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White House rep says adaptation is necessary but makes no new commitments

Julia Pyper, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, June 22, 2012

U.S. industry, nonprofit and local and federal government representatives all underscored the critical need for climate adaptation in a panel yesterday at the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro.

"Climate change is already affecting the lives and livelihoods of people around the United States and around the world through things like rising sea levels, changing agricultural conditions or more frequent and severe weather events," said Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), speaking from Rio de Janeiro via webcast.

"I think one of the challenges that we face is how to have healthy and resilient communities in the face of these conditions," she said.

President Obama highlighted climate adaptation as a priority of his administration in 2009 with the launch of the Interagency Climate Adaptation Task Force and continues to focus on reducing the long-term costs of responding to climate change, said Sutley. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency,
$1 spent on disaster preparedness saves $4 in disaster response.

"We think adapting to climate change is responsible risk management so we can minimize the impact on communities particularly for the most vulnerable communities," she said.

Roger Platt, senior vice president of global policy and law at the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization committed to building efficiency, said building resilient communities is one way the United States is both mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change.

Buildings produce 37 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, so by improving indoor air quality, water use and energy consumption that amount can be significantly reduced, he said.

Also, by basing planning decisions on projected climate scenarios, instead of just historical trends, buildings will be able to better withstand future climatic conditions, he said. "Past performance may not be an indicator of future success," Platt said.

In this vein, Clay Nesler, vice president for Global Energy and Sustainability for Johnson Controls Inc., highlighted the technology company's new  report aimed at boosting building efficiency to achieve global economic, social and environmental development goals.

According to Andrew Stober, chief of staff at the Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities in Philadelphia, which boasts an aggressive urban sustainability initiative, the public plays a key role in achieving adaptation targets.

"It's about citizens holding their government and corporations accountable for sustainable planning, for climate change adaptation planning, because these are your tax dollars and your consumer dollars, and if they're not spend wisely today, it's only going to cost you and your children and your grandchildren more in the future," he said.

The panel's direct engagement with climate issues came as somewhat of a surprise to members of the audience in Rio, who asked whether these statements represented a shift in U.S. policy toward new commitments on climate change adaptation and disaster management.

In response, Sutley said the U.S. government is taking a broad approach to sustainable planning beyond disaster management but that its adaptation efforts won't necessarily differ from the actions already under way.

"Part of this is just understanding that we have to prepare for these magnified risks, many of which we're dealing with today," she said.

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500


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Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500.

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White House rep says adaptation is necessary but makes no new commitments