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Salt Lake City Perspective: White House Climate Recommendations

Photo Credit: Patrick Nelson

Big Cottonwood Canyon. Photo Credit: Patrick Nelson

The final report of President Obama’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience includes 34 recommendations organized into seven primary themes, all which emphasize the nexus of Federal programs and executive actions with the actions of state, local, and tribal governments and their citizens.

Water, energy and infrastructure are cross-cutting issues in many of the themes. Recommendations include climate planning efforts that not only prepare for climate effects, but also include mitigation approaches to reduce climate impacts in the future.

Five overarching principles were part of all recommendations:

  • Require consideration of climate-related risks and vulnerabilities as part of all Federal policies, practices, investments, and regulatory and other programs.
  • Maximize opportunities to take actions that have dual-benefits of increasing community resilience and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Strengthen coordination and partnerships among Federal agencies, and across State, local, and tribal jurisdictions and economic sectors.
  • Provide actionable data and information on climate change impacts and related tools and assistance to support decision-making.
  • Consult and cooperate with Tribes and indigenous communities on all aspects of Federal climate preparedness and resilience efforts, and encourage states and local communities to do the same.

Take a look at the recommendations below, including how they apply to Salt Lake City.

Theme 1: Building Resilient Communities

The Task Force has four recommendations that will support the development of resilient communities through new approaches to land use, building and infrastructure design, and planning:

  • Accelerate the development of models and disseminate best practices for community resilience.
  • Develop and encourage the adoption of resilience standards in the siting and design of buildings and infrastructure.
  • Encourage and reward climate-smart land use management and development practices.
  • Lead by example: The Federal Government should serve as a model for climate resilience in its investments, operations and programs.

Salt Lake City is aggressively preparing for future climate challenges, to be a resilient community with a high quality of life due to our climate preparedness activities. Our efforts will ensure future clean and sufficient water supplies, investment in renewable, clean energy systems, and alternative transportation systems. These investments will not only make Salt Lake City more resilient; they will also improve our citizens’ health through improved air quality and a more walkable community.

We have been fortunate to partner with Western Water Assessment, part of the NOAA Regional Integrated Science Assessment Program, to conduct climate vulnerability work.  This partnership has leveraged our access to actionable data and tools to support climate adaptation decision-making.  This is a good example of federal support being used to help local communities prepare for climate change impacts.

Theme 2: Improving Resilience in the Nation’s Infrastructure

Infrastructure has already been compromised in many areas of the nation by extreme weather events, affecting local economies and community security. Recommendations for the Federal Government to reduce the vulnerability of public and private infrastructure to climate impacts include these six major topic areas:

  • Support climate resilience as part of coastal infrastructure planning and investments.
  • Promote and prioritize the use of green and natural infrastructure.
  • Support and incentivize climate resilient water resource planning and management.
  • Integrate climate resilience planning and preparedness criteria throughout existing Federal transportation funding programs.
  • Support Property Assessed Clean Energy programs.
  • Support development of a clean and resilient energy grid.

Salt Lake City will benefit from these recommendations as it is proposed to require grant programs to address potential climate impacts as projects are reviewed. It is also recommended that the Federal Government finalize its guidelines on climate impacts and carbon emissions in NEPA evaluations, which will provide better long-term considerations of public health, safety, and financial risks for communities. This will especially help our regional transportation and watershed planning efforts.

Theme 3: Ensuring Resilience of Natural Resources

The five recommendations here emphasize the need to protect and conserve terrestrial and aquatic natural systems to reduce climate vulnerabilities and enhance community resilience:

  • Restore and conserve ecosystems and lands to build resilience in a changing climate.
  • Combat the spread of invasive species, pests, and diseases.
  • Support resilience planning for ocean and coastal ecosystems.
  • Promote integrated watershed management and planning to protect water quality and quantity.
  • Enhance the scientific understanding of climate impacts on natural resources and provide technical assistance to help communities reduce adverse climate impacts.

Salt Lake City: Specific actions that will support Salt Lake City include the development of regional modeling initiatives to provide information to adapt to climate change impacts on water quantity and quality; and the development of a national, integrated water strategy that focuses on watershed protection and water conservation.

Our Mountain Accord process is an excellent example of how climate issues can be integrated into long-term integrated decision-making processes that encompass natural systems, land use, and transportation. Future preservation and development actions are evaluated and determined with a climate resiliency lens, and Federal support on how to measure climate resilience will be invaluable. Federal recommendations also include forest health planning at the State and regional level, which will directly benefit the Wasatch watersheds.

Theme 4: Preserving Human Health & Building Resilient Populations

Communities need to recognize the impacts of climate change on public health, social networks, and vulnerable populations, and prepare for those impacts by developing mechanisms to enhance resilience among residents. Major recommendations to support this theme include:

  • Address the needs of vulnerable populations, especially those already facing economic or health-related challenges.
  • Improve capacity to protect public health.
  • Assist communities in building food system security.
  • Improve disaster preparedness for communities most at-risk.
  • Explore Federal role in addressing climate change-related displacement, needs of affected communities, and institutional barriers to community relocation.

Salt Lake City will look to receive resources and incentives to support clean water, air, and local, healthy foods. The Federal Government is also recommending additional pre-disaster training on Federal response and recovery programs for elected officials and community leaders which would enhance our current emergency planning efforts.

Theme 5: Supporting Climate-Smart Hazard Mitigation and Disaster Preparedness and Recovery

Knowing that climate change will affect the frequency and severity of extreme weather hitting communities, these recommendations focus on ways for Federal agencies such as FEMA to better coordinate with communities both in preparedness planning and during disaster recovery.  Six recommendations in this area include:

  • Build a stronger culture of partnership and service to communities impacted by disaster.
  • Remove barriers to rebuilding for future climate resilience.
  • Incentivize and fund Community Resilience Plans with a holistic approach to preparedness and recovery.
  • Modernize data collection, analysis, and mapping based on current and predicted climate impacts to help improve local capacity for effective hazard mitigation planning.
  • Modernize and elevate the importance of hazard mitigation programs.
  • Strengthen the National Flood Insurance Program to prevent development that increases exposure and losses to flooding, and eliminate inequities for urban and rural locations.

While Salt Lake City is fortunate that we have yet to have a major climate-related disaster, continual planning will reduce risks to our citizens and minimize the costs of recovery when a severe weather event does occur. Having access to updated information from our Federal partners such as flood hazard maps, wildfire risk and erosion hazards will be essential to our resilience efforts.

Theme 6: Understanding and Acting on the Economics of Resilience

Climate change poses significant economic risk to all sectors and communities. These four measures encourage more prudent investments in long-term resilience to better ensure a vibrant economic future as the climate continues to change:

  • Promote private sector and workforce resilience to reduce economic disruptions associated with the impacts of climate change.
  • Reward resilient investments and consider the benefits of ecosystem services in cost-benefit analysis.
  • Safeguard places of national, economic, and historical significance.
  • Collaborate with the insurance industry.

Salt Lake City: Applying the true economic costs of future climate risks will be essential as we make future decisions. One example of this is our work with the State of Utah and regional energy providers to evaluate appropriate costs and account for benefits of renewable energy. We need to consider long-term economic, environmental and societal benefits of these investments, not simply short-term decisions that often undervalue climate resilient strategies. And as we move forward with our regional climate preparedness efforts, input from business leaders and representatives from professional organizations will be vital.

Theme 7: Building Capacity for Resilience

Communities must have the capacity to recognize, understand, and assess relevant climate-related risks in order to successfully prepare for climate change. These recommendations detail the ways that the Federal Government can provide data resources and create public awareness to support local climate preparedness efforts:

  • Provide data, tools, and guidance at a scale sufficient to guide decision-making and investments.
  • Foster and support cross-jurisdictional and regional cooperation.
  • Create a Climate Resilience Corps to boost community capacity.
  • Increase climate literacy and public awareness.

Salt Lake City: Education is needed to clearly link how the climate is changing and how it will impact the lives of our citizens. Having more centralized data will help both Salt Lake City and our residents identify climate risks and support community resilience planning.

Mayor Becker, Leaders Present Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience Recommendations to the Administration

Over the past year, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Sustainability Director Vicki Bennett have participated in the President’s State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. Today, the White House released the list of recommendations presented to the administration by the task force and executive actions already in the works. Read on for details!

As part of the Administration’s overall effort to combat climate change, President Obama is committed to ensuring that U.S. communities thrive in the face of a changing climate. The Administration has made significant investments in resilient disaster recovery in the wake of devastating storms like Hurricane Sandy, ensuring that rebuilding and infrastructure projects factor in climate impacts such as sea-level rise and investing in making transit systems more resilient to flooding and extreme weather.

Last year, as part of his Climate Action Plan, the President established the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, which recognizes that even as we act to curb the carbon pollution that drives climate change, we must also improve our ability to prepare for the climate impacts we are already seeing across the country. The Task Force comprises Governors, Mayors, county executives and Tribal leaders from across the country who are experiencing climate change impacts ranging from more severe droughts and wildfires to record heat waves and damaging storms.  Task Force leaders have taken bold action to protect their communities by investing in more resilient infrastructure, updating building codes, adjusting the way they manage natural resources, and planning for rapid recovery from extreme weather events.

Today, at a meeting with Vice President Biden and Senior White House officials, Task Force members will present their recommendations for how the Federal Government can respond to the needs of communities nationwide that are dealing with extreme weather and other impacts of climate change. The Administration is also announcing new tools and actions to help these leaders and others contend with climate impacts and build healthy and resilient communities, including a web-based Climate Resilience Toolkit that provides for the first time easy, intuitive access to dozens of Federal tools that can directly help planners and decision makers across America conduct their work in the context of a changing climate.

Recommendations of the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience

The Task Force’s recommendations are the culmination of a year of work to solicit input from across State, local, Tribal, and territorial governments, trade associations, academic organizations, civil society, and various other stakeholders and translate their first-hand experiences into action items for the Federal Government to support climate-ready communities. The recommendations offer guidance on how the Federal Government should modernize programs and policies to incorporate climate change, incentivize and remove barriers to community resilience, and provide useful, actionable information and tools. The Task Force organized its report across seven cross-cutting themes: building resilient communities; improving resilience in the Nation’s infrastructure; ensuring resilience of natural resources; preserving human health and supporting resilient populations; supporting climate-smart hazard mitigation and disaster preparedness and recovery; understanding and acting on the economics of resilience; and building capacity.

This approach ensures that the recommendations reflect the diversity of needs across the country and within each community, ranging from health to natural resources management to infrastructure and building design. For example, the recommendations address how the Federal Government can limit disease spread that is caused or exacerbated by climate change through the development and enhancement of climate-sensitive health tracking and surveillance tools, and call on the Federal Government to integrate climate resilience planning and preparedness criteria throughout existing Federal programs, such as those that provide transportation funding, to ensure these projects will last as long as intended.

Executive Actions on Climate Resilience to Support State, Local and Tribal Leaders

At today’s meeting, Task Force members will view a demonstration of the Administration’s new Climate Resilience Toolkit, which was called for in the President’s Climate Action Plan and developed with input from the Task Force. In addition to providing easy access to resources ranging from a tool that helps planners see which neighborhoods are likely to flood in future storm surges to a tool that shows how predicted future drought conditions would affect regional crop growth, the Toolkit presents more than 20 case studies that feature step-by-step examples of how real-world decision makers have used these tools, lessons learned, and best practices. The Toolkit, which is publicly accessible at toolkit.climate.gov, initially focuses on the topics of coastal flood risk and food resilience. In the coming months, it will be updated to address additional areas such as water, ecosystems, transportation, and health.  Some features of the Toolkit include:

  • The Climate Explorer: A visualization tool that offers maps of climate stressors and impacts, as well as interactive graphs showing daily observations and long-term averages from thousands of weather stations across the Nation.
  • Steps to Resilience: A five-step process that users can follow to initiate, plan, and implement projects to help make their homes, communities, and infrastructure more resilient to climate-related hazards.
  • “Taking Action” Stories: More than 20 real-world case studies describing climate-related risks and opportunities that communities and businesses face, steps they’re taking to plan and respond, and tools and techniques they’re using to improve resilience.
  • Federal Resource Database: The Toolkit provides centralized access to federal sites for future climate projections, as well as freely available tools for accessing and analyzing climate data, generating visualizations, exploring climate projections, estimating hazards, and engaging stakeholders in resilience-building efforts.

In addition to the Toolkit, the Administration announced several other initiatives to support State, local, and Tribal climate resilience needs, including:

  • Developing Online Resilience Training for Local Officials The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is developing an online climate adaptation training module for local government officials with locally tailored information that can help officials answer questions about climate impacts and resilience opportunities specific to their community. The virtual training module, which is being developed with advice from members of EPA’s Local Government Advisory Committee, and will be accessible through the new Climate Resilience Toolkit, will also include examples of effective resilience strategies that have been successfully implemented in representative types of cities and towns across the nation.
  • Announcing a Hampton Roads Preparedness and Resilience Exercise Led by the National Security Council and supported by the National Exercise Division, the Administration will conduct a climate preparedness exercise in partnership with State and local leaders, as well as private-sector, academic and non-governmental partners in the Hampton Roads, VA region on December 2, 2014.  Similar to successful workshops in Houston, Texas; Fort Collins, Colorado; and Anchorage Alaska, this one-day exercise provides partners with the best-available science on climate effects and consequences and a tailored scenario designed to enhance regional climate adaptation and hazard mitigation planning. This workshop will reinforce work currently underway in the Hampton Roads and Norfolk areas to address climate impacts, especially sea level rise, extreme storm surge, and recurrent flooding.
  • Creating a Disaster Recovery App The Department of Energy is launching Lantern Live, a mobile application that will provide real-time information in the wake of severe weather events on which gas stations have fuel and which neighborhoods have electricity.  The app was developed in response to lessons learned in the aftermath Hurricane Sandy, and will allow users to report and view availability of fuel at nearby gas stations and access power company outage maps.
  • Launching a Climate Education and Literacy Initiative The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is launching a Climate Education and Literacy Initiative, which has been developed in collaboration with Federal partners and shaped by input from communities and organizations across the country.  OSTP will convene leaders in education and climate science from the public, private, nongovernmental, and philanthropic sectors at the White House to discuss new commitments and steps to connect our students and citizens with the skills they will need to succeed as tomorrow’s community leaders, city planners, and entrepreneurs, in the context of a changing climate.  This effort is a key step in growing a next-generation American workforce that is equipped with scientific information and tools, grasps the climate-change challenge, and is empowered to develop and implement solutions.

The Administration has previously taken additional actions to build National resilience based on input from Task Force members. This includes launching Federal competitions – like the $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition – that spur innovation and encourage investments in community resilience, new funding to support tribes prepare for climate impacts, and making vast Federal data resources on climate change impacts more accessible to decision-makers, innovators, and the public through the Climate Data Initiative.  The Administration is also taking steps to ensure that public investments – whether in transportation systems, infrastructure, or natural resources – are made with future conditions in mind, and has ensured Federal agencies ranging from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Homeland Security are actively incorporating climate resilience into their missions and operations. Going forward, the Administration will continue to collaborate with Task Force members and other community leaders from across the country to build a healthier and more resilient Nation.

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