By: Iranga Kahangama, Assistant Secretary for Cyber, Infrastructure, Risk, and Resilience
On February 9, 2024, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) marks the first anniversary of DHS joining the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) as its 14th member. The USGCRP produces the U.S. Government’s preeminent reports on climate change through the coordination of federal research and investments to understand the forces shaping the global environment, both human and natural, and their impacts on society.
Our membership in the program achieves the goal of connecting science with the needs of agencies and their stakeholders to ensure that science and information is widely available to agencies and the public. In the year since we joined, DHS has successfully connected people and communities across the country who are facing increasing risks due to climate change with critical information and research of the scientific community.
For example, DHS contributed to the content for Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5) that was released in November of last year. The NCA5 found that without reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, the risks of accelerating sea level rise, intensifying extreme weather, and other harmful climate impacts will continue to grow.
Each additional increment of warming is expected to lead to more damage and greater economic losses compared to previous increments of warming, while the risk of catastrophic and unforeseen consequences also increases. To assist communities in understanding their exposure to heat related risks, DHS has contributed to the development of online resources such as Heat.gov, the National Integrated Heat Health Information System that serves as the U.S. Government’s premier source for heat-related information, and FEMA’s National Risk Index, which now account for the projected impacts of climate change.
DHS’s role as a USGCRP member allowed us to highlight DHS programs in the NCA5, such as the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program, which supports states, local communities, tribes, and territories as they undertake hazard mitigation projects to reduce risks to future disasters. DHS is also investing in on-site carbon pollution-free electricity generation and improvements in energy efficiency across DHS locations nationwide to meet mitigation goals identified in NCA5.
The climate crisis has already led to changes in the environment, such as rising ocean temperatures, shrinking sea ice, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification. As our climate continues to warm, the nation will experience more extreme climate change related disasters, such as heat waves, droughts, wildfires, coastal storms, and inland flooding. DHS is proactively taking steps to address these climate risks and to minimize their impacts. A list of the high impact actions the Department is taking can be found on our climate webpage.
However, even with significant investments and focus on building community resilience, the effects of climate change continue to adversely impact communities.
In 2023, climate disaster events topping the $1 billion mark regularly occurred in the U.S. with events that included:
1 winter storm/cold wave event (across the northeast U.S. in early-February).
1 wildfire event (firestorm destroying town of Lahaina on Maui Island of Hawaii).
1 drought and heat wave event (focused across the central and southern U.S.).
4 flooding events (in California, Florida, and across the eastern and northeastern U.S.).
2 tornado outbreaks (across the central and eastern U.S.).
2 tropical cyclone events (Hurricane Idalia in Florida and Typhoon Mawar in Guam).
19 severe weather/hail events (across many parts of the country).
DHS aims to ready the nation to respond and recover from disasters and combat the climate crisis, but the effects of human-caused climate change are already far-reaching and worsening across every region of the United States. As DHS continues to support and coordinate across the homeland security enterprise to build climate resilience, fostering partnerships and continuing memberships on interagency forums such as the USGCRP are key to accomplishing our mission.