Federal Agencies Detail Their Risks From, Responses to Climate Change
On Friday, Federal agencies released their annual plans for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for the impacts of climate change. The Sustainability and Climate Change Adaptation Plans, which build on last year’s editions, were initially mandated by a 2009 executive order that set aggressive environmental targets for Federal agencies, and expanded upon in a 2013 executive order to prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change.
The Sustainability Plans detail how each agency’s actions have already reduced the Federal Government’s direct greenhouse gas emissions by more than 17% since 2008—the equivalent of permanently taking 1.8 million cars off the road. The Climate Change Adaptation Plans, which were issued for the first time last year, assess the vulnerability of Federal facilities, operations, and resources to the climate impacts that are affecting communities across the country—such as sea level rise, record heat waves, and more severe droughts—and demonstrate how the agencies will protect taxpayer investments.
Some examples of findings from the Climate Change Adaptation Plans:
- The Department of Defense found that climate change is a national security “threat multiplier” that could exacerbate global challenges; that coastal military installations are vulnerable to rising sea levels; and that droughts, wildfires, and more extreme temperatures could endanger training activities.
- The Department of the Interior reports climate change is already affecting its ability to conserve National Park resources, and that climate change will fundamentally alter iconic features of parks. For example, Glacier National Park has lost more than 83% of its glaciers since 1850, and experts predict the remaining glaciers will disappear as soon as 2030.
- The Department of Agriculture estimates an increase of as much as 100% by 2050 in the number of acres burned by wildfires annually. Fire suppression funding has already grown from 16% in 1995 to 42% of the U.S. Forest Service's current budget.
- The Department of Health and Human Services considers climate change to be among the Nation’s top public health challenges of our time, finding that it will increase the risk of heart and lung ailments, allergies, and asthma, and will alter the transmission of food- and waterborne diseases. Its greatest impact will be on people whose health status is already at risk and who have the fewest resources to adapt.
- The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) found that U.S. access to space is currently being threatened by beach erosion that will accelerate with sea level rise and increased storm intensity. Electrical failures associated with heat waves threaten power supplies for NASA facilities that receive and process data from space.
USGCRP plays a key role in providing the foundational science that agencies use to assess their vulnerabilities and plan their responses to climate change. Over the next few months, USGCRP will identify cross-agency research and information needs from this year’s Climate Change Adaptation Plans, updating the summary of needs that was released last year on the basis of the 2013 plans.