The Biden Administration has undoubtedly made more progress on climate change adaptation and climate resilience than any other U.S. Presidential administration in history. One high point was last month’s White House Summit on Building Climate Resilient Communities. The Summit was hailed as the first high-level event explicitly focused on climate resilience in the federal government, unveiling new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act funding allocations and a National Climate Resilience Framework. We applaud the Administration’s efforts and appreciate their contributions to progress on these outcomes:
- Consistent use of appropriate, future-focused climate data and information.
- An enabling environment for members to implement quality adaptation and a strong market for adaptation jobs.
- A shifting understanding of risk leading to decreased exposure and maladaptation.
- Consistent acknowledgment of historical conditions that have forced people into climate vulnerability and rectifying those conditions.
- A holistic narrative of climate action inclusive of mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage.
This blog highlights recent actions from the Biden Administration, demonstrates where additional progress is needed, includes a recap of the White House Summit from ASAP’s Executive Director, Debra Butler, and recognizes the work of ASAP Members.
First, let’s dive into the Administration’s recent actions and where more progress is needed.
Putting More Federal Dollars Into Adaptation and Resilience Efforts and Cutting Red Tape To Improve Equitable Access To Funding.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (“BIL”) and Inflation Reduction Act (“IRA”) together invest more than $50 billion in climate change adaptation and climate resilience. Some highlights announced in conjunction with the summit included:
- The $575 million Climate Resilience Regional Challenge
- Formula grants for grid resilience
- More funding for existing NOAA Climate Adaptation Partnership (CAP)/RISA programs and a new CAP/RISA in the Central Midwest
- $12.7 million in funding for the Climate-Smart Communities Initiative (CSCI), which aims to accelerate the pace and reduce the cost of creating inclusive and equitable climate resilience plans in communities across the U.S.
Further, the federal government and private funders are investing in technical assistance for disinvested communities to access funds, including four projects that ASAP and our members are supporting: EPA Environmental Finance Centers, Justice40 Accelerator, EPA Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Centers, and the National Coastal Resilience Fund Field Liaison Team. Additionally, agencies are issuing RFIs to drive grant reforms, to which ASAP’s Policy Practice Group regularly develops responses.
However, the administration is still lagging in three crucial areas:
- ASAP Staff and Members observe that, despite the focus on marginalized communities in the administration’s directives for these funds, there are still very few systems in place to put climate-impacted people in control of how money is spent. Instead, competitive grants go to well-resourced places, match requirements make many of these funds a non-starter, and formula fund allocations at the local level are based on grassroots advocacy to states from well-resourced communities.
- As described in the Fifth National Climate Assessment and this blog post by ASAP Policy Practice Group Members, we still do not know the extent of funds needed for adaptation. The group noted that it is necessary to “develop a comprehensive estimate of adaptation costs facing the nation through 2100. Such a study will enable Congress to make informed decisions about how much federal funding to allocate to existing and new programs that address climate adaptation. Currently, there is no credible, comprehensive estimate of the total national costs of climate adaptation.”
- On a related note, we need to stop calling BIL and IRA once-in-a-generation investments. These injections of funds are a good start, but we need a steady stream of funding for climate action that matches the level of need.
Investing in Defining, Developing, and Training the Climate Change Adaptation and Climate Resilience Workforce
The Summit launched two exciting initiatives to support adaptation workforce development: the American Climate Corps (“ACC”) and Climate-Ready Workforce Grants. The American Climate Corps is designed to get more than 20,000 young people on career pathways in the growing fields of clean energy, conservation, and climate resilience — prioritizing underinvested communities and projects that help meet the Administration’s Justice40 goal. It encourages cross-sector collaboration to expand skills-based training partnerships and builds on the ten existing state-level Climate Corps. However, it’s unclear whether this announcement will come with new resources to activate its promises. The good news is that it is more likely that it will bring existing programs, national service members, and staff under one umbrella to encourage a common set of programmatic standards and post-service career opportunities.
In addition to the lack of new resources to support the ACC, fundamental questions are yet to be answered about its implementation. It’s also unclear how agencies will coordinate with the ACC and key global change agencies are missing from the ACC announcement, including EPA and HUD. Another question is how the ACC will make good on its promise to ensure programs provide an adequate living stipend. As members of the Partnership for the Civilian Climate Corps (“PCCC”), ASAP is supporting the development of implementation recommendations for the ACC, which will be published early next year.
The NOAA Climate-Ready Workforce Grants for Coastal States and Territories bring much-needed support to place people into good jobs that advance climate resilience and work directly with employers to develop a workforce that is climate literate, informed by climate resilience, and skilled at addressing climate challenges. However, there are foundational, national, climate resilience workforce assets – such as revised Standard Occupation Codes, career pathways, and competency models for climate resilience trades and professions – that are necessary to ensure the work performed under these grants is developing a cohesive, skilled workforce to address challenges locally, regionally, and nationally. Further, this grant is only available in coastal areas, leaving inland places – and those not selected for this competitive funding – without the capacity to address workforce needs.
Reforming Existing Policies To Avoid Maladaptation
The Biden Administration’s framework and investments emphasize holistic climate action interlinked with social resilience, justice, and equity, significant evolutions from Obama-era policies. This sets the stage for reforming existing policies to correct past hards and avoid maladaptation. However, there is still much work to be done to require the use of forward-looking climate information. Unfortunately, much of this would require congressional action, such as reforming the Stafford Act. Additionally, the Administration could be doing more to monitor where the benefits and risks of climate adaptation actions are being accrued. Justice40 is a good start, but it needs to take race into consideration, account for risk transfer, and include a monitoring and evaluation system.
Identifying Additional Gaps: Government-Wide Coordination, Accountability, and Lasting Authority
These gaps, in particular, highlight the continued importance of one of ASAP’s six policy priorities: to establish government-wide coordination and lasting authority to enact, act on, and evaluate progress on climate resilience priorities. For example, the framework could have been bolder in promoting/suggesting project-based and system-wide tools for the agencies (not just FEMA) to have more consistency as funds and parameters get put in place. Additionally, various agencies are creating programs through IRA funds, but they are not well-coordinated. For example, GGRF from EPA needs to align with Community Disaster Resilience Zones, while also tapping the new loans and guarantees at DOE… all using more of a holistic resilience tool from projects. We know there are many dedicated folks in the administration and within federal agencies working on better interagency coordination, but without a strong guiding force for this at the highest level, it can be hard to prioritize or see results.
Given what ails us as a country and planet – colonialism, white supremacy, domination of nature, and economic exploitation – we need to focus more on transformative change, and the Administration’s actions miss the mark here. For example, transformation requires accepting emerging new realities, envisioning where we want to go, and enacting new policies to get there. The framework continues to raise the role and profile of FEMA, while missing the individual agency/cabinet pick-up for the holistic resilience and adaptation mindset. This tends to keep us in the recovery, rebuilding, DRR spaces, even with our adaptation colleagues.
Lastly, we aren’t moving fast enough. The first high-level federal government event on adaptation, the National Climate Adaptation Summit, was held in May 2010. Summaries of the 2010 event cite the need for cross-section partnerships, the marriage of national scientific resources with local lived experience, interagency coordination, and regional adaptation fora. Sound familiar? They’re things we’re still calling for today. One thing that could accelerate progress is durable, national-level leadership, such as a Chief Climate Resilience Officer, which would be provided via the National Coordination on Adaptation and Resilience for Security Act. Until then, we will continue to flounder in a sea of agencies plastering over old frameworks that have been inefficient at best, and harmful to ecologies that will collapse under the weight of “information, risk modeling, and bandage interventions”. What are we waiting for? Congress: pass NCARS now!
Summary and Perspective from ASAP’s Executive Director Experience at the Summit
The White House Summit on Building Climate Resilient Communities was convened at Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Thursday, September 28, 2023. Four ASAP constituents attended the Summit: Debra Butler, Executive Director, and three ASAP Board members, Jacqui Patterson, Jennifer Jurado, and Nuin-Tara Key.
The Summit began with a live-streamed plenary session focused on specific areas of interest and exploration and included a variety of speakers providing opening remarks, including discussions on How Federal Programs are Supporting Local Initiatives; Building Climate Resilience from the Ground Up; Community Action Partnership; and Expanding Our View of Climate Resilience.
Round Table Discussions
In-depth roundtable discussions with representatives of Federal departments and agencies that were closed to the press were held throughout the afternoon session. Roundtable Topics included: Opportunities for a Climate Resilient Nation, Planning and Response, Built Environment, Catalyzing Investment and Innovation, Actionable Climate Science and Services, Reducing Climate Risk through Nature Roundtable, and Growing Thriving Communities.
Vicki Arroyo, Associate Administrator for Policy, EPA, and Victoria Salinas, Senior Official Performing the Duties of Deputy Administrator, FEMA facilitated Panel One, which Debra was assigned. Areas of discussion included:
- What successes have your communities had anticipating and adapting to the risks posed by extreme events and climate change? What challenges did you encounter and had to overcome along the way?
- What are the needs you have to support your efforts to adapt to the impacts of climate change? Of these, are there climate services that only the federal government can provide, or can do a better job of providing than other sources?
- Are there immediate actions your communities are prepared to take but need the federal government to partner in a particular way to make happen?
- What potential conflicts or trade-offs might arise when emergency managers try to integrate adaptation into preparedness and response actions to increase the resilience of communities? What innovative approaches or technologies can help accelerate the integration of adaptation into preparedness and response operations?
Possible Impacts and Opportunities for ASAP
- Design and promote regionally scoped adaptation that is specific to the state/municipality’s language, communication, and preparedness for extreme events.
- Maintain a registry of vetted contractors who are bound to Justice40 requirements.
- Develop concurrent workforce and entrepreneurial models that sustain/grow community-based climate adaptation and mitigation intervention.
- Advocate for federal & local oversight of block grant assessments and priority-setting.
- Restore/remediate/remove all toxic waste dumps, incinerators, chemical spills & superfund sites by 2030.
The Administration’s goal (I believe) is a more integrated approach (and incentives) for agencies, private investment, and philanthropy to participate in climate adaptation for the long term. Historically, agencies and departments have had Constitutional or congressional mandates directed toward specific areas of national interest, expertise, philosophies, or interventions. Climate change is THE universal problem and force multiplier across all federal, state, and municipal governments, as well as urban, coastal, and rural communities.
As a nation, this may be our last opportunity to do the right thing for the ecologies and places we depend on for survival. There are incremental adaptations (some more urgent than others) that lead to transformation change. We must understand that uncertainty cannot be measured or modeled, but it is our opportunity to pivot and change trajectory. This is real. What we choose to do will define who we are.
Recognizing the Work of ASAP Members
Do you have contributions to share? Send us a message to be highlighted in a feature blog or publication to ASAP’s Communications Manager, Kyla Bloyer, at firstname.lastname@example.org.