Hurricane Sandy the Lightning Rod for New Executive Order

GLOBE-Net, November 4, 2013 — President Obama released an Executive Order last week, “Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change”  affecting all major government agencies.

The executive order (E.O.) calls for the establishment of a Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience under the co-chair of the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Nancy Sutley , John Holdren the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.

The Task Force members include state, local and tribal leaders from across the country (Listed here) who will use their first-hand experiences in building climate preparedness and resilience in their communities to inform their recommendations to the Administration. 

The E.O. also establishes an inter-agency Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, chaired by the White House and including more than 25 agencies, to develop, coordinate, and implement priority Federal actions related to climate preparedness by: 

  • Directing Federal agencies to examine their policies and programs to find ways to remove barriers to resilience-focused actions and investments;
  • Directing Federal agencies to evaluate how to better promote natural storm barriers, such as dunes and wetlands; and
  • Instructing Federal agencies to develop new data-driven tools and information that state, local, and private-sector leaders need to make planning decisions in the context of climate change.

This specific E.O. is about being prepared for violent and extreme weather that is thought to be the effects of climate change and the ability to be resilient or to bounce back from disasters as quickly as possible.

Citing Hurricane Sandy, the US Administration has provided resources to rebuild the affected area to be more resilient than before. This includes support for more climate-resilient roads and infrastructure, and projects that protect drinking water and block flooding.

Task Force members from across the country are to use their first-hand experiences in preparing city and regional infrastructures for climate change and subsequent resilience in their communities to formulate their recommendations to the Federal Government.

In June 2013, President Obama launched a Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution, to prepare communities for the impacts of climate change, and to lead international efforts to meet this global challenge.

“We’re going to need to get prepared.  And that’s why this plan will also protect critical sectors of our economy and prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change that we cannot avoid.  States and cities across the country are already taking it upon themselves to get ready… And we’ll partner with communities seeking help to prepare for droughts and floods, reduce the risk of wildfires, protect the dunes and wetlands that pull double duty as green space and as natural storm barriers.” stated President Barack Obama, June 25, 2013

The Climate Action Plan recognizes that even as communities act to curb the carbon pollution that is driving climate change, cities, towns and villages must also improve their ability to prepare for the climate impacts the many are already experiencing across the US.

Establishing the Council will help the Obama Administration to coordinate the President’s climate action plan, which aims to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.

Across America, states, cities, and communities are already taking steps to protect themselves from extreme weather and other climate impacts by updating building codes, adjusting the way they manage natural resources, investing in more resilient infrastructure, and planning for rapid recovery from damages that despite these efforts occur.

The all-encompassing E.O. includes the nation’s natural infrastructure: the watersheds, natural resources, and ecosystems those communities and their local economies depend on.

The E.O. is laid out in 8 sections.

Section 1 is on policy and references the many elements of climate change including prolonged periods of high temperatures, more heavy downpours and wind driven rains, increases in wildfires, more severe droughts, thawing of permafrost, acidification of oceans and the rise of sea-levels. It notes that these climate elements are impacting already on communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies and public health across the US. The Agencies will examine their policies and programs and develop ways to help build smarter and stronger cities and towns.

Section 2 discusses the modernization of Federal Programs that will support all efforts to mitigate risk in the face of climate change.

Section 3 addresses the management of lands and waters focusing on program and policy adjustments that “…promote the dual goals of greater climate resilience and carbon sequestration, or other reductions to the sources of climate change.”

Section 4 asks for information, data and tools from all government bodies to prepare for the impacts of climate change and resilience including the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, the Interior, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and other agencies recommended by the Council.

Section 5 deals with mitigating risk and managing risks by examining vulnerabilities in all agency operations and missions.

Section 6 establishes the Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience and the membership from the various Federal agencies named in Section 4 with the addition of many more including the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Education.

Section 7 establishes The State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience or Task Force that reports to the Council and supports its efforts. Within one year of the date of the E.O. they are to directed to”…provide, through its Co-Chairs, recommendations to the President and the Council for how the Federal Government can: remove barriers, create incentives, and otherwise modernize Federal programs to encourage investments, practices, and partnerships that facilitate increased resilience to climate impacts, including those associated with extreme weather.”

Section 8 is concerned with definitions used in the E.O.

The twenty-five agencies of the Council are directed to consider the recommendations of the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience and then to implement these actions.

Finally the E.O. states, “… the Federal Government will continue to support scientific research, observational capabilities, and assessments necessary to improve our understanding of and response to climate change and its impacts on the Nation.”

No doubt all this is a tall order, but as Hurricane Sandy demonstrated, better preparation on all fronts is absolutely necessary to deal with the extreme impacts of climate change.

Learn More

Fact Sheet: Executive Order on Climate Preparedness

Executive Order — Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change

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