The documents include climate change threat assessments for 38 federal agencies as well as a separate set of plans for improving sustainability and reducing greenhouse gas emissions government-wide.
According to Mike Boots, Director of the White House Council on Environment Quality, releasing these documents is a gesture by the Obama administration that it is committed to the sustainability and environmental measures that began when Obama took office in 2009. In October of that year, Obama issued an executive order to reduce government emissions and become more energy efficient.
The White House, Boots told the Washington Post, intends to “leave behind a planet that is not polluted and damaged and protect [its] ability to provide the services American communities depend on.”
Since 2009, the Obama administration claims to have reduced federal emissions by 17 percent and cut water use by 19 percent. Currently, over nine percent of the energy it uses is generated by renewables, but that number is set to more than double by 2020. In the documents released on Friday, other federal agencies reveal their own energy efficiency and emission-reduction figures, as well as their ongoing sustainability plans.
As to threats posed by climate change, the Department of Agriculture warns that bigger, costlier wildfires are an undeniable certainty in the future. In its adaptation report, the Department sees “the potential for up to 100 percent increase in the number of acres burned annually by 2050.”
The Department of Health and Human Services says more frequent and extreme heat events will increase the likelihood of vector-borne diseases like West Nile virus and Chagas disease and the spread of plant-based allergens that cause asthma and allergic reactions. Climate change, the Department writes in its report, is “one of the top public health challenges of our time” and is “anticipated to have its greatest impact on people whose health status is already at risk and who have the fewest resources to address or adapt to climate change risks.”
Climate change also poses a potential threat to future space missions, as reported by NASA. “Many Agency assets – 66 percent of its assets when measured by replacement value – are within 16 feet of mean sea level and located along America’s coasts, where sea level rise and increased frequency and intensity of high water levels associated with storms are expected.”
The Department of Defense has also released an updated version of its climate adaptation plan. The Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, has long been a proponent of climate action, warning in a speech last week that preparing for climate change is “critically important” to U.S. security.