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The Biden Administration Can Make the 2020s the Resilience Decade

By Joyce Coffee
Biden Administration

With less than two months before the Biden administration starts, here’s a gentle reminder: In April, when I labeled 2020 the start of the adaptation decade, I noted: “If one thing is increasingly clear from this COVID-19 era, it’s that countless millions of Americans – and even more global citizens elsewhere – will grow poorer from it. And this matters immensely for climate change.”

This helps explain why President-elect Biden’s climate strategy includes an important and valid emphasis on climate change mitigation. He favors decreasing greenhouse gas emissions primarily through increasing investments in renewable power, while increasing regulations to direct the private sector toward more efficient technologies and operations. However, to connect this strategy to apply to poor Americans, you must emphasize resilience.

It requires much more than simply the aim of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis to “honor our responsibility to be good stewards of the planet for future generations.” Biden as president must honor our collective responsibility to minimize the impact of the climate crisis on Americans and people everywhere now and in the future. How? Here are three priorities.

Rejoin the Paris Agreement

As the U.S. rejoins the Paris Agreement, the U.S. must act on the agreement’s adaptation priorities. I wrote five years ago that our choice in that agreement is to “adapt or bust.” Consider this: U.S. disaster costs from 2016-2020 have exceeded $550 billion – a record. As of Oct. 7, 16 U.S. climate-related disaster events have triggered losses that exceed $1 billion each. These events included one drought, 11 severe storms, three tropical cyclones and a major wildfire, according to NOAA. 

Indeed, America’s growing disaster liability costs the nation $100 billion annually and grows 6 percent per year, a rate that is surging 10 times faster than the increase in the country’s population.

Hence the incoming Biden administration must take on these four challenges.

To start, the new administration should acknowledge that the U.S. is re-signing the global agreement for adaptation, resilience and reduced vulnerability. In addition, the Biden White House should follow the Paris Agreement’s guidelines, set expectations to plan and implement adaptation. Next, it’s clear the new administration should report on adaptation needs and efforts. Finally, it behooves Biden’s team to measure the adequacy, effectiveness and progress of all adaptation projects.

These steps will prove key to realize the positive returns on resilience. And the business case is real. An October report from the Urban Land Institute figures that Southeast Florida can realize at least $5 in benefits for each dollar of infrastructure resilience investment. A 2019 report from the National Institute of Building Safety maintained that modern building codes save $11 for every $1 invested.

The Biden administration must boost jobs in the resilience sector

Much is being expressed about a national infrastructure bill. And the Biden platform proposes, for instance, that new federal funding to rebuild roads, bridges or water infrastructure consider climate change. Beyond this consideration, the Biden administration should encourage the growth of resilience investments. Just as we celebrate the market viability of solar energy after a decade of government engagement, we also should be able to celebrate the market strength and investment potential of resilience. In these sectors specifically, the White House needs to emphasize the following:  

Water: Flood defense, wetland protection, stormwater management, rainwater harvesting, waste-water treatment relocation, strengthened water distribution systems and desalinization plants should be among the priorities.

Buildings: Start with green roofs and walls, water retention gardens and porous pavements.

Energy: Grid resilience along with back-up generation and storage should be a priority.

Information and communications technology: The Biden administration should strengthen data distributions systems, in addition to climate monitoring and data collection that can inform and build community resilience such as early warning systems that can assist with the relocation of citizens.

Health: Treatment and monitoring for diseases that might increase due to climate change as well as the treatment of respiratory conditions from wildfires.

To be sure, the resilience mission cannot be left to the private sector to steer. Even those corporate leaders purporting to be for poverty alleviation – such as Certified B Corps – have overall not made it a part of their platforms.

Migration plans to protect vulnerable Americans

The New York Times has said the “idea of retreating from areas that can’t be defended…is a political minefield.” But with a five-decade career behind him, a President Biden can afford to show courage and wade in. Taking on such a complicated plan has many moving parts – and that will be the focus of tomorrow’s discussion on rethinking housing across the regions that are most vulnerable to climate change across the U.S.

Image credit: Markus Spiske/Unsplash

Joyce Coffee headshot

Joyce Coffee, LEED AP, is founder and President of Climate Resilience Consulting. She is an accomplished organizational strategist and visionary leader with over 25 years of domestic and international experience in the corporate, government and non-profit sectors implementing resilience and sustainability strategies, management systems, performance measurement, partnerships, benchmarking and reporting.

Read more stories by Joyce Coffee