New York’s poor and ethnic minority neighbourhoods to be hit hardest by climate change finds NYC Panel on Climate Change

New York’s poor and ethnic minority neighbourhoods to be hit hardest by climate change finds NYC Panel on Climate Change

By Will Bugler

The New York City Panel on Climate Change (NYCPCC), released last month, its 2019 report on the science of climate change and its implications for New York City. The report finds that climate change is affecting everyday life in New York today, and that climate impacts will continue to increase over the coming decades, hitting the poorest neighbourhoods hardest.

The NYCPCC, which has been helping NYC prepare for climate change since 2008, found that extreme weather events are becoming more pronounced, high temperatures in summer are rising, and heavy downpours are increasing. The report finds that areas with lower incomes and the highest percentages of African American and Hispanic residents are consistently more likely to suffer the impacts of climate change. The panel advises that community engagement is critical for more effective and flexible adaptation efforts in the most at-risk communities.

The report serves as a “further wakeup call on the need to move urgently and take action on climate change” according to New York’s mayor Bill de Blasio. “This [report] shows what New Yorkers learned acutely during Sandy – climate change is real and an existential threat,” he said.

Records show that maximum daily summer temperatures have been rising at rates of 0.5°F per decade at JFK Airport and 0.7°F per decade at LaGuardia Airport since 1970. Sea level recorded at The Battery in lower Manhattan continues to rise at a rate of 0.11 inches per year since 1850. These changes are broadly in line with the climate change projections made by the NPCC in 2015.

The report also emphasises that climate change is already affecting the daily life of NYC residents, especially for those who live in coastal communities where nuisance flooding is becoming more frequent and for those who operate and use the city’s critical infrastructure during heatwaves and heavy downpours. Economic losses from hurricanes and floods have significantly increased in past decades and are likely to increase further in the future from more intense hurricanes and higher sea level rise.

“Recent scientific advances have allowed the NPCC to better detail climate vulnerabilities in the city, such as where nuisance floods might occur more frequently,” says William Solecki, co-chair of the NPCC. “This improved knowledge has, in turn, helped the panel craft new sets of tools and methods, such as a prototype system for tracking these risks and the effectiveness of corresponding climate strategies.”

One of those tools is the Antarctic Rapid Ice Melt Scenario, which the NPCC created to model the effects of melting ice sheets on sea level rise around NYC. The model predicts that under a high-end scenario, monthly tidal flooding will begin to affect many neighbourhoods around Jamaica Bay by the 2050s and other coastal areas throughout the city by the 2080s.

“The NPCC 2019 report tracks increasing risks for the city and region due to climate change,” says Cynthia Rosenzweig, co-chair of the NPCC and senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. “This report, the third by the NPCC in ten years, continues to lay the science foundation for development of flexible adaptation pathways for changing climate conditions.”

To help manage the dynamic climate and public policy contexts, the NPCC 2019 report recommends that the city put in place a coordinated indicator and monitoring system to enable the city and its communities to better monitor climate change trends, impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation measures. The report also notes that property insurance can be a catalyst for infrastructure resilience by encouraging investment in adaptation measures prior to a disaster through a reduction in premiums.

Other NPCC recommendations include:

  • continuing broad assessments of climate change across the metropolitan region with federal, state, and regional partners (for example, NOAA’s Consortium for Climate Risk in the Urban Northeast);
  • using updated methods for the next set of NPCC climate change projections; and
  • hosting a NYC Climate Summit once during every mayoral term.

Photo by Tommaso Ripani on Unsplash

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