March 18, 2010

Climate Change Adaptation Progress: Administration Releases Interim Report on Strategy for a Strategy

Tuesday, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released an Interim Progress Report of the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, a group charged by President Obama in Executive Order 13514 to develop (by Fall 2010) recommendations for the federal government for adapting to climate change. More than 20 federal agencies, departments, and offices are participating in the task force.

The progress report notes that some agencies are taking action toward implementing programs and policies to deal with the changes and risks climate change will bring. But it also notes many significant gaps remain, including:

  • Coherent research programs to identify and describe regional impacts associated with near-term, long-term, and abrupt global climate change;
  • Relevant climate change and impact information that is accessible and usable by decision-makers and practitioners;
  • A unified strategic vision and approach;
  • Understanding of the challenges at all levels of government;
  • Comprehensive and localized risk and vulnerability assessments;
  • Organized and coordinated efforts across local, State and Federal agencies;
  • Strong links between, and support and participation of, Tribal, regional, State, and local partners;
  • A strategy to link resources, both financial and intellectual, to critical needs; 
  • A robust approach to evaluating and applying lessons learned.

For a to-do list, it’s an ambitious one. It’s also revealing – and humbling – to think about how much we don’t yet know. The Interim Progress Report recommends a national strategy for adaptation and resilience to address the gaps identified above. The Fall 2010 report required by the Executive Order, however, will only detail the development of the “domestic and international dimensions” of a strategy, agency actions in support of the development of a strategy, and recommendations for the strategy (follow that?). In other words, a complete national adaptation strategy is still to come – a strategy for a strategy is what we should expect from the Task Force, and, indeed, is all that the Executive Order calls for. It’s a great and necessary start, but there is so much more to do.

The challenges we face are almost overwhelming. There’s no doubt that the Task Force has its work cut out for it just to get the 20 agencies involved willing to agree on core data sets, to coordinate, and to share information with each other. Meanwhile, very difficult problems loom. As CPR Member Scholar Alejandro Camacho has described here, adaptation is still being given short shrift at local, state and federal levels of government, and those who are considering it lack the information and tools to engage in proactive adaptation. (For additional resources by CPR member scholars about climate change adaptation, see here.) Let’s hope the trail blazed by the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force provides some much-needed leadership and guidance toward laying the groundwork for serious and robust adaptation planning across the country. We’re going to need it.

Shana Jones, Executive Director, Center for Progressive Reform. Bio.

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