The following is a guest post from by Frank Lowenstein, The Nature Conservancy’s Climate Change Adaptation Strategy Leader.
We plan for the future all the time — millions of us save for retirement, or even just try to decide which beach we’ll visit next summer in time to book our favorite hotel or cottage. A new report calls for the federal government to start planning as well — for how our nation will adapt to climate change. In my view, that kind of planning can’t start soon enough.
The Climate Change Adaptation Task Force — a panel co-chaired by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — last week recommended to President Obama a series of actions to better prepare the United States to respond to the impacts of climate change.
The report describes a suite of policies that will use the federal government’s leadership and partnership towards “a resilient, healthy, and prosperous Nation in the face of a changing climate.”
The report acknowledges the reality that we all can see in our daily lives and that Nature Conservancy scientists see on preserves that we have protected since 1951 — that sea levels are rising, rain and snow becoming more variable, and temperatures are climbing.
Anyone notice the new record temperature in Los Angeles last month? It was 113° Fahrenheit before the official National Weather Service thermometer broke. Realistic reports like the Task Force’s create a platform for working together as a society to deal with the climate problem.
While progress in Congress has withered, the Obama administration appears to be moving deliberately on climate change within the executive branch. The interagency report comes on the heels of a new climate change adaptation plan adopted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
With only six weeks until the next major United Nations climate change talks in Cancun, Mexico, much work needs to be done by international negotiators and the world’s political leaders in order to achieve even minimal progress following on last year’s meetings in Copenhagen. Planning for adaptation by the U.S. government is a concrete example to the world that not everyone in the U.S. denies that climate change is real.
The Conservancy is heartened to see that Ecosystem-Based Adaptation or EBA was included among the report’s guiding principles. This approach seeks to meet the needs of both people and nature in coping with climate change by increasing the resilience and health of natural systems that sustain our society.
For example, barrier beaches and the salt marshes behind them help protect coastal communities from storms while serving as nurseries for fisheries that provide food for our dinner tables. Structures built to protect communities from storms, like levees and seawalls, can interrupt the natural processes that sustain healthy marshes and barrier beaches — inadvertently increasing vulnerability to storms (recall Hurricane Katrina). In a world that features both climate change and fiscal constraints we will need to pay more attention to maintaining nature’s free services, as the Task Force recommends.
Other highlights of the report include:
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency should encourage development away from vulnerable areas.
- We should increase the use of risk management to anticipate the impacts of climate change.
- And the US should implement a government-wide international strategy to protect vulnerable populations against natural disasters, such as crop failures, famine and disease, that occur as a result of climate change. Increasing evidence supports the argument that enhancing adaptation abroad will benefit the United States by reducing immigration pressure, sustaining export markets and enhancing global security.
(Image: The Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina will be affected by the rising sea levels of the sounds that surround it. Photo Credit: Erika Nortemann/The Nature Conservancy.)