How Can Big Cities Adapt to Climate Change?

Regardless of whether climate change is real, man-made, or happening at an accelerated rate, there's no harm in preparing for the worst. In Climate Change Adaptation in New York City, a new report from the New York City Panel on Climate Change, a motley crew of scientists, government officials and legal, risk management, and insurance experts plan out the city's attempt to survive in the face of climate change.

The NYCPCC's portrait of a climate change-ravaged New York City is disturbing, but not all that surprising. The report describes intense heat waves, increased blackouts, flooding in low-lying neighborhoods, severe droughts, reduced water quality, all wrapped up a climate that resembles that of Raleigh, North Carolina, or Norfolk, Virginia, today. But how can such a densely-packed city possibly prepare for this?

The report is fairly optimistic about New York City's climate change-combating resources, but it explains that adaptation will require cooperation between a number of different factions, including designers, the insurance industry, local government, and more. The report suggests, among other things, that NYC:

  • Create a mandate for an ongoing body of experts that provides advice for the City of New York. Areas that could be addressed by experts in the future include regular updates to climate change projections, improved mapping and geographic data, and periodic assessments of climate change impacts and adaptation for New York City to inform a broad spectrum of climate change adaptation policies and programs.
  • Establish a climate change monitoring program to track and analyze key climate change factors, impacts and adaptation and evolving-knowledge indicators in New York City, as well as to study relevant advances in research on related topics. This involves creating a network of monitoring systems and organizations and a region-wide indicator database for analysis.
  •  Include multiple layers of government and a wide range of public and private stakeholder experts to build buy-in and crucial partnerships for coordinated adaptation strategies. Take account of the private sector in these interactions.
  •  Conduct a review of standards and codes, to evaluate their revision to meet climate challenges, or the development of new codes and regulations that increase the city's resilience to climate change. Develop design standards, specifications, and regulations that take climate change into account, and hence are prospective in nature rather than retrospective.
  •  Work with the insurance industry to facilitate the use of risk-sharing mechanisms to address climate change impacts.

Whether New York City can put such a comprehensive plan into action in time to make a difference depends on how seriously the city takes the threat of climate change. The NYCPCC's report is a start. Now the next step is get the city's diverse residents to work together. And if New York can do it, any city can.

 

[Climate Change Adaptation in New York City]

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by e-mail.

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