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Adjusting To Climate Change

Report: U.S. government should integrate adaptation into its operations

by Cheryl Hogue
March 22, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 12

Credit: NOAA
Credit: NOAA

Federal agencies need more information about the effects of climate change and should regularly revise their policies and procedures in light of new data, says an interim report released last week by a government task force. Agencies must “shift away from using past conditions as indicators of the future,” the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force says.

The task force, composed of representatives from more than 20 federal agencies, is reviewing existing policies, operations, and procedures that affect the federal government’s ability to respond to and prepare for climate impacts. President Barack Obama directed the task force to develop recommendations for the government to adapt to climate-change impacts both domestically and internationally.

“This task force is focused on enhancing the resilience of the natural environment, the built environment, and human institutions” as the climate changes, says Jane Lubchenco, NOAA administrator. “The task force’s role is to guide and provide an overall framework so the individual actions of departments are cohesive and effective, more so than they might be with each agency just doing its own thing.”

According to the interim report, the government doesn’t need a whole new set of plans and procedures for adapting to climate change. Instead, agencies need to integrate their responses to climate change into existing ones. For instance, the U.S. Forest Service might fold adaptation plans for a warmer or drier regional climate into management plans for national forests, says Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which helped set up the task force.

The task force’s final report, which is due in October, will include recommendations on water resource management, insurance related to climate change, the linking of scientific data to policies, and opportunities for the U.S. government to lead international adaptation efforts.

The interim report is short on concrete details, but it shows that the Obama Administration is incorporating response to climate change into government operations, says Daniel Lashof, director of the climate center at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

The interim report is available at



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