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Prepared Remarks of OMB Director Shaun Donovan, Climate Action 2016 Summit

Today, Director Donovan highlighted the Administration’s efforts around resilience and called on countries worldwide to work together to address resilience globally.

Editor’s Note: Today, OMB Director Shaun Donovan delivered remarks at the United Nations' Climate Action Summit's session on resilience. On the heels of the Paris Agreement signing ceremony, the Climate Action Summit brought together coalitions of government, business, finance, philanthropy, civil society and academic leaders to strengthen the multi-stakeholder approach to climate implementation. Director Donovan spoke about the importance of a global collective action on resilience, underscoring that one country’s failure to adapt to the impact of climate change undermines security and economic stability around the globe. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery.

I am honored to be part of this momentous occasion. It’s good to be together again.

In Paris, we mobilized with the recognition that each ton of CO2 matters, not whose smokestack is implicated. We succeed or fail together.

And this morning we gather to reaffirm that: Mitigation of emissions is not the only shared challenge; adapting to the impacts of climate change also demands collective action.


Resilience starts at home – it’s the place where the impacts of climate change can be felt most poignantly and personally. As a native New Yorker, I felt it with Hurricane Sandy. The billions of dollars in damage were an important metric to me as budget director. But the power of the storm registered more vividly in the familiar – and yet suddenly lost – the neighbors who lost their homes, the friends who lost their businesses, and the colleague who lost his daughter.

Having felt the fury of the storm, I know the urgency of what comes next. Not just recovery, but rebuilding stronger.

And there’s one thing that is always true about rebuilding stronger: It’s better done together. Protecting your home means working with your neighbor on community-wide resilience. Protecting your country must also mean working with other countries on world-wide resilience.

Shoulder-to-shoulder, side-by-side, block-by-block; that’s the attitude deeply embedded in the Obama Administration’s approach to this work. 

Climate Action 2016 Summit
White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan speaks at the Climate Action 2016 Summit on May 6, 2016.

Part of that approach comes from the recognition that communicating about climate change is more impactful when the risk is clearer and nearer to home.

Part of that Obama approach to resilience also requires breaking down the silos within government, and makes it easier to partner with the private sector and local governments. Together, we can better define the risks posed by climate change, find these risks, and design with these risks in mind. It’s not an academic exercise. It’s a leadership imperative.

On behalf of President Obama, I carried this approach and work forward in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. We comprehensively studied the coastline. We exhaustively designed for sea-level rise. We creatively deployed natural infrastructure and breakthrough technology.

And now we’re scaling those approaches for the nation. Over the last year, we’ve advanced new standards to boost flood risk management nationwide, supported coastline communities from Alaska to Louisiana, heightened our planning and support capabilities to fight drought and wildfire.

A few months ago, we awarded 13 states and communities across this country $1 billion to fund resilient infrastructure and housing through groundbreaking collaborative partnerships with the philanthropic and private sectors, particularly the Rockefeller Foundation.

Just last week, we issued guidance to create a regular and rigorous review mechanism to assess climate risk and adaptation efforts across all Federal Government agencies.

And today, we’re deploying a new cohort of Resilience AmeriCorps to serve shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. communities in supporting their capacity building efforts.   

In all of this work, we’ve partnered with philanthropists and NGOs, investors and entrepreneurs, innovators and engineers.


Even though adaptation – and resilience – starts at home, the costs of inaction can stretch beyond borders, and so we must work together to protect and cherish what Pope Francis so eloquently calls our “common home.” One country’s failure to adapt undermines the security and economies of all others. What we do anywhere on adaptation matters everywhere.

We know that what happens where we live impacts you:

  • When the surging seas storm onto Wall Street – that stifles commerce globally.
  • When infrastructure buckles – U.S. airports or seaports shutdown – we all get stuck.

And what happens where you live – impacts us:

  • When a heat wave hit Russia in 2010, damaging crops, the whole world saw a doubling of wheat prices, threatening food security.
  • Price shocks to staple crops don’t just threaten food security, they can contribute to political unrest. In Syria, drought contributed to mass migration and urban unrest. 

That’s why I’m proud that the United States has committed to contributing $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, starting this year.

That’s why the United States is leveraging its unique scientific and technological capabilities – from climate data to early-warning systems – to help vulnerable nations better prepare for weather-related disasters and better plan for long-term threats like steadily rising seas.

That’s why part of our commitment to adaptation is represented in what we can help other countries accomplish. It’s the morally right thing to do – to protect our common home. And it’s also the right thing to do for our fiscal, economic and national security.


Paris and Earth Day will be remembered as inflection points in our shared mission to protect our common home. But today, agreement shifts to action. Intended contributions become implemented contributions. And history begins to record whether we succeeded in translating Paris into enduring progress.

Let’s get to work on that, and let’s start by making sure that Paris enters into force soon as possible. Already, countries representing nearly 50% of global emissions, including the United States, have committed to formally join the Agreement. Let those in this hall be the ones who help the world cross the 55% threshold this year.

Ultimately, progress will be the measure of our success. As leaders, as citizens, and as stewards; that progress – the observed arc of emissions, the storm-tested resilience of infrastructure, the felt outcomes for communities and individuals – that progress is the test by which future generations will judge us.

Whether it’s in Marrakesh or on the Arctic Council, let’s find ways to partner; let’s find ways not just to agree but to act, to implement, to contribute; let’s meet this test with the urgency it demands and the hopefulness that we’re entitled to.



Shannon Buckingham is the Associate Director for Communications and Strategic Planning at the White House Office of Management and Budget.