Categorized | Climate Change

A National Plan for Conserving Wildlife in a Changing World

Today the Obama administration released the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy. This ground-breaking strategy is the first national-level plan for addressing climate impacts on wildlife and ecosystems, and the first national-level climate plan developed by multiple levels of government including input from federal, state, and tribal agencies and organizations. The Strategy has been a core part of Defenders’ climate adaptation policy platform and we have been heavily engaged throughout the process.

The Strategy is unique in its strong language describing the urgent need for working together to build resilience into our natural systems to better withstand the impacts of climate change – language so compelling I’m posting the preface here:

Our climate is changing, and these changes are already impacting the nation’s valuable natural resources and the people, communities, and economies that depend on them. These impacts are expected to increase with continued changes in the planet’s climate system, putting many of the nation’s valuable natural resources at risk. Action is needed now to reduce these impacts (including reducing the drivers of climate change) and help sustain the natural resources and services the nation depends on.

The observed changes in climate have been attributed to the increasing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere, which have set in motion a series of changes in the planet’s climate system. Far greater changes are inevitable not only because emissions will continue, but also because CO2 stays in the atmosphere for a long time. Even if further GHG emissions were halted today, alterations already underway in the Earth’s climate will last for hundreds or thousands of years. If GHG emissions continue, as is currently more likely, the planet’s average temperature is projected to rise by 2.0 to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, with accompanying major changes in extreme weather events, variable and/or inconsistent weather patterns, sea level rise, and changing ocean conditions including increased acidification.

Safeguarding our valuable living resources in a changing climate for current and future generations is a serious and urgent problem. Addressing the problem requires action now to understand current impacts, assess future risks, and prepare for and adapt to a changing climate. This National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy (hereafter Strategy) is a call to action–a framework for effective steps that can be taken, or at least initiated, over the next five to ten years in the context of the changes to our climate that are already occurring, and those that are projected by the end of the century. It is designed to be a key part of the nation’s larger response to a changing climate, and to guide responsible actions by natural resource managers, conservation partners, and other decision makers at all levels. The Strategy was produced by federal, state, and tribal representatives and has been coordinated with a variety of other climate change adaptation efforts at national, state, and tribal levels.

The overarching goal of the Strategy is a simple one: to inspire, enable, and increase meaningful action that helps safeguard the nation’s natural resources in a changing climate. Admittedly, the task ahead is a daunting one, especially if the world fails to make serious efforts to reduce emissions of GHGs. But we can make a difference. To do that, we must begin now to prepare for a future unlike the recent past.

I couldn’t agree more. And beginning now means establishing a clear plan and governance structure to ensure the Strategy is actually implemented. The biggest strength of the Strategy is that it brought together 23 federal, state, and tribal partners onto the steering committee and involved many others. That is also its greatest weakness. The final Strategy does not prescribe any particular action to any particular actor – it couldn’t; no partner had the authority to tell another what to do. But that leaves accountability for the achievement of the Strategy’s goals very tenuous. Two core solutions to ensure the Strategy doesn’t sit on a shelf (or in a hard drive) are to create a similar governing body as the one established to develop the plan, and require annual reporting of progress made implementing the plan.

This post was written by:

- who has written 16 posts on dotWild.

Noah Matson is Defenders’ Vice President Landscape Conservation and Climate Adaptation. Noah directs Defenders’ efforts to create and implement policies and strategies to safeguard wildlife and habitat from the impacts of climate change. Noah also oversees Defenders’ programs to improve the management of wildlife and habitat on federal public lands including national forests, national wildlife refuges, and the National System of Public Lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.