November 30, 1999

It’s Budget Week Part 3: Climate Change

One question has persisted for me with most every reporter I’ve spoken with in the past few weeks: what will the administration do with regard to climate change in the budget? My answer was consistently that I expected it to appear in subtle manners, specifying related areas of research, energy and defense work. Labeling anything “climate change”-related seems likely to create an easy bull’s-eye for those looking to build anti-science cred or further politicize environmental change issues on both sides of the aisle. (This is already happening, though in part due to unrelated motives: a few Republicans have recommended reducing NASA’s earth sciences budget to maintain funding for human space flight; it’s not surprising that Florida and Texas are home states for at least two of these space flight proponents. Climate change just served as a convenient excuse.)

Given the current tone here in Washington, I was therefore surprised to see that the administration is not taking the easy way out and shrinking under pressure to avoid all things climate (as if it’s escapable). The Office of Science and Technology Policy even put out a summary on the U.S. Global Change Research Program (pdf) in the 2012 Budget. As this is an interagency coordinating program, it spells out how much each department is devoting to climate change, compares it to spending since 2000, and describes how this program functions. One notable program it highlights is funding to solidly establish a climate service in NOAA, a concept that’s been debated and in the works for years.

This brief, however, is brief. To better satisfy your appetites for knowledge, here are a few of the other climate/environmental change-related tidbits we’ve found in the budget. For example, on page 3 of the Department of Commerce budget summary (pdf), it describes that:

“NOAA satellite coverage continuity is needed for monitoring weather and climate. To support this, the Budget provides $1.9 billion to fund the development and acquisition of NOAA’s polar-orbiting and geostationary weather satellite systems, satellite-borne measurements of sea level and other climate variables, and other space-based observations.”

I couldn’t agree more that this funding is needed, and can’t underestimate the importance of these space assets. Then again, I’m biased on that front.

Even better news: the administration is making a strong nod toward the Arctic. The Department of Homeland Security’s summary (pdf) highlights in the Coast Guard’s critical activities of the past year that it “Conducted icebreaking in the Arctic and provided a research platform in support of international efforts to survey the Arctic’s outer continental shelf, the Bering Sea Ecosystem Study, the Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Research Program, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Impacts of Climate change on the Eco-Systems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Project.” It further states that USCG “Performed over 1,780 icebreaking hours in New England and New York, assisting 193 vessels, facilitating the movement of over 12 million barrels of petroleum products valued at over $1.5 billion.”

The DHS budget outlines plans for improving U.S. icebreaking capabilities – a measure we pushed hard for last year after surveying the concerns of folks at each Combatant Command (and seeing the Arctic emerge as one of the most critical climate-related security issues the country faces). From the budget summary:

Sustain Front-line Operations: To ensure the Coast Guard is able to meet the needs of the Nation, the FY 2012 budget balances resources between investing in capital assets, initiatives to sustain front-line operations, and measures to enhance mission execution. The FY 2012 budget requests $67.7 million to operate new assets delivered through asset recapitalization programs and provides funding to support personnel and in-service assets. Moreover, funding is included to operate CGC HEALY and support the operational reactivation of CGC POLAR STAR. The Coast Guard plans to decommission CGC POLAR SEA in FY 2011 and transition her crew to CGC POLAR STAR, enabling orderly transition to CGC POLAR STAR and facilitating her return to operations in FY 2013.”

Polar Icebreaking Program: $39.0M (180 FTE) The budget requests $39.0 million in polar icebreaking budget authority. Funding will support the operation and maintenance of CGC HEALY and initiate the operational reactivation of CGC POLAR STAR. The Coast Guard will begin the transition from three to two polar icebreakers in FY 2011. With budget authority to operate the polar icebreakers, the Coast Guard and DHS will be able to fully leverage these national assets for the high latitude mission, in addition to advancing science initiatives in response to changing conditions in the Arctic.”

Over at the State Department, food security gets a large focus in this year’s budget. The short summary (pdf) declares on page 2 that:

Greater food insecurity can lead to violence, political instability, and tension between nations. The Administration includes funding for agriculture development and nutrition programs as part of a multi-year plan—as well as a G-8 commitment—by making strategic investments that address the root causes of hunger and poverty and lift a significant number of people out of poverty, and reduce malnutrition for millions of children under five years old by 2015. The Administration provides funding through bilateral assistance and a multi-donor facility administered by the World Bank for poor countries that make policy and financial commitments to address their internal food security needs. Assistance helps countries increase agricultural productivity, improve agricultural research and development, and expand markets and trade, as well as monitors and evaluates program performance. The Administration also maintains strong support for food aid and other humanitarian assistance, including $4.2 billion to help internally displaced persons, refugees, and victims of armed conflict and natural disasters.

The State Department’s longer overview (pdf, once again) identifies food security as one of the administration’s “principal priorities” in its 2012 Budget. As described: 

Feed the Future (FTF) ($911.9 million): In many places, people whose sustenance is from agriculture cannot grow enough to feed their families, earn an income from selling their crops, or have no way of transporting it to local or regional markets. The broken systems contribute to hunger and poverty and can, in turn, lead to political instability. Since 2007, when global food prices skyrocketed, there have been riots over food in more than 60 countries. U.S. assistance will support investments that address the root causes of hunger, improve food security, and permanently reduce the number of chronically hungry and malnourished by sustainably increasing agricultural productivity; linking farmers to markets in order to improve availability of food within countries and across regions; increasing incomes so the poor can purchase enough food and reducing under-nutrition through targeted interventions that assist the most vulnerable.”

We'll pause here, though there are hundreds of examples in the budget of how the administration is elevating the importance of natural security. Here's hoping many on the Hill agree.