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Federal Agencies Release Plans to Fight Climate Risks

On October 7, the White House announced the release of more than 20 Federal Agency Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plans. We take a closer look at those from the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, Justice and State.

President Biden’s January 28, 2021, Executive Order Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad requires major federal agencies to develop an adaptation and resilience plan to address their most significant climate risks and vulnerabilities. On October 7, the White House announced the release of more than 20 Federal Agency Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plans. We take a closer look at those from the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, Justice and State.

Department of Homeland Security

When environmental degradation, whether slowly occurring like drought or rapid-onset like an earthquake or tsunami, is combined with other push factors, sudden and large-scale, crossborder mass migrations and movement of goods and personnel may occur. Mass migration is just one of the many challenges the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) faces as a result of climate change.  A changing climate can also increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and change disease environments. Addressing the climate crisis is a priority for DHS as sea-level rise, severe weather events, diseases, workforce health, and other direct disasters affect its assets and the United States.

The DHS’s climate action plan includes five priority actions:

Incorporate climate adaptation into national preparedness and community grants and projects. This action will likely take two to four years to fully implement and includes the continuation of the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program – the funding for which President Biden doubled to $1 billion – to provide incentives for state, local, tribal, and territorial governments to adopt modern, disaster-resistant building codes. DHS initial BRIC selections include wildfire resilience programs, flood control programs, and small-town coastal hazard mitigation plans.

Incorporate climate adaptation planning and processes into homeland security mission areas. DHS will review current budget planning policies to assess whether climate change considerations are appropriately incorporated. Policy review will begin in FY 2022. DHS projects it will take two to four years to fully review and implement. Updated guidance is anticipated on an ongoing basis as new technologies and processes are available and as the conditions of the climate change crisis evolve.

Ensure climate-resilient facilities and infrastructure. Anticipated climate impacts on DHS facilities and infrastructure include higher average temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, rapid Arctic change, more frequent severe storm events, rising sea levels, increased coastal flooding, increases in wildfires, and ecosystem degradation. DHS will incorporate lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, and other severe storms, and will also leverage systems and standards, such as the new Federal Flood Standard to identify other risk types by installation/facility. As well as working to protect and design resilient infrastructure, DHS will also invest in energy resilient facilities and equipment. For example, the Department has committed to converting 50 percent of its vehicle fleet to electric vehicles by 2030.

Ensure climate-ready services and supplies. Climate change will interact with strategic competition, demographic changes, and emerging technology to create new risks and complicate existing challenges to U.S. national security. For example, the retreating sea ice in the Arctic has already converged with strategic competition with China to transform the Polar regions into a competitive space which will require significant attention from the U.S. Coast Guard. This action covers both the Department and the United States as a whole, and will use CISA’s national risk assessment program to assess climate impacts and adaptation strategies to secure supplies of food, medicine, energy, and other vital resources. 

Increase climate literacy. DHS is developing and implementing a DHS-wide climate education plan to raise awareness among employees about the climate crisis and how to combat it through adaptation and resilience strategies. As part of this action, DHS will pursue the creation of a National Security and Climate Honors Program to provide students or recent graduates with a hands-on opportunity to contribute to new initiatives that have the potential to substantially help DHS adapt to climate change. 

Under the direction of DHS’ Climate Change Action Group (CCAG), which includes senior leadership from across the Department, DHS will also soon release its Strategic Framework for Addressing the Impacts of Climate Change. This Framework will provide overarching goals, principles, and strategic vision to guide our activities to assess and mitigate the full range of climate change impacts across the homeland security mission.

Department of Defense

The Department of Defense (DOD) has identified climate change as a critical national security issue and threat multiplier as well as a top management challenge. Releasing its climate action plan, DOD said “climate change will continue to amplify operational demands on the force, degrade installations and infrastructure, increase health risks to our service members, and could require modifications to existing and planned equipment”. Extreme weather events are already costing the Department billions of dollars and are degrading mission capabilities. These effects and costs are likely to increase as climate change accelerates

DOD’s action plan builds on its 2014 climate change adaptation roadmap and aligns adaptation and resilience efforts with the department’s warfighting mission. Ongoing efforts under the 2021 plan will be tracked via a dashboard.

Like DHS, DOD has built its plan around five key areas of action. The first action centers the integration of climate-informed decision-making using actionable science into all department processes. All other actions in DOD’s plan are dependent on the outcomes of this effort. 

Thereafter, DOD will train and equip a climate-ready force by focusing on operating under the most extreme and adverse conditions and integrating climate adaptation concepts into existing major exercises and contingency planning.

Third, DOD will ensure built and natural infrastructure are in place for successful mission preparedness, military readiness and operational success in changing conditions and will leverage the Defense Climate Assessment Tool to develop comprehensive installation resilience plans.

Fourth, DOD will insert climate change considerations into supply chain management to both reduce vulnerabilities and create opportunities to leverage DOD’s purchasing power to advance the key technologies essential to a clean energy transformation.

Finally, DOD will enhance adaptation and resilience through collaboration. This will include interagency and intergovernmental cooperation in meeting the challenges of climate change as well as working with defense partners around the globe. 

Department of Justice

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has identified a number of climate-related vulnerabilities, namely the continued availability of workforce, the continued operation of mission-critical facilities, supply chain disruptions, limited knowledge and understanding of climate adaptation concepts and best practices for enhancing adaptive capacity, and a need to enhance systematic and formalized internal processes and guidance.

In its action plan, DOJ commits to enhancing climate literacy among Department-wide staff, with a focus on senior management personnel. In addition, it will broadly disseminate outreach materials and training content among Department personnel.

To ensure climate-ready sites and facilities, DOJ will work to establish processes to more systematically ensure that adaptation criteria and requirements are properly integrated into management functions and decision points for the procurement for design, construction, operations, and maintenance of DOJ facilities.  

To ensure a climate-ready supply of products and services, DOJ pledges to work to establish processes to more systematically ensure that adaptation criteria and requirements are properly integrated into the acquisition of mission-critical supplies and services.

DOJ will use a multi-pronged approach to incorporate climate adaptation into its strategic planning process to inform the Department’s FY 2022-2026 Strategic Plan. This will kick off with a risk management meeting to discuss climate adaptation and challenges and to assist components in better understanding the range of possible risks associated with climate change. From this and other efforts, DOJ will develop strategies to manage/mitigate risks associated with climate change. The Department also intends to complete a study to determine the potential of the electrification of the vehicle fleet.

Department of State

Climate change poses a significant threat to the Department of State’s (State) mission of advancing the interests, health, safety, and economic prosperity of the American people. The increasing frequency and severity of climate-related natural disasters disrupt ongoing operations and threaten State’s ability to advance foreign policy goals. In addition, climate change-related disasters often create greater demand for consular services, humanitarian assistance to support aid and recovery, and management services to support personnel and families. Secretary Blinken previously named climate security and resilience as one of his top strategic priorities.

The Department’s plan commits to including climate hazards in emergency management activities and strategic planning efforts. By Q3 FY2022, DOJ will begin use of the Climate Hazards Dashboard in consultation with the Department’s Climate Security & Resilience Program Office to identify posts with the highest climate risks and conduct consultations for preparedness actions. The dashboard provides hazard projections for 2035, 2065, and 2100 for some extreme weather and climate events. DOJ will evaluate adding new data sets and advanced predictive analytics using artificial intelligence and/or machine learning to this platform.

The action plan also commits to assessing which mission-critical supplies are most at risk from climate impacts and establish long-term risk mitigation strategies. Specific actions may include consolidating and regionalizing services to reduce exposure to climate risks; securing vendors that have climate risk mitigation plans; and creating procurement guidance for program offices. 

In addition, State pledges to use eco-diplomacy platforms to share best practices, establish joint projects with host nations to improve resilience, and demonstrate U.S. climate leadership. 

State’s climate action plan complements its forthcoming Sustainability Plan, which will set the Department on a trajectory to meet the Administration’s ambitious federal sustainability and greenhouse gas reduction goals.

At first, it may appear that the federal agencies are missing the urgency of the situation, taking more than half the year to publish their action plans. However, while some of the commitments may be new and a direct result of Biden’s Executive Order, other action is already well underway and has been for some time such as those in response to extreme weather events. It must also be remembered that agencies are moving from an Administration that largely considered climate to be a dirty word to one that has placed it under the banner of national security, and they should be commended for confronting the climate threat without presidential guidance or directives. DOD in particular has maintained strong policy on climate resilience and been acutely aware of the threat for several years.

Commitment from the White House as well as a new cohesion among agencies should help to build on existing action and accelerate new efforts against the myriad national and global security threats presented by climate change.

“By taking action now to better manage and mitigate climate risks, we will minimize disruptions to federal operations, assets and programs while creating safer working conditions for employees,” a White House statement announcing the agency plans read. 

Public input on the agency climate adaptation plans is welcomed. Members of the public may submit comments via the docket until November 6, 2021.

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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