Creating a National Adaptation Strategy for the United States: The Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force
The U.S. Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force was established in 2009 by President Barack Obama to help federal agencies coordinate and collaborate on a national adaptation strategy. The Task Force was replaced by the Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience in November 2013. This process represented the first steps towards a coordinated strategy for federal adaptation action on climate change and led to the creation of several federal adaptation implementation plans. The Obama Administration’s executive orders directing federal climate adaptation action were revoked in March 2017 by Executive Order (EO) 13783, Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth, which was in turn replaced by the January 2021 Executive Order 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.
The Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, initiated in 2009, was co-chaired by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Task Force created working groups to address the prospective ability of federal agencies to collaborate on adaptation responses. These groups were formed to address adaptation options in federal agencies and develop recommendations for planning and implementation focused on Adaptation Science, Agency Adaptation Planning, Science Inputs to Policy, Insurance Adaptation, Water Resources Adaptation, Communications and Outreach, Urban, Health, International Resilience, and Plants, Fish, and Wildlife. The working groups held over 20 listening sessions to solicit input and recommendations from stakeholders.
In October 2009, President Obama signed EO 13514, Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, requiring the Task Force to develop adaptation recommendations by 2010. In March 2010, an Interim Progress Report was released for public comment. The report focused on proposed key components to a national adaptation strategy, including:
- Integration of Science into Adaptation Decisions and Policy
- Communications and Capacity Building
- Coordination and Collaboration
- A Flexible Framework for Agencies
The final recommendations, released in October 2010, built upon these initial components, including:
- Institutionalizing adaptation as part of planning practices within agencies;
- Ensuring that climate science is easily accessible to both the public and private sector;
- Coordinating agency efforts in climate change responses with respect to overlapping jurisdictions, especially with regard to water resources, public health, oceans and coasts, and communities;
- Supporting international adaptation efforts; and
- Collaborating and coordinating with local, state, and tribal managers.
The Task Force identified guiding principles for decision-makers to use in developing and implementing climate change adaptation. These included:
- Adopt Integrated Approaches: Adaptation should be incorporated into core policies, planning, practices, and programs whenever possible.
- Prioritize the Most Vulnerable: Adaptation plans should prioritize helping people, places and infrastructure that are most vulnerable to climate impacts and be designed and implemented with meaningful involvement from all parts of society.
- Use Best Available Science: Adaptation should be grounded in the best available scientific understanding of climate change risks, impacts, and vulnerabilities.
- Build Strong Partnerships: Adaptation requires coordination across multiple sectors and scales and should build on the existing efforts and knowledge of a wide range of public and private stakeholders.
- Apply Risk Management Methods and Tools: Adaptation planning should incorporate risk management methods and tools to help identify, assess, and prioritize options to reduce vulnerability to potential environmental, social, and economic implications of climate change.
- Apply Ecosystem-based Approaches: Adaptation should, where relevant, take into account strategies to increase ecosystem resilience and protect critical ecosystem services on which humans depend to reduce the vulnerability of human and natural systems to climate change.
- Maximize Mutual Benefits: Adaptation should, where possible, use strategies that complement or directly support other related climate or environmental initiatives, such as efforts to improve disaster preparedness, promote sustainable resource management, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions including the development of cost‐effective technologies.
- Continuously Evaluate Performance: Adaptation plans should include measurable goals and performance metrics to continuously assess whether adaptive actions are achieving desired outcomes” (Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force 2010).
Outcomes and Conclusions
The Task Force released a second progress report, Federal Actions for a Climate Resilient Nation, in 2011 that reviewed federal agency efforts to integrate adaptation into planning and policies, enhance community resilience to climate change, improve information sharing and coordination, and develop strategies to support natural resources in a changing climate. The Task Force and its working groups created collaborative comprehensive plans including those focused on water resources, oceans, and fish, wildlife, and plants. For example, the Water Resources Adaptation working group, comprising federal representatives from the Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Council on Environmental Quality, developed the 2011 National Action Plan: Priorities for Managing Freshwater Resources in a Changing Climate. This plan included six priority recommendations to improve and guide federally-coordinated freshwater conservation and management in light of climate change: (1) create a planning process for water resources management adaptation; (2) improve information access to support decision making; (3) assess the vulnerability of water resources; (4) improve water use efficiency; (5) support Integrated Water Resources Management; and (6) increase training and outreach efforts. The National Ocean Council released the National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan in April 2013, which describes steps agencies can take to respond to key challenges, including climate change. Finally, the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy was released in March 2013 and provided science-based recommendations for preserving species and habitats in a changing climate.
The Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force was dissolved in favor of the Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience with the establishment of EO 13653, Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change, in November 2013. EO 13653 was revoked in March 2017 by EO 13783, Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth. The Biden Administration released Executive Order 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, which centers climate change as a critical element of foreign and domestic policy. The order requires each agency to submit climate action plans for review by the National Climate Task Force, White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Office of Management and Budget, and to report on implementation progress annually. On October 7, 2021, 23 agencies released adaptation and resilience plans to guide federal action on climate change.
Gregg, R. M. (2021). Creating a National Adaptation Strategy for the United States: The Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force[Case study on a project of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: https://www.cakex.org/case-studies/creating-national-adaptation-strategy-united-states-interagency-climate-change-adaptation-task-force (Last updated October 2021)