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Along the same lines

WASHINGTON – Climate change is now and will continue to affect nearly every aspect of our society and the environment, increasing the severity of floods, droughts, and heat waves, wildfires, and sea level rise, an interim Progress Report of the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force released March 16 states.

Climate change impacts not only affect society’s core systems: transportation, ecosystems, agriculture, business, infrastructure, water, energy and others, they also hamper federal agencies ability to fulfill their missions.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is critical to limiting the extent of climate change impacts and resulting damage, said the task force. But even as increased mitigation efforts will reduce the effects its impacts will continue, reinforcing the need for adaptation and a focus on resilience.

“It is imperative to take action now to adapt to a changing climate,” the task force said. “We also need to build resilience to help minimize the risks associated with climate change and maximize any opportunities climate change may create.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change defines adaptation as an “adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities,” and resilience as “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic functions and structure.”

Among the report’s recommendations, the U.S. must use a unified approach to adapt and build resilience, research programs that identify regional near- and long-term and abrupt impacts, make comprehensive localized risk and vulnerability assessments, create strong links between, support and participation of tribal, regional, state and local partners, and strategize to link financial and intellectual resources to critical needs.

Tribes are on the forefront of climate change, in respect to both degree of impacts and in initial efforts to respond to adaptation, said Ed Knight, senior planner and project coordinator for the Swinomish Tribe.

“By the same token, many if not most tribes are not major contributors to the problems given the comparative lack of economic and industrial development relative to non-tribal localities, and in many cases due to more rural and isolated locations, so there is a significant environmental justice issue there.” For these reasons, Knight said, tribes need to have a seat at the table in this national effort, since they can contribute unique perspectives from their lengthy and rich heritage and their particular circumstances, and as a segment of society most affected.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration convened the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force to begin developing federal adaptation recommendations in the wake of a U.S. Global Change Research Program 2009 report that summarized the science of climate change and its impacts. That report said climate change will influence how and where we live and work, our cultures, health and environment, and will grow and affect future generations. More than 20 federal agencies participate.

The Swinomish in western Washington state foresaw the destructive potential of climate change and completed their own comprehensive 90-page Swinomish Climate Change Initiative Impact Assessment Technical Report in 2008. Their report, like the federal report, describes the scientific climate change data. It also provides a comprehensive assessment of potential climate change effects, risk and vulnerability on Swinomish community, lands, and resources. The tribe is already moving aggressively with response and adaptation planning.

“We can offer much to others from our experience,” Knight said. “The federal agencies should take advantage of the solid work done by Swinomish and others, First Nations included, and look for opportunities to help build on that.”

Capacity building to respond and adapt to climate change impacts, as noted in the federal report “will be huge for tribes, as with Swinomish, given their historic and comparative lack of internal structure and capacity to respond to these major issues,” Knight said. “And if there is to be a significant amount of inter-governmental cooperation, participation and partnering on these issues, tribes need to be afforded and supported in the opportunity to participate in the solutions, since tribes are among the most impacted.”

The federal task force will report to the president this October on the development of domestic and international dimensions of a U.S. approach to adaptation, how federal agencies are supporting this effort, and will recommend additional aspects to consider in the development of a comprehensive national strategy. The Interim Progress Report is available for public comment until mid-May. Submit your comment here.

Download the U.S. report and the Swinomish report online.