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Climate Literacy at DHS

DHS is on the frontlines of the climate change crisis as it poses threats to the American people, the global community, and operations at home and abroad. With a duty to safeguard the homeland from today’s increasingly severe, frequent, and destructive climate change-related emergencies, forecasting and preparing for future risks and opportunities is imperative. Addressing the climate emergency is a priority for DHS as sea-level rise, extreme weather events, workforce health, and other direct and indirect impacts of climate change will affect the Nation’s preparedness and national security over the long term. To combat this ongoing threat, DHS is implementing new approaches for climate change adaptation, mitigation, and resilient capacity.

Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization. In the 2021 Sixth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land. It also found that widespread changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere (portions of the Earth that are covered in ice), and biosphere (all ecosystems) have occurred. To protect and build sustainable communities that are resilient to climate change, climate-literate citizens are essential. Understanding the essential principles and concepts about Earth’s climate system improves our ability to make decisions regarding our vulnerability to and the impacts of climate change.

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), which DHS joined in 2023, is a federal program mandated by Congress to coordinate federal research and investments in understanding the forces shaping the global environment, both human and natural, and their impacts on society. The USGCRP delivers a report to Congress and the President no less than every four years that integrates, evaluates, and interprets the findings of the Program. The most recent report, the Fourth National Climate Assessment, delivered in two volumes, (Volume I: the Climate Science Special Report and Volume II: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States) provides a thorough background on climate science and the examination of the effects of climate change on the United States, respectively.

Numerous federal agencies are involved in understanding and developing the science around climate change. This includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

DHS Strategic Framework for Addressing Climate Change

DHS Strategic Framework for Addressing Climate Change builds on the DHS Climate Action Plan and outlines several steps the Department is taking to combat the climate crisis, including bolstering DHS’s ability to adapt to climate change, further increasing national resilience, undertaking mitigation measures, and addressing key vulnerabilities. Together, these documents reflect the urgency with which the Department is tackling climate change, which poses an existential threat to our country and the world.

The Strategic Framework will guide DHS’s implementation of President Biden’s Executive Order on addressing the impacts of climate change at home and abroad, and includes the following five lines of effort:

  1. Empowering individuals and communities to develop climate resilience. Resilience is not the result of a single government program, but of millions of choices made by individuals, homeowners, businesses, and local governments. DHS will proactively shape those choices through provision of information, education, outreach, leadership, and guidance across its unique network of relationships with SLTT government, industry, non-profits, and academia.
  2. Building readiness to respond to increases in climate-driven emergencies. As national disaster incident response demand continues to rise, DHS, as the federal government’s largest domestic response organization, has a duty to proactively build capability to respond to increasingly frequent, severe, and unpredictable emergencies.
  3. Incorporating climate science into strategy, policy, programs, and budgets. Working closely with partners across every level of government, in academia, and abroad, the Department will develop a science-based understanding of the climate and our future operating environment. This understanding will be incorporated into the development of strategies and requirements across DHS.
  4. Investing in a sustainable and resilient DHS. To continue serving the public in its hours of greatest need, the Department will ensure that its own facilities, assets, people, and missions are resilient to the impacts of climate change. Additionally, the Department will support the important work of mitigating climate change by working aggressively to reduce our own carbon footprint.
  5. Ensuring the DHS workforce is informed on climate change. Countering the many challenges and seizing the opportunities presented by climate change requires the Department to deepen its talent pool of scientific and technical experts. These professionals will develop a common picture of understanding that should be utilized across the Department by all Components.

Read DHS’s Strategic Framework for Addressing Climate Change.

DHS recognizes sea-level rise, extreme weather events, drought, workforce health, and other challenges due to climate change as key strategic drivers that affect the homeland security enterprise and the Nation's preparedness over the long-term. Additionally, DHS recognizes a direct link between actions related to climate resilience and national security. Therefore, it is the Department's policy to integrate climate resilience through adaptation and mitigation into strategic planning, risk management frameworks, and continuity programs, to better manage the effects of climate change on operations, missions, and infrastructure.

DHS leads the federal government in smart business solutions, approaches, and technology. The Department is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), energy and water use, and generated waste as well as operating high-performance, sustainable buildings and fleets. DHS is committed to increasing resilience through adaptation and mitigation through an assortment of measures designed to reduce the risks associated with climate change.

Climate Adaptation

Climate adaptation is the adjustment of natural or human systems to a new or changing environment (Reference: DHS Climate Resilience Directive, 2016). These actions are generally taken to reduce risk to people or communities. Climate adaptation strategies can include:

  • Forest protection,
  • Sustainable infrastructure and building design,
  • Flood protection,
  • Agricultural diversification,
  • Land use changes and relocation, and
  • Community engagement.

Climate Mitigation

Climate mitigation is the process of reducing emissions of and stabilizing the levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (Reference: National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Responding to Climate Change). Climate mitigation strategies can include:

  • Energy efficient technology,
  • Sustainable transportation (including electric fleets),
  • Industrial process improvements,
  • Renewable energy (such as solar panels and batteries),
  • Reforestation,
  • Water & energy conservation, and
  • Extracting and sequestering CO2.

Climate Resilience

Climate resilience is the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and adapt to changing conditions and withstand, respond to, and recover rapidly from climate related disruptions, challenges, and risks through adaptability, innovation, and preparedness (Reference: DHS Climate Resilience Directive, 2016). DHS integrates climate resilience into strategies, plans, business processes, and programs. Furthermore, DHS incorporates climate-resilient design and management elements into the development, operation, and renovation of existing and new Federal facilities and siting. DHS’s Resilience Framework focuses on four key critical infrastructure areas where the Framework process is applied.

For each focus area, being resilient entails the ability to adapt to changing conditions and withstand and rapidly recover from disruption. This means that infrastructure and systems need to be able to provide adequate energy and water supplies, facility operations, information and communication technology capability, and transportation availability when it is needed, where it is needed, and for how long it is needed to maintain, at the very least, mission essential functions during normal operating conditions as well as during and after threats and hazardous events.

Read the DHS Resilience Framework.

Climate security represents the physical, economic, or societal impacts associated with climate change that substantially alter political stability, human security, or national security infrastructure. Climate change, in both scale and potential impact, is a national security risk and threat multiplier that will affect many aspects of society such as resource availability, critical infrastructure, human health, and international relations.

Climate change is a threat multiplier that will increase state fragility, fuel social unrest and potentially result in violent conflict. Widespread unemployment, rapid urbanization and environmental degradation challenge efforts to reduce poverty and increase economic development in many poor countries. In fragile regions, persistent inequality, political marginalization and unresponsive governments exacerbate these stresses, increasing the potential for instability and conflict. The added impacts of a changing climate on water, food and land will act as a threat multiplier and strain countries’ ability to meet their citizens’ needs. Existing state fragility is simultaneously hampering adaptation efforts, particularly among vulnerable populations. This threatens to lock many societies into ‘fragility traps’ (Rüttinger, 2017).

While climate change poses a threat to all Americans, climate change is an environmental justice issue as some communities face higher risks. Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. DHS is committed to identifying and addressing disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority populations and low-income populations that may result from DHS programs, policies, and activities.

Environmental justice recognizes the disproportionate impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities such as low-income communities, communities of color, older adults, and children around the world. Some communities are at greater risk of disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects from elevated temperatures and weather impacts; are more vulnerable to natural disasters and illnesses; are at greater risk of being adversely affected in terms of energy insecurity and food insecurity; and are at greater risk of displacement due to climate change and rising sea levels. The DHS Environmental Justice Strategy for Fiscal Years 2021-2025 established five goals:

  1. Expand Department-wide awareness of environmental justice considerations that might result from its programs, policies, and activities,
  2. Further the integration of environmental justice principles into DHS lines of business, prominently including mitigation, adaptation, and resilience,
  3. Strengthen outreach to communities and stakeholders through public engagement,
  4. Expand collaboration and knowledge-sharing with interagency partners, as to efficiently focus Department resources and technical assistance, and
  5. Integrate environmental justice principles into Departmental climate change initiatives.

Read DHS's Environmental Justice Strategy.

DHS Resources

Component Resources

External Resources

Climate Tools 

Last Updated: 04/20/2023
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