On October 7, 2021, the Biden administration released 23 federal agency-level climate adaptation plans, providing insight into the steps those agencies planned to take to ensure their facilities and operations are ready for climate change impacts. These inaugural plans produced the first fruits of Executive Order 14008, “Tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad.”
Analysis of agency plans revealed common themes one would expect to be incorporated into a climate adaptation plan—reducing resource consumption of government facilities, improving the efficiency of the supply chain and increasing clean energy options within federal fleets, incorporating climate-resiliency considerations into current assistance programs and continually enhancing data and decision support tools to support the greening of federal operations.
Additional actions focused on science and research, environmental justice considerations within new and evolving policies, and the need to improve climate and sustainability literacy across the federal workforce.
Currently, agencies are revisiting those plans and assessing the progress made against the priority actions they set forth. So, what can we expect in the second year of climate adaptation plans, and what should agencies be considering to improve their plans and make them more actionable and measurable? We’ll dive into these topics in this two-part blog series.
What macro trends can we anticipate in agencies’ next climate adaptation plans?
Given the priorities we’ve seen from Congress and the executive branch, I believe we’ll see three macro trends highlighted in the next climate adaptation plans: procurement, supply chain and coordination.
Procurement: Reducing the carbon footprint associated with government operations is highlighted in many of the inaugural Climate Adaptation Plans, but the Supreme Court’s ruling in West Virginia v. EPA creates potential barriers on regulatory activities to combat climate change. Government procurement will play an even more critical role in achieving the administration’s objectives, as detailed in the Federal Sustainability Plan.
Agencies are under pressure to make environmental impact a high priority in making acquisition decisions. Expect them to increasingly use their procurement power to make incremental progress toward the plan’s federal-wide targets.
The recent furor over the U.S. Postal Service fleet (traditional versus electric vehicles) will not be a one-time thing. The General Services Administration (GSA) will be front and center here, as many agencies rely on GSA for their facilities and fleet support. At the same time, though, each agency will need to continue to commit to broad, cumulative improvements to help the government achieve these goals.
Supply chain: Agencies will continue to focus on greening the supply chain as part of their climate adaptation plans. Electric vehicles are just the beginning. In March, after significant industry feedback, GSA issued new standards for concrete and asphalt used in nationwide GSA construction, modernization and paving projects. The new, low-embodied carbon concrete standard requires GSA project contractors to provide environmental product declarations (EPDs) where available. EPDs serve as third party-verified summaries of the environmental impacts of a product's extraction, manufacturing and transportation.
While new spending and legislation, such as the bipartisan infrastructure bill, have put fleet and infrastructure top of mind, we anticipate future additional requirements aimed at greening the federal supply chain, covering not only products but also services. In fact, the Department of Defense, GSA and NASA published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in October of 2021 soliciting feedback on a potential amendment to the Federal Acquisition Regulation. This could require federal suppliers to disclose greenhouse gas emissions and climate-related financial risks and set science-based reduction targets.
Coordination: Addressing the challenges of climate change will require the full capacity of the federal government. Given the problem’s scale, government agencies need to work across organizational lines. EO 14008 launched the National Climate Task Force, which includes cabinet-level leaders from 21 federal agencies and departments. As is typical within the federal domain, policy change can be slow. Therefore, agencies must broaden sharing of best practices and develop collaborative initiatives that can be adopted across agencies to achieve measurable results.
Similarly, I hope to see greater coordination with counterpart agencies in governments across the globe as a trend in the next iteration of agency Climate Adaptation Plans. As I detailed in my previous blog, agencies in Europe, including the United Kingdom, far surpass the U.S. in adopting new policies and regulations to combat climate change. While agencies must align their actions with their core mission areas, we can learn a great deal from other nation’s governments about what has and hasn’t worked for them. The Greening Government Initiative, led by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Government of Canada’s Treasury Board Secretariat, can serve as a valuable forum for agencies looking to cooperate on ways to green government operations.
Finally, closer coordination with national efforts to identify vulnerabilities can help inform updates to the plans. While agencies are expected to provide annual updates to their plan, they are also expected, at a minimum, to provide major updates after every National Climate Assessment and every four years. Agencies should apply vulnerability assessment frameworks that make use of climate projections developed for the National Climate Assessment, such as the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit. Doing so will help agencies evaluate the most significant climate change-related risks and vulnerabilities in agency missions and operations and identify actions to manage and mitigate those risks and vulnerabilities.
These three macro trends, I believe, will serve as focal points for the next iteration of agency Climate Adaptation Plans. As agencies delve into specific actions to combat climate change—and, most importantly, how to measure the results of those actions—how should they approach drafting their second annual plans? I’ll provide recommendations for the next level of maturity of climate adaptation plans in part two of this blog.
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