The Works

Obama Signs Executive Order on Climate Change Resilience

A tacit recognition that climate change is inevitable, and that we must build resilience against risks in addition to trying to halt it altogether.

Flooding in Hoboken, N.J. after Hurricane Sandy. Credit: U.S. Army, Spc. Joseph Davis on Flickr

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Countries around the globe have signed accords to reduce their carbon emissions in the years to come, but there is a growing understanding that it may be too late to stop changes to the earth’s environment entirely. As such, building resilience against the inevitable climactic shifts may become as important as preventing them in the first place.

To that end, President Obama signed an executive order this morning directing federal agencies to facilitate resilience measures, especially regarding infrastructure. (And just in time for Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month. Have you bought your mom a card?)

“For instance,” Justin Gillis “reports in the New York Times, “when federal money is being spent on projects like roads, bridges, flood control and many others, the plan would encourage greater attention to the likely climate conditions of the future, which might require making the structures stronger or larger.” Gillis also cites the example of road culverts in Vermont destroyed after Hurricane Irene, and how federal resistance to pay for upgrades thwarted towns in their efforts to rebuild them.

The proclamation also establishes a “Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience,” made up of the governors of six states (Hawaii, California, Washington, Delaware, Maryland, Illinois and Vermont) plus Guam, in addition to 16 mayors and two tribal officials. Of the governors, all are Democrats except the Mitt Romney-endorsing Eddie Calvo of Guam.

Local leaders represented on the task force include Salt Lake City’s Ralph Becker, a Democrat and urban planner; Eric Garcetti, the newly elected mayor of Los Angeles; Michael Nutter of Philadelphia; Anise Parker of Houston; Dawn Zimmer of Hoboken, N.J., which was hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy and spent days without power; plus Republicans mayors and commissioners from towns in Indiana, Colorado and Kansas. (A full list of those who have agreed to join the task force can be found here.)

The fact sheet associated with the executive order acknowledges that while the White House is trying to cut carbon emissions, these efforts won’t be enough to stave off climate change. “The Climate Action Plan,” writes the fact sheet, referencing Obama’s 2013 flagship climate change document, “recognizes that even as we act to curb the carbon pollution that is driving climate change, we must also improve our ability to prepare for the climate impacts we are already seeing across the country.”

The Works is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

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Stephen J. Smith is a reporter based in New York. He has written about transportation, infrastructure and real estate for a variety of publications including New York Yimby, where he is currently an editor, Next City, City Lab and the New York Observer.

Tags: infrastructureresilient citiesclimate changethe worksbarack obamadisaster planninghurricane sandymichael nuttereric garcetti

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