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A Plan for the New Normal: The President’s Climate Action Plan Calls for Preparing the U.S

On a hot and muggy, 90-degree day on the Georgetown University campus in Washington, DC President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan to the nation Tuesday. CCAP applauds President Obama for not only cutting carbon, but also placing climate resilience at the center of his three-part plan. Under the scorching sun, the president summarized recent weather events:

“The 12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years. … 2012 was the warmest year in our history. Midwest farms were parched by the worst drought since the Dust Bowl, and then drenched by the wettest spring on record. Western wildfires scorched an area larger than the state of Maryland. Just last week, a heat wave in Alaska shot temperatures into the 90s.”

President Obama underscores that Americans and the world are facing a new normal:

“As we act to curb the greenhouse gas pollution that is driving climate change, we must also prepare for the impacts that are too late to avoid.”

Severe weather events are on the rise in the U.S. and climate change is projected to intensify their impacts. Local governments and businesses are concerned about impacts of events such as Superstorm Sandy, responsible for some $65 billion in losses and led to more than 160 deaths in the U.S.

The president’s Climate Action Plan comes just shortly after New York City Mayor Bloomberg released his plaNYC: A Stronger, More Resilient New York, which lays out a post-Sandy comprehensive approach to prepare the city for the next storm and to be more resilient to future climate change impacts.

The Obama Administration had already laid considerable groundwork on resilience, including the February 2013 release of Federal Agency Climate Change Adaptation Plans, outlining strategies to protect their operations, missions, and programs from the effects of climate change. CCAP’s vision of resilience is that when the next superstorm or heat wave comes, we will still be able to turn on the lights, get to work, do our jobs, and enjoy safe and vibrant communities.

Highlights from Obama’s Climate Action Plan

The president’s adaptation plan strikes a visionary tone by directing investments in policies, science and technical assistance that will help safeguard and strengthen communities, along with the built and natural infrastructure they depend on.

The adaptation plan includes 17 resilience measures and actions under three main categories.

(1) Building Stronger and Safer Communities and Infrastructure

  • Ensuring federal agencies support climate-resilient investments. Agencies will work to remove barriers and ensure that climate risk-management considerations are “fully integrated into federal infrastructure and natural resource management planning.”

  • Establishing a community-based resilience framework to boost building and infrastructure resilience. The National Institute of Standards and Technology will develop a comprehensive, community-based resilience framework and provide guidelines for resilient buildings and infrastructure.

  • Investing in learning and rebuilding from Hurricane Sandy. Key agencies (e.g. Department of Transportation, Department of the Interior, and the Army Corps) will work to make transit projects more resilient, invest in natural areas to make urban areas more resilient, and invest in a study and strategies to make Sandy-affected coastal communities more resilient to future large scale flood and storm events.

(2) Protecting our Economy and Natural Resources

  • Identifying vulnerabilities of key sectors to climate change. First out of the box will be a Department of Energy assessment on climate change impacts and the energy sector, “including power-plant disruptions due to drought and the disruption of fuel supplies during severe storms, as well as potential opportunities to make our energy infrastructure more resilient to these risks.”

  • Promoting resilience in the health sector. The Department of Health and Human Services are launching an effort to create sustainable and resilient hospitals in the face of climate change and a training module for public-health professionals and community leaders to prepare their communities for the health consequences of climate change.

  • Improving insurance and reducing exposure. The Administration will engage the insurance industry and others to take steps to reduce public and private exposure to climate change risks.

  • Protecting our natural defenses. Federal agencies will identify additional approaches to improve our natural defenses against extreme weather by investing in the protection and conservation of land and water resources.

  • Preparing for future floods. Federal agencies will ensure that federally funded projects reflect a consistent approach that accounts for sea-level rise and other factors affecting flood risks.

(3) Using Sound Science to Manage Climate Impacts

President Obama’s plan has four actionable items including (1) developing actionable client science (2) assessing climate-change impacts in the U.S. (3) Launching a Climate Data Initiative, and (4) Providing a Toolkit for Climate Resilience that will include:

  • interactive sea-level rise maps and a sea-level-rise calculator to aid post-Sandy rebuilding

  • new NOAA storm surge models and interactive maps that provide risk information by combining tidal data, projected sea levels and storm wave heights

  • a Stormwater Calculator and Climate Assessment Tool to help local governments assess stormwater-control measures under different precipitation and temperature scenarios

Adaptation in the Nation’s Capital

Through CCAP’s Weathering Climate Risks Program, CCAP is working to foster these types of resilience efforts in our urban areas. CCAP is partnering with the public and private sector leaders in the District of Columbia to assess climate impacts and vulnerabilities and to implement resiliency measures that build off of Mayor Gray’s Sustainable DC plan to protect people, residents, buildings and critical infrastructure.

Just last year, Washington, DC experienced two major storms. The June Derecho cut power to hundreds of thousands residents and businesses, the Metro and more than 50 water treatment facilities. Superstorm Sandy highlighted interdependencies of critical infrastructure systems caused such as power outages at water utilities that led to sewer overflows. Last year also brought a record heat wave to DC (11 days of 95°F or more) and the hottest day on record at 104°F on June 29.

CCAP is conducting economic analysis of the costs of not adapting and on the cost effectiveness of resilience measures. We are working with stakeholders to implement pilot projects and policies to protect people, buildings and critical infrastructure (transportation, electricity, water and telecommunications) from extreme heat and flooding.

While we are working on resilience in the nation’s capital, CCAP is pleased to see the president’s leadership on this issue and the practical policies and measures that will enhance community safety and prosperity. Much like the STRONG Act, recently introduced in the House by Congressman Scott Peters, the president’s plan will help equip and empower state and local decision-makers to plan and implement resilience measures that respond to recent severe weather events and prepare for future climate change impacts.


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