Climate adaptation: The gaping hole in U.S. environmental policy

President BidenJoe BidenHouse panel approves bill to set up committee on reparations Democrats to propose bill to expand Supreme Court. Former Israeli prime minister advises Iran to ‘cool off’ amid nuclear threats began its management with a sprint to address climate disruption. On his first day in office, he announced many new measures aimed at reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions and building resilience to effects such as worsening droughts, more extreme rains and heat, and rising sea levels.

Biden is holding a Climate Summit on Earth Day, April 22, with 40 world leaders discussing, among other things, “opportunities to strengthen capacity to protect lives and livelihoods from the effects of climate change.”

But despite all the action, access to adaptation or building resilience – defined as helping individuals, companies and government entities to deal as effectively as possible with climate impacts that cannot be avoided – is still scarce and incomplete. Basically, we don’t have a national adaptation plan, and Biden has yet to call for it. This is a gaping hole in U.S. climate policy, a hole big enough to leave the nation desperately prepared to worsen climate impacts. A comprehensive national climate adaptation plan can save lives and money and increase efficiency by coordinating actions across all levels of government.

Last year, the count of weather and climate disasters causing more than $ 1 billion in damage reached a 22-year high. Even if countries succeed in rapidly cutting global greenhouse gas emissions, we are already experiencing more than enough climate impacts to encourage strong action. Any delay in reducing emissions will only increase the need to adapt.

In 2012, the National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine warned that the country’s current access to disasters, where most of the money is spent after catastrophic attacks, if not upgraded, would result in more lives, homes, jobs and businesses being lost due to climate-aggravated extremes. Recognizing the central role of the federal government in adaptive planning, it urged the creation of a national robust strategy and implementation plan. A strategy would close the policy gaps and resolve inconsistencies through the approaches of federal agencies. The historic Paris Agreement of 2015 similarly recognized the importance of national adaptation planning. Nations around the world have heeded the call to create robust national adaptation strategies. China unveiled its plan in 2013, Russia in 2019. The European Union announced its new adaptation strategy earlier this year. The Netherlands, with a strong history of active flood risk management, adopted its strategy in 2007. That country is now building dams and dams high and strong enough to withstand once in a 10,000-year storm.

What would accomplish the creation of a U.S. national adaptation plan? First and foremost it would set concrete and common goals for resilience. It would provide the framework to prioritize risk reduction in the coordination of the federal government with states, cities and tribes, as well as companies and non-governmental organizations. Topics would likely include protecting against cascading failures of infrastructure systems against worsening climate extremes and regional planning for climate-resistant infrastructure for transportation, communication, electricity distribution, water and waste management, as well as coordinating early warning and disaster response.

Second, a national plan would promote climate-resilient decisions about where and how we live. Since 2009 more than a third of coastal states have added homes in areas prone to flooding. With climate disruption, these houses face an even greater risk. A national resilience framework would lead to reliable nationwide risk assessments to inform land use planning and future development.

In addition to improving land use options, a national approach to adaptation could also provide incentives to build structures to withstand future disasters. 2020 by the National Institute of Construction Sciences found that adopting modern model building regulations saves $ 11 for every $ 1 invested. Currently 65 percent of districts, towns and cities, across the country there are no modern building codes resistant to disasters. As a result, Americans buy and live in homes intended for burning or flooding. A national plan would provide incentives for state, local and tribal governments to adopt building regulations appropriate for future climate extremes. It would require that where federal tax-paying funds are used, the money be spent on improvements tuned to new extreme conditions. It will also aim to develop improved disaster insurance policies, in collaboration with the private sector.

A country adaptation plan would also ensure that federal taxpayers pay wisely. It would make it clear that “climate proofing” is everyone’s responsibility. As the Government Accountability Office pointed out in 2019, without a plan, federal taxpayer money risks being wasted on projects that will not keep us safe. A national plan would set priorities to guide investments, direct funds to projects and regions where investments continue to pay dividends in the long run and avoid short-term repairs such as “renovating” beaches with sand transported long distances or building sea walls that give insufficient protection. .

Ultimately, a national plan would set benchmarks for judging progress, including to ensure that the most vulnerable and marginalized communities are included in resilient planning and action. It would identify milestones to measure progress and provide a roadmap of priority areas for future progress.

Adaptation has long played a second role in reducing carbon emissions. It’s time for that to change.

The federal government is clearly committed to climate action. States and municipalities are learning more and more with difficulty that climate adaptation is a necessity and not a luxury. Without a comprehensive plan, the U.S. will continue to accumulate billion-dollar disasters, build back in high-risk areas, and do it all over again. It’s time to create the project for a more secure future.

Chris Field is a professor at Stanford, where he directs the Woods Institute for the Environment.

Alice Hill is David M. Rubenstein’s senior colleague on Energy and the Environment at the Council on Foreign Relations and the former senior director of robust policy at the National Security Council.