U.S. Lacks National Climate Change Preparedness Strategy, Lagging Behind Leading Developed and Industrialized Countries

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WWF’s new brief on Planning Development in a Carbon Constrained World (Dec 2011) shows that leading national governments in both industrialized and developing countries are not only well ahead of the U.S. government in their initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions, but also have progressed much further in preparing their citizens for the impacts of climate change.

In White House Reports on Climate Change Adaptation, as Communities Face Rising Impacts Without National Strategy (WWF Climate Change Blog, 1 November 2011) we reported that the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on 28 October 2011 released a second annual progress report from the government’s Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force. After more than two year of work, the task force has produced two progress reports but there still is no sign of a clear national adaptation strategy – and the task force said in October said its next update would be in March 2014 – two and a half years from now and well over 4 years after the President formed the task force.

Despite the significant progress summarized in the task force’s most recent report, Federal Actions for a Climate Resilient Nation [PDF], the U.S. still has no national strategy for adapting to climate change -- or even a clear timetable for producing one, leaving America dangerously unprepared for climate conditions that are becoming more extreme and disruptive. Other countries meanwhile recognize the clear and present danger posed by climate disruption and are acting accordingly.

South Africa

A National Climate Change Response Strategy for South Africa (2004) says that “[a]daptation will be essential in South Africa,” that it “must be encouraged in no uncertain terms,” and that adaptation “could become a mainstay of sustainable development.” The government’s National Climate Change Response White Paper (2011) reaffirmed that commitment, stating that one of the two objectives of South Africa’s response to climate change is to “[e]ffectively manage inevitable climate change impacts through interventions that build and sustain South Africa’s social, economic and environmental resilience and emergency response capacity.”

In the near term, adaptation options will be pursued through several “Flagship Programmes” to “address immediate and observed threats to the economy, ecosystem services and the health and well-being of South Africans.” Meanwhile, a process will be launched that by October 2013 will identify and prioritize further adaptation responses that must be addressed in sector plans; or that require coordination between sectors or departments. These responses then will be integrated into sector plans. The White Paper indicates that water, agriculture and forestry, health, biodiversity and human settlements are initial adaptation priorities.


The Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change was adopted in December 2008 and “lays the foundations for a medium-term process in which, in cooperation with the Federal Länder (federal states) and societal groups, risks will be progressively identified, action needs ascertained, appropriate objectives defined and developed and potential adaptation measures implemented.”

As the next step, an inter-ministerial working group was established in early 2009 to draw up an Adaptation Action Plan with the federal states. According to the strategy, the action plan was to “include principles and criteria for prioritising action needs, derived specifications for federal measures, an overview of concrete measures by other stakeholders, information on financing of adaptation, and proposals for progress review.” The Adaptation Action Plan was adopted by the Federal Cabinet on 31 August 2011. The government will report on progress under the strategy and action plan at the end of 2014.

Above: Flooding in Koblenz, Germany. Germany’s adaptation strategy says the probability of flooding will increase as climate changes; and that measures must be taken to reduce vulnerability and increase the country’s capacity to adapt. Source: Stuart Tiffen.


The Special Climate Change Program (Programa Especial de Cambio Climático or PECC), which includes 142 adaptation measures, warns of Mexico’s vulnerability to climate change, particularly to the increased frequency or severity of hydrological extremes such as droughts and flooding rains. It emphasizes that “vulnerability must be reduced by promoting a culture of disaster prevention in all aspects of economic and social development. The areas identified in this Strategy for capacity building for adaptation are: hydrometeorological risk and water resource management; biodiversity and environmental services; farming; coasts; human settlements, and energy generation and use.” 

The PECC adds that adaptation efforts – in particular those that reduce the country’s vulnerability -- “are a top priority,” adding that “[i]n some cases, particularly in sectors associated with land use management, adaptation measures can also contribute to mitigating GHG emissions.”

During the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-16) of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, Mexico presented its Medium Term Adaptation Policy Framework (Marco de Políticas de Adaptación a mediano Plazo [PDF]), establishing the basis for its National Adaptation Strategy. The strategy is being developed by the National Working Group on Adaptation under the leadership of the National Institute of Ecology (Instituto Nacional de Ecología or INE) and Mexico’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales or SEMARNAT), and should be completed in 2012.

Above: The raging Santa Catarina River in Monterrey, Mexico, swollen from the rains of Hurricane Alex on 1 July 2010. Hurricane Alex, tied with another storm as the most intense Atlantic hurricane on record for the month of June, dumped as much as 619 mm (24.4 in) of rain on the city. According to the Special Climate Change Program, Mexico’s government places a high priority on reducing the country’s vulnerability to climate change impacts, including the impacts of more intense hurricanes; and on developing an “integrated risk management policy…especially for risks related to extreme hydrometeorological phenomena.”   Source: Fred Turner.

The United Kingdom

The Climate Change Act 2008 requires the government to take steps to prepare the UK for climate change impacts, including a Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) every 5 years, with the first due in January 2012. It also requires establishment of a National Adaptation Programme that must be reviewed every five years. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is responsible for domestic adaptation policy, and is overseeing the CCRA.

The act also established the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC), requiring that the CCC advise the government and report periodically on the government's progress.  In September 2010, the issued its first report under the act, How Well Prepared is the UK for Climate Change? It found that "the UK has started to build capacity for adaptation through advice and information to a range of public and private sector organisations," but found "little evidence that this is translating into tangible action on the ground in a systematic way.” A second report, Adapting to Climate Change in the U.K.: Measuring Progress, was published in July 2011.

The governments of the UK and the other countries noted above clearly are in the early stages of preparing for climate change.  But they have made substantial progress and have clear roadmaps for future action. In contrast, the U.S. government not only lacks a strategy but has no specific timetable for establishing a strategy.  Meanwhile, some in Congress have intentionally impeded efforts to develop a strategy and to otherwise prepare Americans for the emerging era of climate disruption (see our previous postings, Dangerously Unprepared: Congressional Budget Cuts are Leaving Americans Vulnerable to Climate Extremes, 21 July 2011; and As the Costs of Extreme Weather Rise, Americans Cannot Afford Denial, 9 September 2011).

Online Resources:

Planning Development in a Carbon Constrained World. WWF-US, December 2011.

White House Reports on Climate Change Adaptation, as Communities Face Rising Impacts Without National Strategy (WWF Climate Change Blog, 1 November 2011).

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