Climate Change Mitigation and Facilities Adaptation

Tackling climate change depends on sustainable practices. Throughout the National Park Service (NPS), the effects of climate change are already having impacts on natural and cultural resources. At Joshua Tree National Park, changes in climate are making the park inhospitable to its namesake species. Glacier National Park is rapidly losing its glaciers. As steward of our national cultural and natural jewels, the NPS is working to not only decrease its environmental footprint, but also to adapt to future conditions. These activities are reinforced by Executive Orders 13514 and 13653 that call for agencies to asses and reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) and increase resilience to extreme weather and climate change impacts, as well as by the goal to “Go Green” in the Director’s Call to Action.

Mitigating GHGs and adapting NPS facilities to climate change constitute a goal to “Be Climate Friendly and Climate Ready” within the NPS’s Green Parks Plan—an integrated approach by the NPS to address climate change through implementing sustainable practices in our operations. This effort forms part of the larger NPS Climate Change Response Strategy (PDF).

Climate Friendly Parks

Climate Friendly Parks

Founded in 2003, the Climate Friendly Parks (CFP) program represents a partnership between the SOCC branch of the NPS Park Facility Management Division and the Air Resources Division. The CFP program provides the tools and technical support for parks to assess and decrease their GHG emissions and to educate staff and visitors about climate change. Through the program, parks develop sustainability/climate action plans that involve conserving resorces, improving energy efficiency, using renewable energy resources, reducing waste, and managing wastewater and runoff. They also begin envisioning how they will adapt to future climatic scenarios. These actions help preserve America’s treasures for future generations by demonstrating environmentally sound behavior to more than two hundred and seventy-five million annual park visitors. For more information, please visit the Climate Friendly Parks website.

Greenhouse Gas Inventory

The NPS annually prepares an inventory of the Service’s GHG emissions following the protocols outlined in the Federal Greenhouse Gas Accounting and Reporting Guidance.  The inventory includes emissions that occur from building fuel and electricity use, fleet fuel use, waste and wastewater disposal, employee commuting and business travel.  Parks across the country participate in the effort by providing the data and information needed to prepare the inventory as well as by committing to reducing GHGs.  The NPS has set Servicewide goals to reduce GHG emissions by 2020 in the Green Parks Plan and individual regions and parks have set goals through initiatives such as the Climate Friendly Parks Program.

Facility Adaptation to Climate Change

As part of the Park Facility Management Division, it is our job to ensure that parks consider the impacts of climate change before building, renovating, or making significant capital investments into NPS facilities. The SOCC is developing guidance and tools to assist park planners in identifying the risks posed by climate change to proposed projects, and to make educated and calculated adaptation, siting, construction, and repair and rehabilitation decisions.

Decision Support Tool

NPS has partnered with the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a draft decision-support toolkit for National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges in the Southeast region of the US. The toolkit has several components, including an analysis of asset-level vulnerability to inland flooding, coastal flooding, and wildfires; a structured vulnerability refinement exercise; and a series of queries to help parks and refuges identify vulnerabilities and determine response strategies.

Identifying At-Risk Assets

NPS has worked with Western Carolina University to identify NPS assets that may be at risk from sea level rise, considering a 1-meter rise scenario. The study used asset locations and elevations to determine the number of assets that may be at risk of inundation from sea level rise. The second phase of this project involved developing a manual for park managers or decision makers containing long-term sea level rise adaptation strategies. This project will allow park managers to better understand vulnerability to long-term sea level rise and make more informed decisions on appropriate options for adaptation.

Additionally, NPS also conducted targeted assessments at Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park in Hawaii and Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland and Virginia to assess risks from sea-level rise.  The assessments including piloting a facility-level adaptation tool to characterize individual facility vulnerability.

Climate Change Communication

Guided by the Green Parks Plan goal to “Foster Sustainability Beyond Our Boundaries” the Sustainable Operations and Climate Change Branch (SOCC) of the NPS Park Facility Management Division is working to engage partners and visitors about sustainability and invite their participation. With nearly 400 national parks and more than 280 million annual visitors, there is an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate how the NPS is changing its practices to lessen its impact on the environment.

The NPS is working to explain the science of climate change and the impacts it is having on parks to visitors, partners, and surrounding communities; describing what the NPS is doing to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; and engaging youth in sustainability initiatives. The NPS is encouraging everyone to take a step toward including sustainable actions in their own homes, workplaces, and communities. Because the single greatest source of GHG emissions in parks is visitor vehicles, the NPS is focusing on helping park visitors to understand the impacts of their travel choices and guide visitors to use alternative transportation methods while moving within the park.

The NPS Climate Change Response Program also aims to inform and educate agency staff in mitigating the effects of climate change on park resources. Please visit the CCRP site for more information.

To find more resources on how the NPS is communicating about climate change, plesae visit these sites:

  • NPS Climate Friendly Parks -To view the many sustainability initiatives, accomplishments, and park climate change response goals, please visit the site.
  • NPS Sustainability Success Stories - A collection of stories showcasing how parks are taking sustainability initiatives.
  • Sustainability News (PDF) – Check out the latest SOCC sustainability newsletter!
  • NPS Do Your Part - The national parks belong to you, and we need your help to keep them in great shape during your visit, for your next visit, and for all those visitors who will come after you.
  • NPS Climate Change Key Messages - Go here to see the main climate change messages that the NPS is focusing on communicating effectively.
  • NPS Response to Climate Change - Responding to climate change is the greatest challenge facing the National Park Service today.