by Duane Nichols on March 21, 2021

!changing for climate change is our challenge!

The need for a US national climate adaptation strategy

From an Essay by Peter Schultz, ICF Consultants, February 24, 2021

Governments, businesses, and communities across the United States are taking action to prepare for the risks posed by climate change. But the lack of an overarching vision and coordination at the federal level could lead to missed opportunities and inefficient use of resources. America needs a national adaptation strategy—and there’s no time to waste.

It seems there is action everywhere these days to help the United States better understand and prepare for the risks from climate change. This is wonderful! In its first few days the Biden administration released executive orders that direct federal agencies to each develop climate action plans, along with a wide range of other activities, including establishment of a White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy and a National Climate Task Force. States and cities are ramping up their climate resilience efforts. For example, the states of New York and California are providing funding to communities to address climate change vulnerabilities. Action is underway in the private sector too: companies are increasingly assessing and disclosing their climate risks, such as through the use of the framework promoted by the Task Force on Climate-Resilient Financial Disclosure.

But without a national adaptation strategy, it will be as if the United States is trying to sprint in soft sand: there will be a big flurry of activity with a significant amount of wasted effort.

>>>>> There are many essential actors and voices

Several federal departments and agencies have some responsibility—either conferred by Congress or assumed for themselves—to ensure the safety of U.S. communities, including the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Homeland Security (DHS), Commerce (DOC), Transportation (DOT), Agriculture (USDA), and Energy (DOE), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and others. These federal organizations need to closely coordinate with each other and with the communities they are serving to ensure that their investments to understand and mitigate climate risks are targeted toward the greatest needs.

Many of their programs, such as the HUD Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), the FEMA Building Resilience in Communities (BRIC) grants, the USDA Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program, and the DOT Surface Transportation Block Grant Program, have the potential to address climate change, even though that’s not their primary design. As these programs evolve and others emerge to address the risks posed by climate change, it is essential that they be well coordinated to ensure they are targeting the communities most vulnerable to climate change, and that synergies between those programs and state and local efforts are fully exploited.

The government also has an important set of roles to play in promoting private sector engagement. However, the private sector should not be a passive recipient of direction from the government. Businesses need to act in their own interests and that of the communities they serve and upon which they depend. These private sector actions will, in many cases, benefit from coordination with the government, whether for voluntary or regulated action. And the government needs to coordinate its actions with respect to the private sector. For example, multiple reports (e.g., here and here) have suggested that the Securities and Exchange Commission implement stronger requirements for climate risk disclosure. However, this needs to be done in concert with the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, as well as non-federal entities including the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS) to ensure that any new requirements are not in conflict with each other and to help streamline the ability of companies to navigate any new climate risk disclosure mandates.

These are but a few of the actions underway across the country to address climate risk that need to be coordinated to maximize their potential and to avoid inefficient use of resources. However, a bold strategy should not only knit together existing activities, but also play a central role in catalyzing new opportunities in adaptation that can enhance economic growth and adaptation-related jobs. An undertaking of this breadth and significance will require a diverse array of people and organizations to be meaningfully engaged in the development and the implementation of the strategy.

These efforts need to be in service of our communities, as well as the people in other countries that U.S. agencies and companies serve. It’s important to keep in mind that this is a human issue, not an abstract programmatic one. Coordinated, effective, efficient, and equitable programs are critical to reduce community-scale impacts from the increasing incidence of heatwaves and increasing severity of floods—to mention only a few of the hazards posed by climate change. If well designed, these efforts also have the potential to increase the resilience of the nation to all hazards, not just climate change – including the devastating effects of the recent freezes in Texas and the ongoing COVID pandemic. Irrespective of the cause, these hazards are hitting already-vulnerable people hardest, including poor, minority, and elderly populations.

With reentry by the United States into the Paris Agreement, a national adaptation strategy can – together with the National Climate Assessment – provide the underpinning for this country’s required adaptation communications under the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change. It will also allow the United States to effectively harmonize with the adaptation planning efforts of other nations and regions, including the European Union and its recently released adaptation strategy.

>>>>>> Key dimensions of a national adaptation strategy

So, what should a national adaptation strategy look like? A few of the elements that should be considered are very briefly outlined below:

§. Responsive to greatest vulnerabilities. Which communities and sectors are most exposed and sensitive to climate change? Which have the least ability to cope with the impacts from climate change? These are the places where we, as a nation, should start. The planning and responses described in a national strategy should be fair and equitable.

§. Science-based. There is a lot that the scientific community can tell us about how the climate is changing and how it may affect the things that we care most about. But there are many uncertainties. Science can help us navigate this complex landscape and help guide investments to where they are needed most using techniques that embrace these uncertainties to guide cost-effective, equitable investments. In addition to being science-based, the strategy should be linked to the nation’s research and development planning to seek and create new synergies, where possible.

§. Built upon existing activities, where possible. Well-established existing programs and networks could be leveraged to support the enhancement of climate resilience, whether the U.S. National Climate Assessment, which provides gold-standard scientific information to the nation, the agricultural cooperative extension network, which has served farmers across the country for decades, the recently released National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy, or the countless volunteer-, religious-, and community-based programs that have deep roots with the communities they serve and connect.

§. Effectively and inclusively coordinated and led. It’s highly unlikely that the resources and activities required for a national adaptation strategy will be spontaneously coordinated. Instead, this effort will require intentionality and dedicated effort. Leadership from the top is required, including from the president, Congress, governors, mayors, CEOs, and community leaders. However, the stakeholders and beneficiaries of a national adaptation strategy also need to provide engagement, input, and direction. An effective national adaptation strategy needs to be both top-down and bottom-up.

§. Adequately resourced. Even the most carefully crafted plan is meaningless if it cannot be executed. A national adaptation strategy needs to have enough implementation resources, not just in the short term but particularly in the decades to come as climate change intensifies. It needs to include criteria for prioritizing action to align available resources with the greatest needs. Effective adaptation will likely require a significant infusion of new resources from both the public and private sectors. Thus, the strategy should be aspirational and not limited to the resources currently at hand.

§. Actionable. The national strategy should serve as the guide star for more specific adaptation and implementation strategies developed across all levels of government and civil society. It should identify the types of actors that need to be engaged, as well as their roles and responsibilities, and should provide guidance on the development of plans that are bespoke to their particular needs and capabilities.

§. Closely monitored and adapted over time. The strategy should outline how progress may be measured and how actions may be adjusted over time, as we learn more about climate change, risk mitigation measures, and the socioeconomic contexts of communities and sectors that are vulnerable to climate change.

Clear evaluation criteria will need to be baked into the planning from the outset. This will allow investments to be tracked openly and transparently. Importantly, as climate impacts emerge across the country there will be a constant need to adapt and re-prioritize over time. It will be essential to define clear triggers for changing paths before adaptation thresholds are breached. This adaptive management process can also help to identify new, currently unimagined opportunities to propel the nation’s resilience forward.

>>>>> The power of vision

A national adaptation strategy should have all of the elements described above. But, perhaps most important is the need for a vision that it articulates for a nation resilient to climate change: a nation that can equitably prosper in a way that protects our people and natural resources for the long term. That vision can help motivate the types of action that are needed, including actions that transform our ability to prepare for and respond to climate change. As communities increasingly suffer from impacts related to climate change, the science tells us that the future stakes are enormous. This is an effort in which we absolutely, positively cannot allow ourselves to fail.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Barth & Titus Report March 21, 2021 at 7:40 am

Greenhouse Effect and Sea Level Rise: A Challenge for This Generation, ICF Consultants, Washington, DC, 1984

A rise in sea level of even one meter during the next century could influence the outcomes of many decisions now being made. In the United States, thousands of square miles of land could be lost, particularly in low-lying areas such as the Mississippi Delta, where the land is also subsiding at approximately one meter per century. Storm damage, already estimated at over three billion dollars per year nationwide, could also increase, particularly along the well-developed and low-lying Atlantic coast. Finally, a rising sea will increase the salinity of marshes, estuaries, and aquifers, disrupting marine life and possibly threatening some drinking water supplies. Fortunately, the most adverse effects can be avoided if timely actions are taken in anticipation of sea level rise.


Steve MacLaughlin March 21, 2021 at 10:10 pm

‘We Need to Get Things Moving’: Meteorologist on Biden’s Climate Plan

By Steve MacLaughlin • NBC News 6 Miami, Updated on March 18, 2021

Since his first day in office when he signed an executive order getting the United States back into the Paris Agreement, President Joe Biden had laid out the most aggressive climate plan in the country’s history.

This includes having “net zero” greenhouse emissions by 2050, stopping oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and beginning the transition to electric vehicles.

“They’re not just bringing this into science and environment and energy, but they’re also bringing this into transportation, they’re bringing this into the economy,” said Bernadette Woods Placky, Climate Central’s chief meteorologist. “They’re bringing this into the justice department and environmental justice issues.”

While Placky is optimistic about Biden’s plans, she is cautious because time is running out.

“A lot of the basics were understood in 1980, and we’ve waited so long to do anything about them, and the longer we wait, the harder it is to solve these issues, the more expensive it is, the more people die, the more health that’s affected.” She said. “I don’t think people fully understand the longer we wait, the worse it’s going to be because our greenhouse gases that we put into the atmosphere now stay there for hundreds to thousands of years, and that’s why you hear such urgency in our voices when we talk about the subject matter. It’s not one specific avenue or one specific policy, it’s more the timelines. We need to get things moving and we need to get them moving fast.”


Ivy Main March 21, 2021 at 10:47 pm

The VA General Assembly made progress on climate in 2021, but our work here is hardly done

From the Blog of Ivy Main, Power to the People VA, March 11, 2021

Before the start of the 2021 legislative session, I highlighted three areas where Virginia needed to make significant progress to support its climate agenda: transportation electrification, improving the energy efficiency of buildings and giving consumers greater access to renewable energy.

The General Assembly delivered on one-and-a-half out of three. If we add bonus points for smaller successes, maybe we can call it a total of two. The transportation category truly outperformed expectations, but building efficiency underperformed and renewable energy access didn’t perform at all.

In the transportation sector, the General Assembly passed the Clean Car Standards requiring manufacturers to deliver more electric vehicles to Virginia dealers (HB1965); approved a statewide study of transit equity (HJ542); approved (but so far has not funded) an electric vehicle rebate program (HB1979); directed the SCC to report on ways to electrify transportation (HB2282); and established a school bus electrification fund (also empty for now)(HB2118).

Together these bills address two of the most significant ways we can reduce emissions from the transportation sector: supporting the move away from the internal combustion engine to electric vehicles and improving mass transit options.

The House rejected a second school bus electrification bill that, as originally drafted, would have allowed Dominion Energy Virginia to own, control and profit handsomely from the batteries in as many as 1,250 new electric school buses. Adding non-polluting school buses across Virginia and testing the value of vehicle-to-grid technology would have been exciting, but Dominion couldn’t help taking a good idea and trying to make it into another bloated profit center. Given the odor of Dominion boondoggle, the question isn’t why the House rejected the bill, but why the Senate was willing to swallow it.

Still, it’s clear electric school buses are an idea whose time has come, and vehicle-to-grid technology could have real benefits for ratepayers. Dominion is already testing the technology with school bus batteries in a smaller pilot program, so we can expect to see more on this topic next year. Meanwhile, advocates hope to see funding emerge to implement HB2118, possibly from the federal stimulus bill now under consideration in Congress.

Improving the energy efficiency of new homes should have been an equally popular idea with legislators. Virginia will be spending hundreds of millions of dollars retrofitting existing homes in the years to come, so it makes sense to ensure that new houses don’t immediately join the queue of homes needing upgrades to be climate-ready. Unfortunately, beefing up the energy efficiency provisions of Virginia’s residential building code (HB2227) proved a hard sell in the face of entrenched opposition from the homebuilders’ lobby and surprising resistance from even some Democratic legislators.

The legislation originally would have mandated adoption of the latest national energy efficiency code provisions, but it was amended to leave it up to the discretion of the code-writing board whether to require new homes to achieve this higher level of efficiency. They already had that authority; however, the board will now have to consider factors that favor stricter standards, like the long-term cost of ownership. For that reason I’m counting this bill as half a win. Whether or not the board decides to take the hint, improving efficiency in new homes is a topic we will see a lot more of in the future — and next time it is likely to come with more urgency and added features.

Energy efficiency bills did better when they addressed only government bodies. Legislation that passed now favors energy-efficient and water-efficient products in public procurement, and requires EV charging and energy/carbon tracking capability for new public buildings.

Unfortunately, 2021 was another bad year for my third priority, giving consumers the right to buy renewable energy from competitive suppliers. The House supported the “right to shop” bill (HB2048), but Senate Commerce and Labor once again proved itself a bulwark of defense for the monopoly utility model against the interests of residents and corporate customers alike. Killing the bill does nothing to lessen the demand from consumers. If Dominion does not move soon to offer better renewable energy options itself, we can expect to see this legislation return.

Senate Commerce and Labor further cemented its reputation as Dominion’s best friend by dispatching the full suite of utility reform bills that had won bipartisan support in the House. Only three senators on the 15-member committee consistently voted in favor of the reforms, ensuring that none of them got to the Senate floor.

Various other bills advanced the energy transition in smaller, focused bites. But perhaps the best news is that nothing this year marked a retreat from the commitment the General Assembly and the governor made last year to move Virginia toward a cleaner and more equitable energy supply.

In the Blog is a brief round-up of the climate and energy bills that passed this year, including the ones mentioned above. The governor will still have to sign the bills before they become law, but we are not expecting any surprises.

>>> Further details on individual bills are given in the Blog itself.


M. B. Rhodes April 1, 2021 at 9:25 pm

Earliest Cherry Blossoms Peak in More than 1,000 Years

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