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President Obama’s Executive Order and Climate Security

SouthPorticoLast Friday, President Obama issued an Executive Order (EO) titled “Preparing the United States for the Impact of Climate Change.” As the name of the EO implies, it is focused on preparing for and adapting to the current and imminent effects of climate change, rather than reducing emissions. In that sense, it is a welcome complement to the President’s Climate Action Plan issued this past June, whose primary emphasis was CO2 reductions.

There is a lot to say about the substance of the EO, though for our purposes, we’ll focus on those sections that address the security implications of climate change. Critically, this EO is focused not on some distant threat of climate change, but rather, those effects of climate change that are already being felt, or are on the horizon. In this context, it’s very much a risk management document. As stated in Section 1:

The impacts of climate change — including an increase in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, more heavy downpours, an increase in wildfires, more severe droughts, permafrost thawing, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise — are already affecting communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies, and public health across the Nation…

…Managing these risks requires deliberate preparation, close cooperation, and coordinated planning by the Federal Government, as well as by stakeholders, to facilitate Federal, State, local, tribal, private-sector, and nonprofit-sector efforts to improve climate preparedness and resilience; help safeguard our economy, infrastructure, environment, and natural resources; and provide for the continuity of executive department and agency (agency) operations, services, and programs.

To address these risks, Section 5 of the EO continues “Federal Agency Planning for Climate Change Related Risk” that began with Executive Order 13514, and Section 6 of the EO establishes an interagency “Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.” Or simply, the “Council.”

This Council will be co-chaired by “the Chair of CEQ, the Director of OSTP, and the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.” The leadership role of the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism on this Council concretely illustrates that the Administration views climate change, and its current impacts, through a security lens.

The Council will also be staffed by senior officials of the “Deputy Secretary or equivalent officer” level, from a very broad range of departments, agencies and offices, including the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, among others. The Council seems poised to play an important interagency role, and will be tasked with reaching out beyond government. As stated in section 6(e):

The Council shall work across agencies and offices, and in partnership with State, local, and tribal governments (as well as the Task Force established in section 7 of this order), academic and research institutions, and the private and nonprofit sectors to:

(i) develop, recommend, coordinate interagency efforts on, and track implementation of priority Federal Government actions related to climate preparedness and resilience;

(ii) support regional, State, local, and tribal action to assess climate change related vulnerabilities and cost-effectively increase climate preparedness and resilience of communities, critical economic sectors, natural and built infrastructure, and natural resources, including through the activities as outlined in sections 2 and 3 of this order;

(iii) facilitate the integration of climate science in policies and planning of government agencies and the private sector, including by promoting the development of innovative, actionable, and accessible Federal climate change related information, data, and tools at appropriate scales for decisionmakers and deployment of this information through a Government-wide web-based portal, as described in section 4 of this order; and

(iv) such other functions as may be decided by the Co-Chairs, including implementing, as appropriate, the recommendations of the Task Force established in section 7 of this order.

Furthermore, Section 7 of the EO establishes a “State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience” which will be tasked with providing recommendations to the aforementioned Council, the President and the broader federal government. This is an important addition as the Task Force members will be on the front lines of climate-related hazards, whether it be it wildfires, droughts, floods or sea level rise. More specifically, the Task Force will advise the Administration on how to:

(i) 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;

(ii) provide useful climate preparedness tools and actionable information for States, local communities, and tribes, including through interagency collaboration as described in section 6 of this order; and

(iii) otherwise support State, local, and tribal preparedness for and resilience to climate change.

In short, this EO is designed to prepare the United States for the effects of climate change, and manage attendant risks to the nation. It is a welcome and necessary step, and we look forward to its implementation.


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