Associated Press
President Barack Obama speaks at one of several White House Tribal Nations Conferences he has held while in office. Tribal input factors overtly in his climate change plan outlined on November 1, 2013.

Obama Taps Tribes to Assist in Adapting to Climate Change


President Barack Obama issued an executive order on November 1 that includes a strong tribal presence in its new call to action on coping with climate change, most notably with a new task force comprised of tribal officials along with national, state and local authorities.

Karen Diver, Chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Minnesota, and Reggie Joule, Mayor of the Northwest Arctic Borough in Alaska, are designated as the tribal officials serving on the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, according to a White House fact sheet.

The executive order also includes references to tribes liberally throughout, as opposed to prior White House directives, which usually mention just state and local governments and authorities.

In the seven-point plan, Obama acknowledges that “an increase in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, more heavy downpours, an increase in wildfires, more severe droughts, permafrost thawing, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise are already affecting communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies, and public health across the Nation” and that the impacts most often land squarely on “communities that already face economic or health-related challenges, and for species and habitats that are already facing other pressures.”

The order gives a blueprint for the “deliberate preparation, close cooperation, and coordinated planning by the Federal Government, as well as by stakeholders,” that is required in order “to facilitate Federal, State, local, tribal, private-sector, and nonprofit-sector efforts to improve climate preparedness and resilience; help safeguard our economy, infrastructure, environment, and natural resources; and provide for the continuity of executive department and agency (agency) operations, services, and programs.”

To this end, the order states, federal programs must be modernized to support investment that is “climate resilient” and to “identify and seek to remove or reform barriers that discourage investments or other actions to increase the Nation's resilience to climate change while ensuring continued protection of public health and the environment.”

It was not immediately clear whether this would affect Obama’s impending decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, which many opponents argue would exacerbate climate change by increasing the scope of the Alberta oil sands. Obama himself said earlier this year that Keystone XL would be rejected if it is found to significantly increase the oil sands’ carbon footprint.

RELATED: Obama: No Keystone XL if It Increases Carbon Emissions

The order calls for information and data sharing across all sectors of the effort, much of it via a new web portal, Data posted here will also be accessible to the public, the White House said.

In addition to the task force, the executive order establishes a Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, a body comprised of reps from a good two dozen federal agencies, from the State Department, to Homeland Security, to Veterans Affairs and the Millennium Development Corp. The council will “work across agencies and offices, and in partnership with State, local, and tribal governments,” the order states. It replaces the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, which was created in 2009 and will end its duties shortly after the council gets situated.

The council has nine months to compile an “inventory and assessment of proposed and completed changes to their land- and water-related policies, programs, and regulations necessary to make the Nation's watersheds, natural resources, and ecosystems, and the communities and economies that depend on them, more resilient in the face of a changing climate,” the order states.

This is where the task force comes in. The State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience will “inform Federal efforts to support climate preparedness and resilience,” the order states. It has one year to “remove barriers, create incentives, and otherwise modernize Federal programs to encourage investments, practices, and partnerships that facilitate increased resilience to climate impacts, including those associated with extreme weather.” In addition the body must “provide useful climate preparedness tools and actionable information for States, local communities, and tribes, including through interagency collaboration,” and otherwise support climate-change preparedness efforts at the state, local and tribal level. Six months after providing these recommendations, the task force will disband.

This recognition of tribal expertise in climate change matters comes right after one in the scientific community. The October edition of the peer-reviewed journal Climatic Change was devoted to indigenous perspectives on the issue.

RELATED: Indigenous Perspectives Fill Entire October Issue of Peer-Reviewed Climate-Change Journal

Tribes have long been preparing for climate change, and several already have plans in place.

RELATED: 8 Tribes That Are Way Ahead of the Climate-Adaptation Curve