Science can save us from the next Hurricane Sandy. That’s what President Barack Obama will say today when he releases his Climate Action Plan, during a highly anticipated speech at Georgetown University.
The plan, which consists of a long list of actions the executive branch can take with no help or hindrance from Congress, has three “pillars.” One is to cut carbon dioxide emissions, two is to “prepare the U.S. for the impacts of climate change,” and three is lead international efforts to achieve the same two goals.
Many of the preview stories streaming across the media focus on the first goal, which includes a reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions of 17 percent by 2020, below 2005 levels. The big provisions there are to have the Environmental Protection Agency limit CO2 emissions from power plants, especially coal-fired plants, and from heavy trucks, buses and vans. But little is being written about how the plan intends to reduce death and destruction from the ravages of climate change, including heat waves, more severe storms, storm surges and sea level rise—what Obama calls “American’s climate resilience.”
The plan, released to the media before the speech, calls for conserving land and water, making agriculture more sustainable, reducing the effects of drought and wildfires, improving flood protection, and hardening power plants, hospitals and fuel-supply channels against extreme weather of all kinds. The key to all of that, the plan notes in surprising detail, is more science.
For example, to ensure that flood barriers provide protection long-term, federal agencies will update their standards to account “for sea-level rise and other factors affecting flood risk. This effort will incorporate the most recent science on expected rates of sea-level rise (which vary by region)…” Another example: The Department of Agriculture will create seven new “regional climate hubs” to deliver “tailored, science-based knowledge to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners.”
More generally, the plan says that the Administration “will continue to lead in advancing the science of climate measurement and adaptation, and the development of tools for climate-relevant decision-making.”
Specific actions include $2.7 billion in the president’s 2014 budget to increase understanding of climate-change impacts and to establish a public-private partnership to explore risk and catastrophe modeling. Also, in the spring of 2014 Obama will release the third U.S. National Climate Assessment, which among other things will assess how extreme weather will impact the nation’s transportation, energy supply, agriculture, ecosystems and biodiversity. And Obama will launch a Climate Data Initiative that will make all sorts of federal climate data easy to access, in hopes of stimulating innovation.
Federal agencies, furthermore, will create “a virtual climate-resilience toolkit that centralizes access to data-driven resilience tools, services and best practices.” It will include new, interactive sea-level rise maps and a sea-level-rise calculator to aid post-Sandy rebuilding. Web-based tools will allow developers to integrate NASA climate imagery with U.S. Geological Survey data tools, as well as storm surge models from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Obama hopes that these kinds of tools will help city and state planners figure out how best to adapt to climate change. To help them actually implement actions, Obama will direct federal agencies to remove barriers and policies that make it hard for cities and states to invest in climate adaptation measures. The Administration will also make more grants and technical assistance available to them.
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Cromwell on Wikimedia Commons