Program Theme Spotlight: Climate Change Adaptation

A representative from the National Capital Planning Commission explains the function of the levee on the Capital Mall to an IVLP Climate Change group.


Program Theme Spotlight is intended to promote ideas, brainstorming and best practices on frequent IVLP project topics.

Climate change is one of President Obama’s top foreign policy and national security priorities. While world leaders continue to seek consensus on emissions reduction, the impacts of a changing climate are already being seen in regions and communities around the globe. Increasingly, International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) projects will reflect this reality. While projects on key related topics such as green energy and sustainable energy management will continue in importance, one topic will make its way to the forefront: adapting to the impacts of climate change.

Depending on the region of the country, impacts on individual communities will vary (and sometimes overlap). Perhaps the best sources of information about what a community is doing to prepare for climate impact is a city or regional planning organization, state or local environmental agencies, and universities that are doing research on the impact of climate change on a given region. The successful study of climate impacts should highlight the power of public and private sector partnerships and academic/non-profit collaboration in any community.

In approaching the subject at a local level, ask if differing opinions on the importance of climate impacts are preventing progress and open discussion. The level of concentration on climate adaptation varies based on perceptions of how serious an issue this really is.  For instance, after Hurricane Sandy, the mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey immediately began to work on a long-term strategy to prevent future flooding and destruction. In other parts of the country, where the impacts of climate change are less clear, views on the dangers associated with this phenomenon might seem less urgent. They may not yet be convinced, for example, that more and increasingly powerful tornadoes are caused by climate change.  In some sectors, such as agriculture, individuals are hard at work studying a range of impacts, including the effect of climiate change on crop health. Unbeknownst to many of us, levees are already being built around the Capital Mall here in Washington, DC to prepare for rising sea levels (see accompanying photo).

What is happening in your community?  Is there an awareness of a future problem? Is your state government (executive and legislative) engaged in studying the issue?  What about your mayors and town councils?  Is your school system teaching kids about issues related to climate change? There are many school districts around the country working to incorporate the environment and climate change into their curricula. And don’t forget your corporate citizens! Increasingly, they are understanding the reality of climate change and are making operational changes themselves to meet the challenge.

Climate change is an urgent issue for many and a controversial issue for others. Some say it is happening now and others say, “even if it is, nothing can be done.”  When designing a local itinerary, make sure you represent a variety of perspectives and views on the subject, check with your local officials to discover where your community is on the spectrum, and find out all that is being done to prepare for a future with climate change in the forecast.