Trump’s FEMA Ignores Climate Change in Strategic Plan for Disaster Response

Under Obama, the Federal Emergency Management Agency emphasized climate risk. The new plan fails to even mention the words 'climate change' or 'sea level rise.'

Trump-appointed FEMA Director Brock Long speaks in Corpus Christi, Texas, as Hurricane Harvey struck in 2017. Credit: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Trump-appointed FEMA Administrator Brock Long avoided the words "climate change" in the agency's new strategic plan. Disaster relief organizations like the Red Cross, meanwhile, are using climate science to strategically position supplies where they're likely to be needed. Credit: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty

Share this article

Despite a disaster-stricken 2017, the Federal Emergency Management Agency dropped discussions of climate change from its strategic plan, the document intended to guide the agency’s response to hurricanes, flooding and wildfires through 2022.

The plan projects that “rising natural hazard risk” will drive increased disaster costs, but it fails to connect last year’s record-setting disasters to the changing climate and does not mention that natural disasters exacerbated by global warming are expected to become more frequent and severe as temperatures rise, a conclusion made unequivocally in last year’s Climate Science Special Report, part of the National Climate Assessment.

While the plan notes that more people are moving to coastal areas, it says nothing about sea level rise, only that “natural and manmade hazards” will become “increasingly complex and difficult to predict.”

FEMA says the agency will work toward “incentivizing positive behavior change” in communities and emphasizes the individual’s role in responding to disasters.


We deliver climate news to your inbox like nobody else. Every day or once a week, our original stories and digest of the web's top headlines deliver the full story, for free.

“This plan is just the beginning as we galvanize the whole community to help individuals and families during times of need,” FEMA Administrator Brock Long said in a press release Thursday. “We are going to be talking about it a lot and acting on it.”

Asked about the absence of any mention of climate change in the document, FEMA Public Affairs Director William Booher told NPR: “It is evident that this strategic plan fully incorporates future risks from all hazards regardless of cause.”

Last Strategic Plan Emphasized Climate Risk

FEMA’s last strategic plan, released during the Obama administration, stressed the need to incorporate climate change into the agency’s planning. “A changing climate is already resulting in quantifiable changes to the risks communities face, showing that future risks are not the same as those faced in the past,” the 2014-2018 plan stated.

Under the Obama administration, FEMA not only emphasized the rising threats of climate change, the agency made it difficult for states to ignore them. In 2015, the agency changed its guidelines to require any state seeking money for disaster preparedness to assess how climate change threatened its communities.

International disaster relief organizations like the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are also increasingly using climate science for strategic planning, including for determining where to stockpile supplies for the fastest response.

Flood Risk Rising

The Trump administration’s plan comes as a new study finds that the country’s flood risk is much higher than FEMA anticipates, largely because the agency has failed to approve flood maps in much of the United States. The study found that more than 40 million people, roughly three times the agency’s current number, will face 100-year flooding.  

Before last year—when the country was struck with a record-setting 16 disasters causing more than $1 billion in damage each—FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program was already $25 billion in debt. President Donald Trump has called for budget cuts, including a $667 million cut from its state and local grant funding and $190 million from FEMA’s Flood Hazard Mapping and Risk Analysis Program.