What is federal climate adaptation capacity building?
Climate change adaptation is not a one-and-done activity, nor can it happen only as a top-down directive. Climate adaptation capacity-building provides people across sectors and at multiple levels of government with the skills and knowledge necessary to create and implement climate-informed policy and to make climate-informed decisions. This brings together those with climate expertise and those with the intimate knowledge of the vulnerabilities and opportunities presented by a particular situation or needed for a regulatory or planning process for adaptation. It supports the ability of federal staff to consider climate when required to make decisions.
Most federal agency and congressional staff members have not had climate change adaptation as part of their formal education. The result is an unfamiliarity with adaptation concepts, tools and approaches that can help protect the assets and opportunities of the American people. At a minimum, we need many more people who can recognize when climate change might be an important consideration and know what to do when it is. Suitable professional development relating to climate change adaptation for all federal staff is a first step.
How does climate adaptation capacity building work?
The National Research Council noted in 2010 that we need a deliberate effort to expand the community of people who can tailor science information for specific decision, planning, and policy applications. In other words, training and other professional development opportunities must be designed for different audiences and applications. While a basic set of climate change science and adaptation concepts would be included in all capacity-building efforts, the focus would be on integrating climate considerations for planning and decision-making processes relevant to distinct groupings of job areas, roles and responsibilities. Targeting both the audience and the skills is essential.
Capacity-building can take many forms, including training, workshops, mentoring, and time spent learning side-by-side with adaptation professionals. For example, the USFWS National Conservation Training Center has developed training targeting adaptation basics as well as more advanced skills and topics, and has created shorter and longer versions of them. They have worked to integrate climate change into other training, such as Section 7 Consultation, and developed versions of their decision analysis training targeting climate-related decisions. They have also developed climate adaptation workshops where groups struggling with specific adaptation problems are coached through the process by experts. Other agencies have supported rotations with adaptation professionals.
Capacity building should focus not just on policy, planning, and decision-making, but also on research. There is a need to increase researcher skills and comfort with communicating their work to different audiences to maximize ease of use, and for working with specific stakeholders to understand exactly the information needed to improve decision quality. For example, the type and form of information needed to advise the design of large infrastructure projects is quite different from that needed to inform decisions about endangered species listing or recovery.
Key design considerations
While well-developed adaptation trainings are already being offered through the federal government as well as by partners, who are these missing? In what sectors? What training programs within agencies can add adaptation as an element? What are the opportunities through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management?
Where and when should agencies add adaptation experts to their staff? Should committee staff serve adaptation “details” or secondments to better understand the needs of the agencies to which they are related?
Developing trainings and training materials on specific regulatory or decision processes typically involves active partnerships between adaptation experts and practitioners experienced in the targeted application. How should these collaborations be developed? What pool of experts will be considered – federal agency staff, volunteer advisory committees, external consultancies? For example, regional Fish and Wildlife Service staff partnered with an adaptation consultant to develop guidance materials to support integrating climate considerations into Endangered Species Act Section 7 Consultation and Section 10 Habitat Conservation Planning.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Conservation Training Center has developed a diverse offering of in-person and online climate-related trainings and workshops for natural resource professionals, including Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment, Climate Smart Conservation, Scenario Planning, Climate Academy, and Decision Analysis for Climate Change. They have also facilitated the development of guidebooks in support of many of these trainings.
The Forest Service’s Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science and partners offer in-person and online adaptation workshops to support the development of on-the-ground adaptation projects in forested ecosystems.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant and Office for Coastal Management both engage in significant capacity building for those living, working, and planning in coastal zones. This includes in-person and online trainings, outreach events, research, and the development of targeted tools and guidance.
There is a diversity of capacity-building efforts for Tribal Nations and indigenous communities, including those offered by the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals, and the establishment of tribal liaison positions at each federal Climate Adaptation Science Centers.
Digital Coast. https://coast.noaa.gov/digitalcoast/
Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change. National Research Council. https://doi.org/10.17226/12784.
U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit training page. https://toolkit.climate.gov/training-courses
U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit tribal nations capacity building page. https://toolkit.climate.gov/topics/tribal-nations/capacity-building
 A Section 7 Consultation is used to ensure that Federal agenices do not fund, authorize or take actions that jeopardize the “existence of any listed species.