Climate Change Adaptation: Strategic Federal Planning Could Help Government Officials Make More Informed Decisions

GAO-10-113 Published: Oct 07, 2009. Publicly Released: Oct 22, 2009.
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Changes in the climate attributable to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases may have significant impacts in the United States and the world. For example, climate change could threaten coastal areas with rising sea levels. Greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere will continue altering the climate system into the future, regardless of emissions control efforts. Therefore, adaptation--defined as adjustments to natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climate change--is an important part of the response to climate change. GAO was asked to examine (1) what actions federal, state, local, and international authorities are taking to adapt to a changing climate; (2) the challenges that federal, state, and local officials face in their efforts to adapt; and (3) actions that Congress and federal agencies could take to help address these challenges. We also discuss our prior work on similarly complex, interdisciplinary issues. This report is based on analysis of studies, site visits to areas pursuing adaptation efforts, and responses to a Web-based questionnaire sent to federal, state, and local officials.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Executive Office of the President The appropriate entities within the Executive Office of the President, such as the Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, in consultation with relevant federal agencies, state and local governments, and key congressional committees of jurisdiction, should develop a national strategic plan that will guide the nation's efforts to adapt to a changing climate. The plan should, among other things, (1) define federal priorities related to adaptation; (2) clarify roles, responsibilities, and working relationships among federal, state, and local governments; (3) identify mechanisms to increase the capacity of federal, state, and local agencies to incorporate information about current and potential climate change impacts into government decision making; (4) address how resources will be made available to implement the plan; and (5) build on and integrate ongoing federal planning efforts related to adaptation.
Closed – Implemented
The federal government has many climate-related strategic planning activities under way. Specifically, the President's June 2013 Climate Action Plan and November 2013 Executive Order 13653 on Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change show how federal agencies have made progress on better organizing across agencies, within agencies, and among different levels of government. Also, the United States Global Change Research Program's (USGCRP) April 2012 strategic plan defines governmentwide climate science priorities. These planning activities built upon prior governmentwide efforts. For example, Executive Order 13514 on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance created an interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, which required agencies to create Climate Change Adaptation Plans. In its October 2010 Progress Report, the Task Force called for collaborative approaches within the government to address key cross-cutting issues related to climate change preparedness and resilience. In response, for example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cochaired the development of the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy. Agency adaptation planning is continuing under executive order 13653.

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