Will Obama's 'climate resilience fund' help cope with global warming?

President Obama's 2015 budget will include $1 billion to help communities deal with the effects of climate change. He made the announcement Friday on a visit to drought-stricken California.

Richard Vogel/AP
Morning traffic makes it's way toward downtown Los Angeles along the Hollywood Freeway on Friday. California is taking to the highways to spread the word about water conservation after months of drought, which some experts link to climate change.

Winter storms walloping the East and much of the South. T-shirt temperatures on the ski slopes at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Individual extreme-weather events may or may not be directly linked to the kind of climate change most experts say is reflected in rising global temperatures chronicled over the past century.

But the devastating long-term drought in the West is different, scientists say, and President Obama and administration officials are making this case in announcing a $1 billion “Climate Resilience Fund” designed to help communities deal with the effects of climate change.

The money, part of the president’s 2015 budget to be sent to Congress next month, has three purposes, according to a White House fact sheet released this week:

• Invest in research and unlock data and information to better understand the projected impacts of climate change and how we can better prepare our communities and infrastructure.

• Help communities plan and prepare for the impacts of climate change and encourage local measures to reduce future risk.

• Fund breakthrough technologies and resilient infrastructure that will make us more resilient in the face of a changing climate.

In line with this effort, the US Department of Agriculture announced last week the establishment of climate hubs across the country designed to help farmers, ranchers, and communities get the information they need to make informed decisions related to a changing climate.

“We really understand a number of the reasons that global climate change is increasing the intensity and the frequency and the life of drought in drought-prone regions,” John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told reporters on a conference call Thursday night. “This is one of the better-understood dimensions of the relationship between global climate change and extreme weather in particular regions.”

Those advocating more action on climate change were quick to laud Obama’s announcement.

“Communities across the country are struggling with drought, a longer fire season, increasing summer temperatures, more heat waves, and rains coming in the form of deluges,” Angela Anderson, director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), said in a statement. “Congress can no longer ignore the consequences of climate change. The president is now putting a plan on the table that Congress needs to fund.”

Unclear at this point is how the “Climate Resilience Fund” will translate into specific efforts at the local and regional level.

Ms. Anderson at UCS points to one example: Miami Beach is spending more than $200 million to overhaul its drainage system, which has been compromised by sea level rise.

“Fort Lauderdale is looking at similar expenses,” she says. “During certain high tides, seawater backs up into stormwater pipes, flooding streets and neighborhoods.”

Also unclear is how the fund – part of Obama’s upcoming budget proposal and not an executive order – fares during Congress’s legislative sausage-making. Unlike other parts of the administration’s climate agenda, such as limits on coal-fired power plants’ carbon emissions and fuel efficiency rules, budget items have to pass congressional muster in order to be funded.

Obama’s “Climate Action Plan,” announced last June, includes three basic elements: reducing carbon emissions in the US, leading the international effort to reduce such emissions, and preparing for the impacts of climate change. The fund announced Friday during Obama’s trip to drought-stricken California is part of this latter effort.

Politically, Obama must navigate between two forces: Republicans in Congress (including those who deny the importance of climate change) opposed to climate-related federal actions they view as economically disruptive; and environmentalists and climate scientists who believe the administration should be doing more to mitigate if not prevent the effects of global warming.

In a letter to Obama last month, 18 organizations including the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Energy Action Coalition criticized the administration’s “all of the above” energy strategy.

“We believe that continued reliance on an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy would be fundamentally at odds with your goal of cutting carbon pollution and would undermine our nation’s capacity to respond to the threat of climate disruption,” the groups wrote. “With record-high atmospheric carbon concentrations and the rising threat of extreme heat, drought, wildfires, and super storms, America’s energy policies must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, not simply reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

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