This second article on climate resilience policies within the Biden administration was written with Laurie Schoeman.
Last week, we discussed how President Biden’s first 100 days in office has helped us as a country reset and ensure that the 2020s will be known as the resilience decade. So far, the very early scorecard on climate change risk disclosures and the financial markets is one that rates favorably. But the next 100 days will be crucial as we anticipate what the Biden White House can achieve to bolster climate resilience across the U.S.
The Biden administration’s American Jobs plan proposes to stimulate the U.S. economy by creating jobs; capitalizing infrastructure, housing and services; and investing in education and training of millions of Americans in dozens of industries.
It’s an ambitious range of policies: $213 billion in support of housing; $621 billion in transportation infrastructure; $50 billion to improve infrastructure resilience through additions to FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program; $111 billion for water infrastructure improvements; and $100 billion to improve the nation’s electric grid and investment in clean energy.
Linking equity and climate resilience
A slate of executive orders from President Biden signal a vision and drive to build social equity. The executive order focused on tackling the climate crisis creates an environmental justice council and sets a goal to deliver 40 percent of climate investment benefits to disadvantaged communities, referred to as Justice40.
Another executive order on advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities prioritizes a “comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality” in federal government programs. These executive orders will need to be turned into active programs so that they have permanency and longevity moving forward.
The administration’s removal of "onerous restrictions" that have been preventing full deployment of more than $8 billion dollars in congressionally approved Hurricane Maria recovery funding to Puerto Rico unlocks funding dedicated almost four years ago to help Puerto Rico recover and build protection from future storms.
The president’s ”30 by 30” U.S. lands and oceans climate goal envisions teaming with various state, local, tribal, and territorial governments’ agricultural and forest landowners; the fishing industry; and other key stakeholders” to protect 30 percent of U.S. lands and ocean territories by 2030.
A focus on environmental justice is a must
The American Rescue Plan bill includes $100 million for environmental justice grants – a step in the right direction to address disproportionate climate risks to vulnerable populations and, hopefully, not too little, too late. The bill recognizes the nation’s strength depends on American households having access to fundamental services and on states and cities possessing funding to support critical functions and maintain a dynamic public transportation network.
Exemplifying an early impact of these executive orders is the Transportation Department’s Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program. For the first time, it will support projects aimed specifically at fighting the effects of climate change and environmental racism to ensure equity in infrastructure and clean energy investments. Further, the department has rebranded TIGER and BUILD as Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE).
For America’s communities, look to leading initiative such as Resilience 21 (R21), a coalition of 50 leading U.S. practitioners, of which we are part of, that works with cities and communities of all sizes and types to build resilience to current and future shocks and stresses with an emphasis on the disproportionate risks faced by marginalized communities. A chief recommendation of the R21 includes the development of a “Future Visioning” Task Force to address communities threatened by climate and human-caused displacement, including sea level rise, wildfire, flooding, environmental degradation and pollution and civil unrest. This task force must support the free will and mobility of communities to determine their own futures and address funding for proactive action.
Samantha Medlock, senior counsel of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis told Resilience 21, “a lot of efficacy will come through implementation. We need to consider the needs of America’s communities.” She suggested setting a goal post that embeds resilience into infrastructure, housing and disaster response and recovery bills.
What does the next 100 days and beyond hold?
The hard work must continue, with as much urgency as the first 100 days, to make up for a lack of climate resilience effort in the last decade and to rebuild the nation’s economy and spirit. The new administration will need to build and train teams to implement policy and vision and ensure staff has subject matter expertise and a proven track record in climate resilience, adaptation and equity. Policies and programs created, designed and deployed need to be informed by practitioners to yield permanent structural changes that can resolve the deep systemic challenges that impact many low- and moderate-income communities and communities of color that are now in the direct path of natural hazards and risks.
Look for a draft executive order, focused on climate-related financial risk disclosures, that will insert climate risk into decision-making across the financial sector. Major industries such as housing, agriculture, lending and insurance will be asked to assess and disclose climate risks, identify solutions to manage those risks, and as necessary, fund the implementation of these strategies.
Avril Haines, director of national intelligence, recently told world leaders that climate change is a national security issue at late April’s virtual climate summit. “It needs to be fully integrated with every aspect of our analysis in order to allow us not only to monitor the threat but also, critically, to ensure that policymakers understand the importance of climate change on seemingly unrelated policies,” she said.
This is an admirable start to what promises to be an exciting and uncertain adventure in this resilience decade. We must continue to push to make decisions at all levels of government that strengthen our path forward for all and help us to acknowledge previous and historical inequities, plan for current and future risks, invest in affordable housing, transportation, water and other infrastructure and build capacity to create justice for all.
Co-author Laurie Schoeman is the co-founder of Resilience 21 and leads Enterprise Community Partners’ efforts to preserve and protect affordable housing across the nation from the risks and impacts of natural hazards and a changing climate.
Image credit: Nikola Majksner/Unsplash
Joyce Coffee, LEED AP, is founder and President of Climate Resilience Consulting. She is an accomplished organizational strategist and visionary leader with over 25 years of domestic and international experience in the corporate, government and non-profit sectors implementing resilience and sustainability strategies, management systems, performance measurement, partnerships, benchmarking and reporting.