Infrastructure and climate change: executive order and report, man-made and natural.

Working in the business of climate change adaptation, interesting news comes across our desks all the time. A few of the latest are a recent executive order and a report authored by our colleague, Patty Glick of the National Wildlife Federation.

On January 30, 2015 President Obama issued an executive order requiring federal agencies to account for rising seas in their investments. The order requires that Federally funded buildings, roads and other infrastructure are constructed to better withstand the impacts of flooding.  A fact sheet pertaining to the order can be found here:

Some notable excepts from the fact sheet:

“More than 50 percent of Americans live in coastal counties, where key infrastructure and evacuation routes are increasingly vulnerable to impacts like higher sea levels, storm surges, and flooding. And according to the National Climate Assessment, more than $1 trillion of property and structures in the U.S. are at risk of inundation from sea level rise of two feet above current sea level – an elevation that could be reached as early as 2050. That further jeopardizes the critical infrastructure Americans depend on every day for housing, transportation, energy, water supply, and more.

The new standard announced today gives agencies the flexibility to select one of three approaches for establishing the flood elevation and hazard area they use in siting, design, and construction.  They can:

  • Use data and methods informed by best-available, actionable climate science;
  • Build two feet above the 100-year (1%-annual-chance) flood elevation for standard projects, and three feet above for critical buildings like hospitals and evacuation centers; or
  • Build to the 500-year (0.2%-annual-chance) flood elevation.”

It’s almost as if the  Obama Administration is responding  to a report by the National Wildlife Federation, in partnership with Allied World and Earth Economics, titled “Natural Defenses from Hurricanes and Floods: Protecting America’s Communities and Ecosystems in an Era of Extreme Weather” ( – Glick et al, 2014). “This report asks whether federal, state, and local officials are paying enough attention to the growing threats of floods and hurricanes across the country and whether they are using the policy tools at their disposal to protect people and property endangered by these potentially catastrophic natural hazards.”

While the Obama administration addresses the need for adaptation through more resilient infrastructure development, changes in man-made infrastructure will need to be adopted along with approaches that “protect and restore natural infrastructure such as wetlands, dunes, riparian zones, living shorelines, and natural open space” (Glick et al., 2014) in order to create a sustainable coastline.



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