Later today the Obama administration will be unveiling an ambitious initiative aimed at providing federal, state, and local decision makers with the latest and greatest in high tech tools to forecast the impacts of climate change, identify at-risk infrastructure, and help people get a clearer picture of how risky it is to build in areas threatened by sea level rise, storm surges, and flooding along rivers.
First announced yesterday by John Podesta and John Holdren, this is an exciting public-private collaboration involving some the uber-geekiest federal agencies and some of the biggest names in technology.
A fact sheet on the new climate initiative details the role that various federal agencies and private interests will be pursuing through this groundbreaking effort. The President deserves credit for putting this initiative together. The amount of information that will be put in the hands of communities about climate risks is unprecedented. The tools that will be developed will provide a lot of information that can be put to good use. It will all be accessible to the public via climate.data.gov.
This initiative will help pro-active communities get over one of the biggest obstacles they face —namely, how to get credible information on the threats that climate change poses and how do they use that information to plan for an uncertain future.
But, one agency is noticeably absent from this climate mapping effort and that is FEMA. FEMA is the one agency that produces maps that impact real development decisions in flood prone areas. Unlike all the maps that will be produced under the new initiative, FEMA’s maps aren’t advisory or informational. The “flood insurance rate maps” or FIRMS that FEMA produces place limitations on where development can and cannot occur in the more than 20,000 communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program.
Currently FEMA’s flood maps fail to factor in future climate impacts like sea level rise, as I highlighted last week in a post about new FEMA flood maps for New York City. Until FEMA’s maps do factor in climate change, the nation will still be falling short in its preparedness efforts.