools. 

The Budget Request will continue to support programs that promote climate preparedness at the local level.  The Department of Health and Human Services will support public-health officials working on the challenges at the interface of human health and climate.  Programs at the Department of Transportation will work with communities to minimize the effects of extreme weather and climate change on critical transportation infrastructure.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior will provide grants and technical support to promote water conservation and efficiency.  EPA and other agencies will continue to provide technical assistance and funding for sustainable communities, and the Department of the Interior will support efforts by tribal communities to enhance their own preparedness.

Recognizing the continuing need for sound science to guide our national efforts, the Budget Request also includes more than $2.5 billion for Federal research to improve our understanding of and ability to predict and respond to global change.  This will include an expanded program of ocean acidification research to better understand changes to our marine resources.  The Budget Request also supports the development of the Climate Resilience Toolkit and Climate Data Initiative, called for in the President’s Climate Action Plan, to make Federally supported science even more accessible to those who need it on the ground. 

In response to demand from across the country – including from the President’s new Task Force of  governors, mayors, tribal leaders and other local officials who have been advising the Administration on how to help them protect communities across the Nation from climate impacts – the Budget also proposes a new $1 billion Climate Resilience Fund within a fully paid for $56 billion Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative – split evenly between defense and non-defense priorities – which presents additional investments in critical areas, such as education, research, manufacturing, and security.  The Climate Resilience Fund expands on existing climate-change preparedness programs to ensure we are doing everything we can to support the safety and security of our communities and resources.  In particular, the Fund will augment adaptation planning by States, tribes, and local communities and help them prepare for events such as wildfire, floods, or other disasters that could be exacerbated by climate change. 

For example, under the Fund, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will receive $400 million to support additional hazard-mitigation and preparedness-assistance efforts, while the Department of the Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will provide grants to improve coastal resilience to severe weather events and changing ocean conditions.  The Environmental Protection Agency will provide State grants to sustain or improve water quality through coastal and wetlands protection from erosion and to reduce and absorb stormwater flow, while U.S. Department of Agriculture funding will support State and community efforts to strengthen building-code requirements to address the risk of wildfires.  The Fund will also help us better understand and prepare for climate change by investing in research and unlocking data and information, including new sea-level rise analyses and sector-specific data to inform transportation projects and public-health activities. 

Finally, building on the work done to help communities recover from Superstorm Sandy, the Climate Resilience Fund will ramp up support for breakthrough technologies and resilient infrastructure. It will expand research and development on distributed renewable generation and microgrids, which can help communities keep the lights on during weather disasters.  It will also support a variety of “challenges” to the private sector to come up with innovative ways to build infrastructure that is responsive to future climate conditions.  For example, it will support the Bureau of Reclamation’s new Water Challenge Solutions program — a pay-for-success, X-Prize-challenge to encourage industry-changing advancements in water-treatment technologies.  The Fund also includes support for developing building codes for both improved resilience and energy efficiency.  And it will also help approximately 6,000 more communities to maintain, restore and improve urban forests and tree canopy to mitigate heat islands and other climate impacts.

Preparing for the impacts of climate change will be a fundamental challenge over the coming decades for every community, economic sector, and level of government in America.  Through his Climate Action Plan and his Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2015, President Obama has committed to making national climate preparedness a reality.

Michael Boots is Acting Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality; 

Dr. John P. Holdren is Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the Office of Science & Technology Policy; and

Lisa Monaco is Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and Deputy National Security Advisor.

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