Whether purposely timed or serendipitous, the White House has issued a climate-related Executive Order at the same time details of a U.N. climate change report – due next spring – were leaked.

Last Friday (November 1), President Obama took two actions. First, the establishment of the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. Second, the Executive Order that mandates federal agencies, according a White House statement, “Strengthen their resilience to extreme weather and prepare for other impacts of climate change.”

These actions follow the introduction of the White House’s “Climate Action Plan” last June. At that time, Obama said the threats posed by climate change – including increased and worsening droughts, floods and wildfires – prompted the “need to get prepared. And that’s why this plan will also protect critical sectors of our economy and prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change that we cannot avoid. States and cities across the country are already taking it upon themselves to get ready.”

The new task force, according the White House, “will provide recommendations to the President on removing barriers to resilient investments, modernizing Federal grant and loan programs to better support local efforts, and developing the information and tools they need to prepare.”

As for the Executive Order, federal agencies are being asked to:

  • Modernize Federal programs to support climate-resilient investments. Agencies will examine their policies and programs and find ways to make it easier for cities and towns to build smarter and stronger. Agencies will identify and remove any barriers to resilience-focused actions and investments – for example, policies that encourage communities to rebuild to past standards after disasters instead of to stronger standards – including through agency grants, technical assistance, and other programs in sectors from transportation and water management to conservation and disaster relief.
  • Manage lands and waters for climate preparedness and resilience. The order directs agencies to identify changes that must be made to land- and water-related policies, programs, and regulations to strengthen the climate resilience of our watersheds, natural resources, and ecosystems, and the communities and economies that depend on them. Federal agencies will also evaluate how to better promote natural storm barriers such as dunes and wetlands, as well as how to protect the carbon sequestration benefits of forests and lands to help reduce the carbon pollution that causes climate change.
  • Provide information, data and tools for climate change preparedness and resilience. The order instructs agencies to work together and with information users to develop new climate preparedness tools and information that state, local, and private-sector leaders need to make smart decisions.
  • Plan for climate change related risk. The order directs federal agencies to develop and implement strategies to evaluate and address their most significant climate change related risks.

Read the Executive Order here.

Meanwhile, the leaked details of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changedraft report (read here) point to dire consequences set to hit to world agriculture. One of the sources of pessimism: the problems will hit as the world population surges towards 9 billion and demand for food increases. This, the scientists who authored the leaked draft say, could mean a high rise in food prices will be triggered.

In addition, the draft says farmers will see irrigation water substantially diminish, the seas will warm and those living in coastal regions will be affected by flooding, poorer nations will be especially hard-hit by temperature increases and changes in precipitation patterns, disease incidents will rise while, in many ecosystems, flora and fauna will die off.

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The consequences of all this, says the report, could mean destabilization of governments. “Violent conflict strongly influences vulnerability to climate change impacts for people living in affected places. Large-scale violent conflict harms assets that facilitate adaptation, including infrastructure, institutions, natural capital, social capital, and livelihood opportunities.”

At greatest risk? “Tropical countries,” says the draft, “given projected impacts that exceed adaptive capacity and higher poverty rates compared with temperate regions.”

While the authors acknowledge some northern farmland may actually benefit from warmer temperatures, they say any gains there should be viewed in light of a global drop in agriculture production of as much as 2 percent each decade while demand increases 14 percent.