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Helping Local Leaders Prepare for the Impacts of Climate Change

Local leaders can use the National Climate Assessment to better prepare for the impacts of climate change we can't avoid, and the Administration is working to help them.

This week, the Obama Administration released the third U.S. National Climate Assessment, the most comprehensive and authoritative report on U.S. climate impacts ever generated. The report makes clear that climate change is already affecting every region of the country, as well as key sectors of our economy.

The great thing about the report is that it takes all of this important scientific information and packages it into practical and usable knowledge to plan for the future climate change impacts that could take place in regions across the country. This complements the information provided in the President’s Climate Data Initiative, which spurs innovators to use open data to build tools communities need to better understand, manage, and prepare for the real-world impacts associated with climate change. Maps of future sea-level rise, for instance, can help builders decide where to break ground out of harm’s way, while other online tools can help water utility operators identify potential threats to the local water supply.

All across the country, local decision-makers and leaders are hungry for this type of actionable science, as they plan for a future with more frequent and severe extreme weather, extreme temperatures, and other climate change impacts. I have the privilege of working with local decision-makers to address these climate change-related challenges in my role as Co-Chair of President Obama’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. Community leaders are often the first to face the harsh realities of climate change, and the 26 members of the Task Force have proven themselves effective leaders in helping their communities prepare for climate impacts.

Just last week, I joined Governor Peter Shumlin, a member of the Task Force, in Vermont, where many folks are still recovering from the devastating effect that Hurricane Irene had on the state. It’s been almost three years since the storm, but, driving around, you can still clearly see some of its impacts. Roads are washed away in some places, and there are houses and buildings severely damaged. There’s a lot of work to be done, but under Governor Shumlin’s leadership, the state of Vermont is making great progress in rebuilding smarter and stronger, so they can be ready for the next storm.

Governor Shumlin’s experience with this kind of resilient rebuilding effort will ultimately help inform the Task Force’s recommendations to the President on disaster preparedness. And the National Climate Assessment will provide key information to leaders all over the country who – like Governor Shumlin – are working to make their communities more resilient.  This kind of information-sharing and partnership is exactly what we need to build a safer and more resilient Nation. 

Next week, senior Administration officials and local leaders will gather together in Des Moines, Iowa, for the next Task Force meeting, and I look forward to continuing this important dialogue to identify ways we can work together to prepare for the future.  The Task Force will deliver its final recommendations on how the Administration can respond to the needs of communities nationwide dealing with the impacts of climate change this Fall. 

Mike Boots is Acting Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality