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Climate committee disbanded by Trump re-emerges with new report aimed at local governments

Helping local governments adapt to climate impacts is the key goal of the reformed group.

Broward County, Florida at risk of sea-level rise more than Miami. CREDIT: Michele Eve Sandberg/Corbis via Getty Images
Broward County, Florida at risk of sea-level rise more than Miami. CREDIT: Michele Eve Sandberg/Corbis via Getty Images

A climate change committee disbanded by the Trump administration has been quietly working under a new guise and has now released its first report in an effort to carry through on its mandate.

The report, released Thursday, offers guidance for local governments to address both climate adaptation and mitigation, in an effort to promote best practices as cities and states increasingly lead the way on national climate action.

The 15-person Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment was formed under the Obama administration in 2016. Its goal was to take the findings of the U.S. government’s National Climate Assessment (NCA), which is released every four years, and use it to produce climate adaptation recommendations and guidance for cities, states, tribes, and other local governments.

But in 2017, President Donald Trump’s administration dissolved the committee. Members regrouped months later with support from from Columbia University’s Earth Institute and other partners.

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The committee has now rebranded itself with 20 expert members, including some of the original members, as the Science for Climate Action Network (SCAN). According to the report, the muddled response to established climate science that is currently playing out across the country poses a threat to U.S. residents, something that can be countered through effective planning and coordination between local stakeholders.

Going forward, SCAN intends to serve as a resource for cities and states across the country as local governments look to plan for a future in a warming world.

“Making these choices in ways that identify pathways for climate action that support their development objectives will require constructive public dialogue, community participation, and flexible and ongoing access to science- and experience-based knowledge,” the report notes.

Released last fall, the fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA) found that climate impacts are already being felt in every part of the United States, with those impacts expected to worsen as temperatures continue to rise. Flooding, wildfires, hurricanes, and drought in different regions are all national climate impacts identified in the report.

The Obama administration mandated the NCA, but the Trump administration has downplayed the report’s findings, all while rolling back environmental regulations that help mitigate climate impacts.

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To counter the current administration’s slant, some Democratic lawmakers have pushed for action, through proposed legislation like the Climate Action Now Act, which calls for the United States to adhere to the Paris agreement’s climate targets.

Meanwhile, other congressional Democrats have rallied around the ambitious Green New Deal resolution introduced in February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). The resolution, which offers a blueprint for addressing climate change by shifting to entirely carbon-neutral energy sources in 10 years, has become a major political topic in the past few months. Nonetheless, any major climate action would likely be opposed by the Republican-controlled Senate and White House.

That has left action largely to cities and states, where climate momentum is gaining speed. From New Mexico to New York, local governments are working towards 100% renewable electricity goals, in addition to adopting Green New Deal-style language around job creation and social justice. But not all areas have the same resources or knowledge — something SCAN hopes to address.

SCAN is intended to focus predominately on tackling the problems climate change poses for local stakeholders, like infrastructure and education about the phenomenon. It also aims to organize “sustained partnerships” so that officials and other practitioners across the country can engage with one another and identify effective approaches to climate adaptation and mitigation. Assessing and improving those methods will also be a key component of the network’s efforts.

“Local governments and communities need help to use climate science to evaluate how mitigation and adaptation opportunities interact with their broader goals,” said Richard Moss, the report’s leader author and original committee member, in a statement. “This new approach will make it easier to develop science-based pathways to address climate threats to local economic growth, infrastructure, and public health.”

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SCAN comes just as cities are losing a separate, valuable climate action effort. The Rockefeller Foundation abruptly announced on April 1 that the philanthropy would end its 100 Resilient Cities program without giving a reason. The program launched in 2013 in order to help cities proactively tackle climate change. All member cities received two years of funding to create local government positions aimed around resiliency, with the long-term intent of forming and executing individual climate action plans. The program has been wildly popular — but now it is set to formally end in July, leaving local governments concerned about support for their resiliency efforts.

The new resource announced Thursday will not necessarily mitigate the loss of the Rockefeller program. But experts, environmental groups, and other stakeholders have all expressed support for SCAN and indicated optimism about its potential as a resource for local governments.

“Numerous scientific assessments have affirmed that human-caused climate change is real and poses serious risks for humanity,” said Paul Higgins, director of the American Meteorological Society’s policy program, in a statement. Higgins said his organization is “ready to collaborate” with SCAN to “evaluate and then share rigorous and usable science, to the benefit of all.”