$1 Billion for Climate Preparedness: The White House Gets It

Crushing drought in California and the West, paralyzing ice and snow storms  east of the Mississippi. We need to prepare for this changing world and President Obama gets it.

The President announced yesterday on a trip to California he will ask Congress to set up a $1 billion Climate Resilience Fund in his proposed budget next month. (My colleague Steve Fleischli wrote an Op-Ed that appeared in the Sacramento Bee about the trip that lays out effective ways to deal with drought).

Among the key points of the President’s plan:

  • Invest in research and unlock data and information to better understand the projected impacts of climate change and how we can better prepare our communities and infrastructure.
  • Help communities plan and prepare for the impacts of climate change and encourage local measures to reduce future risk.
  • Fund breakthrough technologies and resilient infrastructure that will make us more resilient in the face of changing climate.


The White House fact sheet on the plan can be found here. Another White House fact sheet  nicely details the drought, climate impacts and the need to cut the carbon pollution that largely causes climate change. That document also lays out the President’s plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, our single largest source of carbon pollution. NRDC has an innovative plan to do that as well. The President has formed a Task Force charged with finding effective ways to bolster climate preparedness, which ironically just met this week in California.

The President’s plan to invest $1 billion on climate preparedness is welcome news.  But it’s far from the only thing the administration has done to jump start real efforts to prepare for the impacts of climate change.  The Environmental Protection Agency is looking at ways to creatively use its resources and work with states to safeguard drinking water supplies and other critical forms of water infrastructure.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency is researching how best to integrate sea level rise and the increased risk of flooding into its flood maps. FEMA is also in the process of getting state's to factor in climate change to their State Hazard Emergency Management plans. The President has ordered all Agencies to evaluate their climate risks and coordinate with one another in addressing climate impacts.

The President’s latest announcement will help states and local communities prepare for climate impacts, but keep in mind that $50 billion is being spent in to repair the damage from Hurricane Sandy. Much of the Sandy money is going towards preventive measures that will make the area better prepared for climate impacts, yet it gives you a sense of the stakes at play. (Here’s how we suggest some of the Sandy dollars get spent).

Drought in particular was on the President’s mind this week. John Holdren, who heads the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy noted  (Politico Pro subscription required) during the trip:

We really understand a number of the reasons that global climate change is increasing the intensity and the frequency and the life of drought in drought-prone regions. This is one of the better-understood dimensions of the relationship between global climate change and extreme weather in particular regions.

The current drought is severe even by recent standards, as Association of California Water Agencies Tim Quinn told the New York Times:

I have experienced a really long career in this area, and my worry meter has never been this high,” said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, a statewide coalition. “We are talking historical drought conditions, no supplies of water in many parts of the state. My industry’s job is to try to make sure that these kind of things never happen. And they are happening.

Extreme heat also has health implications. A new Yale University study says that extreme weather may increase the risks of stroke.

In California, the drought also portends what could be a record fire season, as the Washington Post notes. The administration’s new push to address the drought comes a week after the Agriculture Department announced it would set up a series of “climate hubs” across the U.S. to study climate change’s impacts on agriculture and rural activities and develop mitigation and adaptation measures.

Regardless, we can be sure the past is no longer prologue when it comes to weather patterns. We need to make sure our states and communities are doing all they can to prepare for these impacts. President Obama’s announcement this week is a good step in that direction.