Trump administration's national preparedness report ignores climate change

FEMA’s 60-page report mentions disasters, wildfires, and hurricanes omits the role of climate change. And this is despite multiple reports last year warning how climate change and global warming are intensifying natural disasters, making floods and hurricanes stronger and more intense.


                            Trump administration's national preparedness report ignores climate change
Donald Trump (AP Photo)

The Trump administration's latest National Preparedness Report, which details threats, hazards and incidents that “pose the greatest risk to the nation” completely ignores climate change. 

While the 60-page report -- prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) -- mentions disasters, extreme weather events, wildfires, hurricane seasons, and typhoons it does not talk about the role of climate change, nor does it acknowledge climate change crisis.

This, even though multiple reports last year warned how climate change and global warming are intensifying natural disasters, making floods and hurricanes stronger and more intense. In sharp contrast, the Obama administration’s national preparedness report in 2016 had a big focus on climate change and mentions it over 90 times. “Climate change contributions to extreme weather and sea-level rise pose growing risks to critical infrastructure. Moreover, climate change can increase health-related risks by contributing to more intense heat waves and facilitating the spread of diseases, as well as increasing poverty and political instability by impacting food security,” it said.

The report said that members of the public and private sectors were increasingly taking steps to address these risks by reducing their vulnerabilities and preparing for the consequences. It mentioned “ongoing efforts” to help improve disaster preparedness by “taking into account the added consideration of long-term changes to the planet’s climate.”

The 2019 report presents an overview of the five preparedness mission areas -- prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery. 

“As a requirement of the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 and a key element of the National Preparedness System, this annual report offers all levels of government, the private and non-profit sectors, and the public practical insights into preparedness that support decisions about program priorities, resource allocation, and community actions,” says the report. 

It is yet another step taken by the administration to disregard climate change. In 2019, the Trump administration formally notified the UN of its decision to exit the Paris Agreement. 

People shout slogans during a march organized by the Fridays for Future international movement of school students outside of the COP25 climate talks congress in Madrid, Spain, on December 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

There is one instance in the report which mentions the word ‘climate’ in the context of preventing school violence. It says schools can work with community partners, families, and local officials to nurture safe and supportive school environments, while preventing violence, by “conducting school climate and site assessments as well as maintaining a threat assessment team.”

The report instead focuses on the importance of financial insurance, updating building codes, and aligning individual citizens and businesses ' insurance coverage to the insurance needs and local threats and hazards.

The prevention section talks about improved federal support to state, local, tribal, territorial governments and private sector partners. This, it says, strengthened prevention efforts to counter terrorist threats -- including weapons of mass destruction -- and criminal activity nationwide. Training opportunities by the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium (NDPC) which helped increase the preparedness first responders, and “fusion centers” that experts say strengthened state and local terrorism-prevention capabilities by providing increased support to nationally significant localized events, are the other focus areas in this section. The mission protection area in the current report -- which details capabilities necessary against acts of terrorism and manmade or natural disasters -- largely focuses on critical infrastructure. 

Over the past 10 years, the Federal Government spent more than $320 billion on Federal infrastructure repairs and other extreme weather-related expenses. The 2019 report’s mitigation section says likewise, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the US can expect to suffer around $54 billion in annual economic losses that result from damage inflicted by hurricane wind and storm-related flooding. 

Accordingly, implementing stricter building code standards at the state and territory level is a mitigation strategy that is proven to reduce the impacts of disasters, it recommends. “To address these challenges, the nation is directing additional attention towards mitigation-funding efforts, which includes making fundamental changes to how it approaches building and sustaining mitigation-related capabilities to help reduce the impacts of disasters,” it says. 

The report says that despite benefits, approximately half of all states and territories have adopted neither the 2018 nor the 2015 building code standards for residential and commercial buildings. It also talks about getting proper individual insurance, such as homeowners or renters insurance, to help alleviate financial losses for individuals after disasters occur.

The researchers say that in 2018, California faced devastating property damage from wildfires, highlighting the need to obtain insurance before disasters. “The wildfires of recent years were some of the costliest wildfires in history (the Mendocino Complex of 2018 is the largest California wildfire to date), highlighting the importance of proper insurance coverage in very high or extreme risk areas,” says the report. 

This approach is very different from the 2016 report, which emphasized that as climate change causes temperatures to rise and droughts to become more severe, particularly in the western US, scientists predict that the trend of more frequently occurring, larger wildland fires will continue.

Climate change made millions come out in massive protests in 2019 to demand urgent action.
(Getty Images)

As far as the recovery mission area is concerned, the latest report mentions Hurricanes Florence, Michael, Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and talks about the challenges in this area. These include significant gaps between current and target capabilities among state, local, tribal, and territorial government partners; low interest in addressing those gaps; and identification of housing, economic recovery, and infrastructure systems' core capabilities as specific areas for improvement. “The latter three core capabilities remain areas of focus in recent recovery efforts,” it says.

Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show a steady rise over the past three decades in the number of incidents causing $1 billion or more in damages, from three incidents in 1980 to 14 in 2018. The report says in 2017, damages related to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, as well as other disasters, set the record for the highest annual insured losses, totaling $101.9 billion for the year. Here too, the report urges Americans to be “financially resilient”. “Although 2018 damage assessments are still ongoing, the trend of increasing damage and insurance claims prevails, driven by factors such as land development and extreme weather events,” it says.

The experts say as disaster-related damages and insurance claims increase, the insurance industry is developing innovative ways to better support community recovery. While the recovery section does not admit that climate change is the greatest global threat to coral reef ecosystems, it does acknowledge natural disaster protection through coral reef rehabilitation. 

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