For all those governors out there waffling on the issue of climate change, FEMA just took their waffle away.
Earlier this month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released the updated version of its guidelines for state disaster planning. The new guidelines explicitly require states to incorporate climate change adaptation into their disaster plans; those that don’t will be denied federal funding.
Now, don’t get the wrong idea: FEMA’s not heartless. The policy will not affect the relief funding that FEMA provides immediately after hurricanes, floods and other disasters. However, the agency allocates some $1 billion per year to disaster preparedness programs, and its new guidelines will affect how that money is disbursed to states.
For FEMA, this revised policy is not about politics but about making the most informed and strategic choices to protect the safety of U.S. citizens. According to the new guidelines, “The challenges posed by climate change, such as more intense storms, frequent heavy precipitation, heat waves, drought, extreme flooding, and higher sea levels, could significantly alter the types and magnitudes of hazards impacting states in the future.” For this reason, it is necessary for states to “assess vulnerability, identify a strategy to guide decisions and investments, and implement actions that will reduce risk, including impacts from a changing climate.”
Among U.S. states, this development will throw a serious wrench into Florida’s already bungled political machinery. Earlier this month, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that, under Governor Rick “I’m not a scientist” Scott, state officials have been banned from even using the terms “climate change” or “global warming” to describe those very issues.
“This could potentially become a major conflict for several Republican governors,” Barry Rabe, an expert on the politics of climate change at the University of Michigan, told InsideClimateNews. “We aren’t just talking about coastal states…. This could affect state leaders across the country.”
InsideClimateNews lists the most vocal disbelievers of anthropogenic climate change as Republican Governors Rick Scott of Florida, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Greg Abbott of Texas and Pat McCrory of North Carolina. Scott, in particular, has adamantly refused to acknowledge climate change despite frequent protests by both local governments and religious groups.
But FEMA, like the U.S. Department of Defense, is not bound by partisan politics. These entities are looking at the facts, and the facts say that the climate is changing and we’re all in big trouble if we don’t plan ahead.
In 2013, the Center for Climate Change Law ranked all 50 states based on how thoroughly they have addressed climate change concerns. California came in on top, with its plan containing “a climate change section that provides a description of climate change and important concepts such as climate change adaptation and mitigation, a listing of all of the state’s climate change initiatives, an overview and progress report on the state’s climate adaptation strategy, and a discussion of principles and recommendations for integrating climate change in current and future hazard mitigation plans.” The Center rates California so highly that it includes its plan as a model in the appendix to its report.
In all, the report ranks eleven states as having thorough climate adaptation and mitigation plans. However, 18 states received the lowest ranking, “meaning the states’ plans either do not mention climate change issues at all or mention them in an inaccurate, confusing, and/or dismissing way.”
FEMA’s new guidelines will take effect in March 2016, so states will have exactly one year to get their plans in order.