- The White House today released its preeminent climate change report. The Fifth National Climate Assessment finds that even though annual U.S. greenhouse gas emissions dropped 12% between 2005 and 2019, climate change-fueled extreme weather events are rapidly intensifying, becoming costlier and disproportionately harming underserved, overburdened communities.
- In conjunction with the report, the Biden administration announced more than $6 billion for climate resilience programs, including those to reduce flood risk, strengthen the electric grid and address communities’ environmental justice needs.
- The climate assessment for the first time includes a chapter on the economic impacts of climate change and opportunities of climate action, and a chapter on social systems and justice. The report includes a web-based map showing state- and county-level climate projections, and the White House plans to publish insights from 13 recent roundtable discussions it held on climate resilience.
The term “climate resilience” has come to describe how communities can survive being increasingly battered by floods, drought, wildfires, storms and heat waves.
The National Climate Assessment’s cost estimates of extreme weather events don’t account for deaths, healthcare-related costs or ecosystem damages, but still the annual price tag comes out to at least $150 billion. The nation now sees a disaster that costs at least $1 billion every three weeks. In the 1980s, such events happened every four months.
Despite the nation’s progress on climate pollution reduction, it is not on track to meet its national and international commitments, the report warns. To do so, the U.S. would have to reduce annual emissions by more than 6% a year on average until reaching net-zero emissions in 2050. That’s a large increase from the less than 1% a year that the nation cut greenhouse gas emissions between 2005 and 2019.
In other words, the race is on for communities to prepare for increasing climate change, which is primarily driven by burning fossil fuels. The National Climate Assessment finds that since 2018, the number of city- and state-level climate adaptation plans and actions has increased by 32%. But as with mitigation, these adaptation efforts are insufficient to keep pace with future changes in climate, the report warns.
Most of the nation’s adaptation actions are what the report calls “incremental” rather than “transformative.” For example, people just use more air conditioning during heat waves rather than redesigning cities and buildings to deal with high temperatures. Communities may consume less water during droughts rather than match water-intensive industries with projected rainfall patterns. Transformative change means directing new housing development to less flood-prone areas, rather than elevating homes above floodwaters, the report says.
Transformative adaptation is more effective when it considers disparities in how and why people are affected by climate change, the report says. “Examples include understanding how differing levels of access to disaster assistance constrain recovery outcomes or how disaster damage exacerbates long-term wealth inequality,” it says.
The report’s authors also say that adaptation measures with the greatest potential for long-term benefits are those that are developed with inclusive, participatory planning along with coordinated governance and financing. They point to states like California and Florida that have informal regional collaborations.
The funding Biden announced today includes:
- $2 billion for local environmental justice projects through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental and Climate Justice Community Change Grants program.
- $300 million for flood resilience through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Swift Current Initiative.
- $3.9 billion for bolstering the nation’s electric grid through the Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnerships program.
- $100 million for water infrastructure upgrades in the West to boost drought resilience.