As a candidate, Barack Obama promised "to devote billions" to help fish and wildlife adapt to climate change. But so far, it's only been millions. And the prospect for more money is looking bleak.
In FY 2009, the Interior Department's budget devoted about $45 million to dealing with climate change, almost tripling the amount to $135.9 million in the next fiscal year. President Obama has requested even more, $171.3 million, for FY 2011.
The big difficulty for Obama is the fate of the cap-and-trade bill, which has stalled in Congress. Bruce Stein, the director of climate change adaptation for the National Wildlife Federation, said the billions to help fight the effects of climate change was tied not to the regular appropriations process, but to hoped-for passage of a comprehensive climate bill that would address both mitigation and adaptation responses to climate change.
Mitigation responses tend to garner the most attention, Stein said. They involve steps like reducing greenhouse gases. Adaptation responses, on which this promises focuses, deal with how to prepare for and cope with the effects of climate change. This includes providing paths for marshes to move inland as sea levels rise, creating north-south corridors for wildlife movement, and generating long-term plans for the mix of trees replanted after forest fires -- actions designed to help fish and wildlife survive changes already underway.
The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, better known as the cap-and-trade bill, would have included both types of responses, Stein said, by capping greenhouse gas emissions and putting revenue from auctioning off pollution credits toward climate change adaptation. This, then, was to have been the source of the billions Obama promised.
The bill passed the House of Representatives in June 2009 but stalled in the Senate later that year. Stein said it is highly unlikely a similar bill would pass through the 112th Congress.
"The main vehicle for both the policy and the funding was the cap-and-trade bill, and that languished,” said JP Leous, the climate change policy advisor for The Wilderness Society.
"It would've been a game-changer” that provided "magnitudes more funding,” said Mark Humpert, the director of Teaming with Wildlife Coalition, which includes state fish and wildlife agencies and other individuals and groups concerned with wildlife conservation.
Steve Thompson, executive director of the non-profit conservation group The Cinnabar Foundation, said there has been progress on this issue but that it is more a shift in attitude and priorities than funding.
Agencies "weren't even allowed to talk about climate change during the Bush administration,” he said.
But the Obama administration has made some progress through the agencies it controls.
Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, created by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's order in February 2010, are one example of the change in approach toward climate change from the previous administration, Humpert said. The cooperatives aim to put the best models of climate change to use in fighting the its effects in specific areas of the country, said Jonathan Ambrose, of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. They also propose to foster collaboration between federal and state agencies and non-governmental organizations.
The Department of the Interior also has created eight Climate Science Centers to funnel information to the conservation cooperatives by, among other efforts, downscaling global models and offering more detailed analyses for adaptation planning on a regional level.
Much of this work -- and the work that was proposed to be funded by the cap-and-trade bill -- benefits people as well as wildlife, Leous said, because climate restoration projects ensure the healthy ecosystems humans need for agriculture, industrial water systems and outdoor recreation.
But the progress in and by the agencies falls far short of Obama's promise. Though Stein and others noted there has been a "sea change in the culture of the federal bureaucracy,” it looks unlikely that any bill providing billions of dollars in funding for climate change adaptation will pass both chambers of the 112th Congress, so we"re moving this promise from In The Works to Stalled.