Climate Adaptation Planning Gaining Momentum at Federal Level

Even if the federal government is moving slowly on the climate mitigation front, agencies are ramping up their efforts on climate adaptation, with a number of new reports, initiatives or tools coming out in recent months. Between the federal and other agency efforts and initiatives by NGOs (including NWF) and other entities, there are an almost dizzying array of resources available.

The U.S. EPA recently released regional climate change adaptation implementation plans to go with its national Climate Change Adaptation Plan. The national plan includes sections on identifying vulnerabilities within EPA programs, “mainstreaming” climate change adaptation into those programs, and measuring and evaluating performance. Water programs are one focus area, and the report highlights both how climate change can exacerbate existing threats (e.g., leading to higher pollutant concentrations, lower dissolved oxygen levels, and increased harmful algal blooms in some areas) as well as general strategies (e.g., integrated approaches, prioritizing vulnerable communities, places, and infrastructure) the agency plans to take to address them.

Shoreline restoration, Muskegon Lake, MI (Photo credit: M. Murray)
The recently released plan for Region 5 (which includes six of the eight Great Lakes states), includes priority recommendations for work on the Great Lakes, including:

  • Adjusting long-term ecosystem monitoring programs, including to meet U.S. commitments under the recently renegotiated Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA).
  • Integrating climate change knowledge/information into the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) program and other programs.
  • Making revisions to Great Lakes strategic implementation documents under the GLWQA as needed based on climate change information.

The plan also includes a welcome vulnerability assessment table that cuts across a number of program areas and issues, including assessing likelihood of potential climate change impacts, risks following from impacts in a program area, and regional variation and importance of particular vulnerabilities (e.g., impacts of increased intensity of precipitation events sediment, nutrient, and other loadings).

There are fortunately a number of tools out there that can assist in climate adaptation planning and implementation of the types identified in the EPA plans. NWF, in partnership with other groups and individuals, has produced a number of reports in recent years in support of these types of efforts, including:

In addition, there are ever-expanding sets of data and tools available to assist in adaptation planning, including a recently released federal clearinghouse, the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit. The NOAA-led effort incorporates a 5-step process to establishing climate resilience, includes a number of case studies, and provides dozens of tools, including related to climate projections, lake and sea levels and coastal resilience, habitat restoration planning, and other areas.

So with the extensive guidance documents, datasets, tools, and other resources available in carrying out climate adaptation planning in the Great Lakes and elsewhere, a key task now is for increased implementation, including with incorporation of sufficient research and monitoring components to ensure that the science of adaptation moves forward.