Beth Ward

One of the more sobering facts about climate change is that even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emission production today, we would still feel the impacts of climate change for decades to come. The amount of emissions currently in the atmosphere has set us on a path to a changing planet.

Now, making the nation resilient to coming changes is national policy. At the beginning of this month, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order: Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change to address the risks posed by climate change.

“Managing these risks requires deliberate preparation, close cooperation, and coordinated planning by the Federal Government, as well as by stakeholders, to facilitate Federal, State, local, tribal, private-sector, and nonprofit-sector efforts to improve climate preparedness and resilience; help safeguard our economy, infrastructure, environment, and natural resources; and provide for the continuity of executive department and agency operations, services, and programs,” according to the executive order.

Some areas of the country are already feeling the impacts of climate change. For example, Maryland, a state with 3,200 miles of coast, loses about 1.6 acres of land every day to sea level rise. Maryland and other East Coast states are seeing rates of sea level rise three-to-four times faster than the global average. In response to sea level rise and other climate-related threats—including rising temperatures, more frequent and severe storms, and more intense droughts—states are now taking action to prepare and adapt to climate change at the local level.

The executive order aims to leverage and spread these state and local efforts across the nation. It calls on federal agencies to encourage and support climate-resilient investments at the local level; improve information sharing and the availability of data and tools related to climate change preparedness and resilience; and to continue to update, implement, or develop comprehensive plans to integrate climate change into agencies’ operations and missions.

To encourage climate change resilience as a grassroots effort, the executive order established the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, charged with developing recommendations on the best way to provide resources and encourage climate resilience investments at the local level. The recommendations will go to the Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, also established in the executive order and tasked with acting on those recommendations. The Council is chaired by the White House and made up of more than two dozen agencies.

“The Task Force members include state, local, and tribal leaders from across the country who will use their first-hand experiences in building climate preparedness and resilience in their communities to inform their recommendations to the Administration,” according to a November 1 statement.

Involving state, local, and tribal leaders early in the process and using their experiences to help inform national policy makes sense. It is a way to learn what will work, while gaining early buy-in from those who will be implementing any federal climate polices on the ground.