Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Sixth Assessment Report. At the heart of the report is a stark warning that, to date, our efforts to adapt to climate change are not enough to protect people and ecosystems around the world.
But here in the United States, there is good news. The bipartisan Infrastructure Act (BIL), passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden in November, provides state, regional, local and tribal governments with vital resources to plan and implement equitable adaptation strategies . The White House and lawmakers say some $47 billion of the $1.2 trillion total is for “resilience.”
Federal officials rightly point to BIL’s dedicated funding to address drought conditions in the west, the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to helping communities reduce disaster risk, bloat assistance program and more.
But lawmakers seeing resilience in only a modest part of BIL are masking the real opportunity. At the Georgetown Climate Center, we see the resilience woven throughout the entirety of BIL. All dollar in BIL must be invested with the aim of building resilience and reducing the impacts of global warming on our communities.
The fact is that climate change is already affecting every aspect of our lives – how and where food can be grown; the safety of our communities from extreme heat and weather events; where we live, play and work; our health; and more. This is why it is crucial that all infrastructure investments in our country are implemented to withstand the conditions of climate change for decades to come.
With this in mind, it is encouraging that BIL’s resources flow not only through the Ministry of Transport (which is not surprising given the bill’s emphasis on transport infrastructure), but also by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of the Interior, Department of Homeland Security, US Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), Department of Energy, and Department of Health and Human Services.
Every BIL dollar supports resilience
Just two weeks ago, the EPA released an implementation memorandum for its tens of billions of dollars in state revolving funds (SRFs). While much of this funding is appropriately directed to vital efforts such as replacing toxic lead pipes, states have great flexibility in using their SRFs for drinking water and drinking water. to promote conservation and improve stormwater systems to better manage floods and other climate-induced disasters. – all essential to building resilient communities, even if these funds are not included in the 47 billion dollars called for “resilience”.
At the heart of resilience planning is sound science and data. The BIL includes $65 billion for the Department of Commerce to improve high-speed internet access which, for example, will support farmers in rural America. Beth Ford, CEO of Land O’Lakes, observes that broadband will help farmers maximize their productivity. This is critical in a changing climate: Broadband will connect farmers to networks that will support their understanding of climate vulnerabilities and how they can address them with precision agriculture and other technologies. And the data collected by farmers is extremely valuable to scientists and agencies. These opportunities are also not factored into the $47 billion figure.
States must be ready to receive billions of dollars and work with communities
Because climate affects every aspect of our lives, it is imperative that states and communities think holistically about their needs and how to organize themselves to bring in and deploy resources. Given the historical amount of BIL funding and the share of the money that states will be responsible for distributing, states realize that they may need new governance structures to ensure that the money is strategically invested in communities. Just as President Biden appointed former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu as the White House infrastructure coordinator, many governors appoint their own infrastructure directors or coordinators.
In Arkansas, Governor Asa Hutchinson takes a particularly robust “whole of government” approach. Through Executive Order 20-19, the governor brings together all cabinet agencies reporting to him to ensure that, as money flows, “the State of Arkansas, its citizens, and its businesses receive the maximum relief and benefits available” under the law. This opens the door to engagement with groups like the Arkansas Municipal League, Association of Black Mayors of Arkansas, Association of Arkansas Counties and more. To ensure that all levels of government can make the most of resources in communities, states must also engage with disadvantaged communities, philanthropic organizations, nonprofits and others.
Coordination between the federal government, states, local governments and tribes is also crucial. Here, too, there is good news. Federal agencies have considerable experience coordinating investments while supporting local capacity in communities. For example, then-President Barack Obama launched the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) initiative to bring a whole-of-government approach to supporting cities in chronic distress.
We know that the needs vary in each city and that the approaches to meeting them also vary. SC2 was designed to be a comprehensive collaborative effort between federal and local governments with foundations, nonprofits, private sector partners and more. Similarly, the Hurricane Sandy Reconstruction Task Force has been a model for bringing state, local, and federal agencies together to rebuild storm-ravaged communities in New York and New Jersey.
If there was a shortcoming of SC2, it was that resources were limited. Agencies had to cobble together whatever resources they had to bring. This is not the case for BIL, far from it.
Of course, what really matters is that these dollars reach the communities that need them the most, especially disadvantaged communities that have too often faced barriers to accessing much-needed resources and experienced decades of underinvestment.
The IPCC report reminds us that we are far from having met the challenge of climate adaptation. But BIL offers us a transformational opportunity to invest more than $1 trillion in line with the administration’s goal of preparing our nation for a changing climate, now and in the future.
This is an opportunity that we must seize.
Mark Rupp is the Director of the Adaptation Program at the Georgetown Climate Center. He leads the adaptation team and provides strategic direction for its work toward resilience, equity, and community solutions at the local, state, and federal levels.