The Imperative of Climate Adaptation Planning

By Jacoba Gundle

At the start of each year, The Climate Trust publishes carbon market predictions based on experience and interactions with their diverse group of working partners from various industries. Putting to use their singular vantage point in the market, internal experts at The Trust come together to identify areas of growth, change or movement that are likely to become larger industry trends that year.

In the face of federal climate inaction and the impact of a record-breaking year for natural disasters, The Trust surmised that states and U.S. cities would quicken the pace of developing climate change adaptation plans. As severe weather continues to cripple U.S. cities, and the world at large, lamentably, the likelihood of this prediction becoming a reality also increases—while the importance of it coming to fruition becomes imperative. Without federal assistance, citizens and officials must take the lead in preparing for a future with more frequent and stronger disasters.

It is hard to miss the almost daily news articles about the next impending weather crisis. In January alone, there was mention of wildfires, a bomb cyclone, mudslides severe enough to warrant mandatory evacuations, and snowstorms spread across the U.S. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there were 16 weather and climate-related events in 2017 which cost over $1B each. The aggregate cost of all weather and climate related events last year reached a new annual record, totaling over $300B. Beyond the intolerable loss of life, our country simply can’t afford to continue accruing damages at this rate, which is why some cities are planning ahead.

Time Magazine reported that three years ago, the City of Miami Beach allocated $500M to prepare for climate change. Miami Beach is one of the more susceptible locales to weather-related disasters driven by climate change as 93% of the city is considered to be in a flood risk zone. Sea level rise, temperature extremes, coastal erosion, extreme storm damage, the threat of hurricanes and other unforeseen natural disasters are all risks this city faces, and as growth continues, construction has to adapt. Part of the climate action plan details infrastructure changes that will need to occur, which are already being seen in new buildings. The news coverage of climate disasters over the last few years has been overwhelming, but also eye opening; clearly demonstrating the need for all U.S. regions to adapt to the changing environment with forward-thinking plans of their own.

In 2010, Eugene, Oregon was among the first to create a city-wide plan (adopted in 2014) that addresses the challenges their city will face due to climate change. The plan includes initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, and outlines needed infrastructure adaptations to deal with elements of a changing climate. As a result of this plan, Eugene has already cut natural gas consumption by 12% and diesel by 17%. To look at the problem more broadly, researchers and academics at both the University of Kansas and Texas A&M mapped 51 cities that had a plan to deal with climate change. The majority of these cities are, perhaps unsurprisingly, found on or near U.S. coastlines, which suffer the immediate threat of coastal erosion and sea level rise. However, these are not the only communities threatened by this pervasive issue.

In the absence of strong federal action and a political agenda to fight climate change, it is imperative that cities and states act now on their own behalf, preparing for extreme weather events with adaptation measures shaped for the unique needs of their region. State and municipal adaptation plans are a great place to start, but widespread planning, across all states, is also needed to adequately prepare for a future where extreme weather is the new norm. A joint effort will be needed which crosses city, state, and political lines to lessen the impact from the increasing intensity and frequency of these natural disasters.

The Paris Climate Accord was an impressive effort to align the majority of countries across the globe to prioritize the decrease of dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. As the U.S. proclaims its intent to withdraw from this historic agreement, individual adaptation plans can help send the message to the international community that even if U.S. leadership has chosen not to honor the agreement, the individual parts that make up this great country can still be counted on to hold up our end of the deal.

In 2018, state and city policies should focus on climate change prevention, with programs that reduce emissions, while also preparing for worst-case scenarios with action plans to cope with the (inevitable) aftermath of disasters. It is critical that adaptation is planned for in parallel with regulatory efforts. Slowing down and halting emissions is of the utmost importance, but places like Miami Beach are already feeling the impacts of climate change. We are not preparing for some distant future. It is already here.

U.S. citizens should not have to live under threat of the next natural disaster, which could (and already has for millions) chase them from their homes and threaten their lives. We should all hope that The Climate Trust’s prediction for increased adaptation plan development comes true, ensuring strides toward preventative action and worst case scenario strategies that protect the welfare of the U.S. and all who live here.

Image credit: Flickr/maxstrz

Jacoba Gundle is the Information Manager for The Climate Trust

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