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U.S. House Adaptation Hearings Offer Insights for Climate Security Action

By Elsa Barron

In early March, the U.S. House of Representatives hosted two hearings on climate adaptation in the United States. Given the current and future risks posed by climate change, including sea-level rise, intensifying natural disasters, and extreme temperatures, creating a plan to respond and adapt to climate change is crucial for ensuring security. The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing titled Federal Climate Adaptation and Resilience for the 21st Century and the House Committee on the Climate Crisis hearing was named Confronting Climate Impacts: Federal Strategies for Equitable Adaptation and Resilience. These hearings closely followed the release of the IPCC Working Group II (WGII) report focused on climate impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. An analysis by the Center for Climate and Security on the WGII contribution notes that, “In the near-term, vulnerability and exposure of natural and human systems to climate-related risks will depend more on the actions taken to adapt, or lack thereof, than on climate hazards themselves.” Therefore, it is critical for all sectors of government to prepare for climate security impacts and prevent them from having their worst effects.

The hearing titled Federal Climate Adaptation and Resilience for the 21st Century included testimony from four government agencies: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Speakers each highlighted their agencies’ vulnerability to climate impacts, many of which overlapped. These risks included the threat of sea-level rise, natural disaster, and temperature variation to infrastructure, sensitive technology, and operations. GAO Natural Resources and Environment Director Alfredo Gomez recommended: “a federal organizational arrangement to periodically identify and prioritize climate resilience projects for federal investment.” Gomez highlighted previous work by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) as a positive example of integrating recommendations for resilience planning into their guidance that could serve as a model for the rest of the government.

In the hearing Confronting Climate Impacts: Federal Strategies for Equitable Adaptation and Resilience, Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) opened with an insightful critique: “As of today, the United States has no comprehensive federal approach for climate adaptation and resilience planning. That results in an inefficient, ad hoc system – one that exacerbates risks to our communities, our national economy, and our national security.” The lack of an integrated approach to adapt to climate change across the U.S. government heightens the vulnerability of the nation to disaster. Pressing the conversation further, Dr. William Solecki, Professor at Hunter College-City University, pointed out that creating an adaptation plan is not enough. Adaptation measures must match the level of the climate challenge and reflect variations in impacts across different groups. Interventions must also undergo robust monitoring and evaluation to prevent maladaptation, or short-term adaptation measures that increase longer-term vulnerability, which risks further entrenching social inequalities and security risks.

One priority of the Center for Climate and Security is the creation of a climate-strong national workforce, a point emphasized by Dr. Lara Hansen, Chief Scientist at EcoAdapt. She underscored the need for climate adaptation training, “akin to public health or emergency preparedness campaigns wherein general awareness as well as local technical expertise are both strengthened.” Dr. Lauren Alexander Augustine, Executive Director of the Gulf Research Program at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, offered the example of “serious gaming,” a practice often used by security experts to imagine and plan for future threats. When applied to climate challenges, these gaming exercises can be used to create resilience for federal investments in infrastructure and mitigate climate security risks.

When it comes to adapting to climate change and the security challenges it poses, a whole of government approach is crucial. As the progress report on our Climate Security Plan for America suggests, creating a National Adaptation Plan is one important step in this direction. Even as many sectors continue to mitigate the problem of climate change itself, the nation is already experiencing its effects. Ensuring human security and wellbeing requires a comprehensive approach to adapt to intensifying climate risks.

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