Alice Hill on Mainstreaming Climate Risks Into U.S. Government Planning: “We Should Care Deeply”

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, USA

In 2009, President Obama issued an executive order requiring all agencies to conduct climate change adaptation and environmental sustainability planning. “We turned very seriously to the question, ‘should an agency like DHS even care about climate change?’” says Hill, who was also a judge before joining the government. “In 2009 that was a serious question. We did not have a definite, consensus view within the department.”

“We had the hard work of answering that question and looking at all of our mission spaces to determine that, in fact, we should care deeply,” she says. “That threat multiplier of climate change could knock aside all of the important work – or much of the important work – that we are doing.”

Once the threat was recognized, determining a plan of action proved just as difficult. “What do you do about it? How do you start really making choices that will make a difference to better prepare a nation, a fragile state, or even the United States to the impacts of climate change?” she asks. “This is new territory for many people across the federal government.”

Since 2009, Hill has moved on to the White House where she helps coordinate responses to climate change across the U.S. government. The security community has increasingly emphasized the potential risks of climate change in strategy and planning documents. Hill references the 2010 and 2015 National Security Strategies, the Quadrennial Defense Report, and the Quadrennial Homeland Security Report  for example, which call climate change a “threat multiplier.”