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Executive Order calls for climate adaptation

Holly Doremus, professor of law | November 5, 2013

On Nov. 1, President Obama issued an Executive Order intended “to prepare the Nation for the impacts of climate change by undertaking actions to enhance climate preparedness and resilience.”

In some respects, this order simply continues ongoing efforts. Under this administration, the executive branch has already been doing a great deal of research, assessment, and planning for adaptation. This Executive Order will continue those efforts. But it also lays the foundation for moving from planning to action.

Two provisions strike me as potentially important advances.

First, the Executive Order tells the nation’s key land and water management agencies, working with the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to complete an inventory and assessment of proposed and completed changes to their land- and water-related policies, programs, and regulations necessary to make the Nation’s watersheds, natural resources, and ecosystems, and the communities and economies that depend on them, more resilient in the face of a changing climate.

Second, it directs federal agencies to “work together to develop and provide authoritative, easily accessible, usable, and timely data, information, and decision-support tools on climate preparedness and resilience.” That’s very general, of course, but the Order provides at least one specific directive: it tells CEQ and OMB to create a special portal for climate issues and decision-making on the site.

Both of these measures hold great promise. The first provides a needed nudge for agencies to adjust their programs in light of increasing understanding of the potential effects of climate change. And the second offers the hope that for once data and tools will be shared within and between agencies, and with the public and other governments, in ways that will improve the effectiveness and decrease the costs of adaptation work. The key test, of course, is the extent of follow-through.

If the White House makes this effort a priority, the agencies will too. If the White House forgets about it and moves on to other things, it could end up as nothing more than hopeful words.

Cross-posted from the environmental law and policy blog Legal Planet.

Comments to “Executive Order calls for climate adaptation

  1. This is very informative post and will assist me in my research as a look further into how other countries are dealing with the massive problems that climate change represents. We need to stand up as people and push leadership to do more in our own countries.

    As an African, very little is done on my continent about it but I wish to change perceptions which believe bigger industrial nations like China must start first. We all have to take responsibility and do as much as we can as there is never too much that can be done to help.

  2. Prof. Doremus, thank you for informing us about the latest White House efforts to protect our environment. President Obama’s Executive Order shall require all the support we can give him.

    Current threats to our quality of life and survival remind me of the fact that during the darkest days of WWII Winston Churchill issued the following exhortation to us:

    “Never, never, never, never give up”

    Unfortunately, up until now we appear to have already given up on IPCC (and California magazine’s most excellent September October 2006 “Global Warning” issue) warnings about the greatest threats to our survival since WWII because our political and intellectual leaders have been totally unable to motivate us to protect ourselves from climate change challenges that are already making quality of life unacceptable for our newest and all future generations.

    Our greatest hope is that Berkeley’s professors and scholars like yourself shall join together to support President Obama by educating and motivating all Californians, Americans and the rest of the world to join together to protect our quality of life because that is our best chance for survival, by repeating the success of Winston Churchill’s and FDR’s leadership that saved our civilization during WWII.

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