Category: Cities

Barcelona: Urban adaptation threatened by power struggles at the municipal level

Barcelona: Urban adaptation threatened by power struggles at the municipal level

By Will Bugler

Dealing with the challenges posed by climate change will require transformational change for cities. However, these transformative actions to adapt to the impacts of climate change may be hindered by political struggles for municipal power, suggests a new study. Published in the journal Cities, the paper assesses the complexity of the processes of implementation of urban measures against climate change, with the example of Barcelona’s “Superblocks” as a case study.

Barcelona is particularly vulnerable to climate change-related threats, specifically sea level rise and floods, increasing temperature including urban heat waves, the loss of biodiversity and more frequent and intense drought periods. Within the framework of the Climate Plan (2018-2030), Barcelona launched the “Superblocks” program, which aims to drastically change urban mobility and land use. A superblock is a group of city blocks delimited in a perimeter that can only be accessed by vehicles that have their origin or destination there. Traffic runs outside while the interior is reserved for pedestrians and cyclists.

So far superblocks have been implemented in two areas (Poblenou in 2016 and Sant Antoni in 2018), but the City Council plans to remodel the city in 503 superblocks thereby reducing car traffic by 21% while restructuring the public transit and cycling system and infrastructure. In this way, CO2 emissions will be reduced by 40%, as well as the 3,500 premature deaths per year associated with air pollution, converting 60% of the space occupied by car use into public pedestrian and neighbourhood leisure spaces.

When implementing the scheme political and neighbourhood forces became active, either supporting or opposing the implementation of the scheme. Researchers from the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) and the Pompeu Fabra University (UPF), analysed the resistance in Barcelona as an example of the difficulties of implementing transformational adaptation in cities in the face of climate change.

The results of the study show that the everyday political struggles emerge from clashing visions for the future of the city. The difficulties are also related to discontent over the public participation aspects of project implementation and a perceived imposition of authority. “The civic and political contestation over the authority of ‘climate champions’ (or climate policy drivers) can jeopardize not only the achievements of transformational adaptation to climate change, but also the political survival of those who drive them“, the authors of the article said.

According to ICTA-UAB researcher Isabelle Anguelovski, transformational change can be obstructed ” not only out of fear of the material and political effects of the transformation measures, but also because of the message it conveys as concerns who is entitled to decide for the common good”. Therefore, she indicates, “brave politicians that take on struggles for authority in the short-term are needed to achieve mid- to long-term transformational goals”. The study suggests that participatory processes are vital at the very earliest stages of decision making on key policies to ensure that key power brokers are on board and communities have a shared vision of their city.


Cover photo by Benjamín Gremler on Unsplash
Rising tides will leave no choice for US millions

Rising tides will leave no choice for US millions

By Tim Radford

The Texan city of Houston is about to grow in unexpected ways, thanks to the rising tides. So will Dallas. Real estate agents in Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; and Las Vegas, Nevada could expect to do roaring business.

The inland counties around Los Angeles, and close to New Orleans in Louisiana, will suddenly get a little more crowded. And from Boston in the north-east to the tip of Florida, Americans will be on the move.

That is because an estimated 13 million US citizens could some time in this century become climate refugees, driven from their seaside homes by sea level rise of possibly 1.8 metres, according to new research.

And they will have to move home in a poorer economic climate: worldwide. If governments and city authorities do not take the right steps, sea level rise could erode 4% of the global annual economy, says a separate study. That is, coast-dwellers could witness not just their towns and even cities washed away: they could see their prosperity go under as well.

Californian scientists report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One that they used machine learning techniques – in effect, artificial intelligence systems – to calculate what is most likely to happen as US citizens desert Delaware Bay, slip away from the cities of North and South Carolina, and flee Florida in the face of rising sea levels, coastal flooding and increasingly catastrophic windstorms.

“Sea level rise will affect every county in the United States … everybody should care about sea level rise, whether they live on the coast or not”

In the year 2000, a third of all the planet’s urban land was in a zone vulnerable to flood. By 2040, this could rise to 40%. In 2010, in the US, more than 120m citizens – that is nearly 40% of the entire population – lived in coastal counties. By 2020, this proportion could already be higher.

And by 2100, at least 13.1m people could be living on land likely to be inundated if sea levels rise by 1.8 metres. Except that they won’t: they will have already seen the future and moved away from it, to some settlement well away from the rising tides.

Those who might otherwise have purchased their abandoned seaside houses will be looking for somewhere safer and adding to the pressure on the housing market.

“Sea level rise will affect every county in the United States,” said Bistra Dilkina of the University of Southern California at Irvine, a computer scientist who worked with engineers to model the human response to the future.

She and her colleagues started from patterns of movement that began with Hurricane Katrina, in 2004, and Hurricane Rita a year later, both in Louisiana. They then let the algorithms take over the challenge of guessing what American families and businesses are most likely to do as the tides begin to flood the high streets.

Action promised

“We hope this research will empower urban planners and local decision-makers to prepare to accept populations displaced by sea level rise. Our findings indicate that everybody should care about sea level rise, whether they live on the coast or not,” she said.

The California team’s worst-case forecasts are based on a premise that the world takes no real action to combat sea level rise, which is driven by global warming powered in turn by fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere on an ever-increasing scale.

But in Paris in 2015, more than 190 nations did agree to act: to contain global warming to “well below” 2°C by the century’s end. So far, very few have committed to sufficient action, and the President of the US has pronounced climate change a “hoax” and announced a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

Researchers in Austria report in the journal Environmental Research Communications that they decided to consider the potential economic cost worldwide of sea level rise alone. Scientists have been trying for years to guess the cost of flood damage to come: the latest study is of the impact of sea level rise and coastal flooding upon national economies worldwide.

The scientists considered two scenarios, including one in which the world kept the promises made in Paris, and one in which it did not, and made no attempt to adapt to or mitigate climate change.

Significant impact

By 2050 losses in each scenario would be significant and much the same. But by 2100, the do-nothing option promised to hit the gross domestic product – an economist’s favourite measure of economic well-being – by 4%.

Europe and Japan would be significantly hit; China , India and Canada hardest of all. If the world’s richest nations actually worked to limit climate change and adapt to the challenges ahead, the impact on the economy could be limited to 1%.

“The findings of this paper demonstrate that we need to think long term while acting swiftly,” said Thomas Schinko of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, who led the study.

“Macroeconomic impacts up to and beyond 2050 as a result of coastal flooding due to sea level rise – not taking into account any other climate-related impacts such as drought – are severe and increasing.

“We, as a global society, need to further co-ordinate mitigation, adaptation and climate-resilient development and consider where we build cities and situate important infrastructure.”


This article was originally posted on the Climate News Network.
Cover photo of Houston, Texas by Vlad Busuioc on Unsplash
World Urban Forum 2020: Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities network moves into a new phase

World Urban Forum 2020: Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities network moves into a new phase

By Will Bugler

The 10th World Urban Forum, is underway this week in United Arab Emirates’ capital, Abu Dhabi. The first day of the event was marked by an announcement from the Rockefeller Foundation’s flagship 100 Resilient Cities programme, that it is moving to a new phase of work and intends to add up to 10 new cities to its network.

Announced by some of the existing Chief Resilience Officers (CROs), the new incarnation of the programme will be known as the Global Resilient Cities Network. “The 10th World Urban Forum is the perfect opportunity to announce this evolution,” said Lauren Sorkin, Acting Executive Director of the Network. “This Network will drive urban resilience action with an expanded partner base and welcome up to 10 new members in 2020 to protect vulnerable communities from climate change and other urban challenges.”

Organized and convened by UN-Habitat, the World Urban Forum has become the foremost international gathering for exchanging views and experiences on sustainable urbanization. Cities face a growing range of shocks and stresses, including climate change, growing migrant populations, inadequate infrastructure, pandemics and cyber-attacks. 82% of the world’s cities are located in areas that face a high risk of mortality from a natural disaster, and nearly nine in ten cities globally are highly vulnerable to economic losses associated with potential natural disaster. Building resilience in cities and communities of all sizes is therefore more critical than ever before.

Many cities are already preparing plans and strategies to understand and manage their climate risks. Acclimatise has worked on several such strategies in the Middle East region, including Dubai in the UAE. However, more work needs to be done to drive action and investment in putting such plans into action. The Global Resilient Cities Network, aims to do just that.

“Our Network’s Resilience Strategies highlight a $35 billion investment gap in resilience in our cities alone,” said Sorkin. “We know there is more work to be done; as global threats rise, there has never been a more important time to invest in the technologies, capacities and projects that deliver urban resilience.”

The Network will leverage the experience and skills of its 100 member cities, to drive forward the urban resilience agenda around the world, delivering its objectives through CROs appointed in each of its member cities. “We are responding to a global imperative to reinvigorate a focused and financially sustainable urban resilience practice network, unlocking investment in communities and critical infrastructure,” said Mike Gillooly, the CRO of Christchurch, New Zealand. “In addition, as cities, we are committed to realize the enormous potential to engage with partners to diversify funding and sustain a renewed program.”

Follow the Global Resilient Cities Network on Twitter: @GlobalResCities


Cover photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Acclimatise at COP 25: Promoting cities’ resilience to climate change in Latin America

Acclimatise at COP 25: Promoting cities’ resilience to climate change in Latin America

By Caroline Fouvet

Cities’ role in the face of climate change was a recurring topic at COP 25. Given Acclimatise’s track record in working alongside municipalities to foster their climate resilience, Maribel Hernandez was invited to present her insights at a panel discussion convened by CAF, the Latin American development bank, the French Development Agency (AFD) and the European Union through its Latin America Investment Facility initiative.

The side event, entitled “Cities and Climate Change: from baseline and diagnostics to concrete measures for resilient and low-carbon cities”, convened experts who were involved in CAF’s and AFD’s efforts to support cities against climate change, through local climate analyses, prioritisation of low-carbon and resilient actions, and pre-investment studies of projects with climate co-benefits in the urban context.

Maribel Hernandez, who has co-led the development of a zonal climate vulnerability index for the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, as well as a climate change vulnerability analysis for the Chilean regions of Atacama and O’Higgins, presented her perspective on the importance of such analyses.

Climate risk and vulnerability analyses (CRVAs) are undertaken to identify and assess climate change risks, and relevant bankable adaptation projects that will be implemented under a changing climate. A climate change context entails both obvious but also more hidden risks, and that as a result, CRVAs are necessary to uncover the latter.

An early analysis of climate risks allows to assess project success factors within the context of a changing climate, and to answer questions such as “will the project as it is currently designed operate successfully under a future climate?”, or “will the project result in more operation and maintenance costs than currently envisaged?”. The CRVAs also support having an encompassing view of the project as part of a supply chain in which critical nodes (such as roads and ports) should not be overlooked.

As for projects involving critical infrastructure, long-lived or capital-intensive assets, which are essential for cities’ development, a progressive adaptive management approach is highly recommended. This implies implementing flexible adaptation measures that could be adjusted over time and in response to more data becoming available.

In addition to identifying risks, assessing climate impacts can also lead to the identification of opportunities, linked, for instance, to where resilient investments can be made. Understanding such opportunities strengthens both cities’ climate resilience and development.

With regards to situations when data is scarce and potential solutions to overcome this barrier, the best possible use should be made of the existing information. There exists global and regional observed satellite data and projections data, that can, for instance, provide a useful level of information regardless of whether a location is considered “information-scarce”. Besides, using past information to better understand the future constitutes a way around the lack of data. Finally, stress tests could also be undertaken in the case of scarce information, to assess how the project would perform under different climate scenarios.

In addition, participants stressed the importance of involving local stakeholders that can also contribute substantial knowledge where gaps exist.  This is why engagement with all cities’ actors is an essential component of any climate-related project, which further ensures buy-in of all proposed mitigation and adaptation measures.

This side event, along others organised in Madrid this week, reflects the importance of subnational entities in the fight against climate change. As the “Time for Action” has come, cities are on the frontline to help achieve the Paris Agreement’s low-carbon and climate-resilient objectives, and need to be supported in their endeavour.


Cover photo taken by Caroline Fouvet at COP25.
Measuring urban resilience: Reference guide for city managers helps with monitoring and evaluating climate adaptation activities

Measuring urban resilience: Reference guide for city managers helps with monitoring and evaluating climate adaptation activities

Cities have taken the lead in committing to ambitious climate adaptation goals and executing strategies to reduce climate risks. However, commitments to adaptation action often face challenges in effectively capturing results and documenting change in resilience of urban systems and populations. Robust monitoring and reporting frameworks are typically absent, making it hard to measure achievement, document outcomes and learn from adaptation activities.  

In an effort to counteract this, the USAID-funded Adaptation Thought Leadership and Assessments (ATLAS) project developed a guide intended to serve as a resource for city managers and officials, detailing essential components of an adaptation M&E framework and providing a structure for cities to plan and implement the framework.

The guide details essential components of an adaptation M&E framework, breaking down the methods behind designing the framework, enhancing implementation, and ensuring success. For each section, subsections provide key recommendations, guidance, best practices, and additional resources that go into more detail on the components. The structure of the guide is helpful in clearly demonstrating the different components of the M&E framework, however it also emphasises that in practice much of the planning and development of the M&E process must happen in parallel.

You can access the guide here.


Cover photo by carloyuen from Pixabay
Why ‘acting locally’ is impossible in an interconnected world

Why ‘acting locally’ is impossible in an interconnected world

By Jennifer M. Bernstein

Like many Americans, I worry about the state of the planet and try to make a positive impact through decisions in my day-to-day life. But I also am nagged by the feeling that I often get it wrong, even though I analyze environmental problems for a living.

Concerned about plastics in the ocean, I renounced single-use plastic straws. Then I learned that they were critical for kids and the differently abled, and that waste management systems determine whether plastics make it to the ocean.

Years ago, I tried – and enjoyed – the meatless “Impossible Burger” at a café in my neighborhood, then ordered it again more recently at Burger King. Then prominent chefs started coming out against them because they are “processed and unhealthy.”

And after I volunteered to manage my daughter’s school garden, I found myself worrying that the pleasurable act of gardening was taking valuable school hours away from students learning about how to systematically address global environmental problems.

Journalist/chef Mark Bittman promotes plant-based eating but criticizes processed vegetarian burgers. PR Newswire

Despite these conflicts, I have stuck with my metal straw and plant-based burgers. I know my actions may not make a quantifiable positive environmental impact, even though they feel meaningful. As a professor of geography, I have critiqued environmentalism’s focus on local actions that rely on distant, large-scale technologies such as meal delivery kits and hunting wild game.

Of course all acts matter, but some matter more than others. Here’s where I’ve ended up: Engaging with the environment at multiple scales is what thoughtful people do, all the time, whether they want to or not. There is no place or scale to escape to. And the question of which level of encounter is the best for the environment – or the human soul – has no easy answer.

Small is beautiful, but is it effective?

Social activists often exhort followers to “Think globally, act locally.” But many geographers argue that the very idea of the local is rooted in fantasy.

For example, Doreen Massey characterizes locations as hubs where various flows – social, cultural, economic – intersect and change over time. In her view, it was impossible to draw a boundary around any single region because each place is in a constant state of flux, changing while being molded by outside phenomena.

As I see it, environmentalists often shy away from the big, messy, interconnected world. Many of us are highly skeptical that large-scale institutions, especially economic organizations like the U.S. Treasury Department or the World Bank, are capable of promoting positive environmental change.

At the same time, we’re well aware of the entangled and hybrid nature of environmental problems. We have a gnawing feeling in our stomachs that the world is burning, and we are, well, grasping at straws.

Different scales of attitudes and behaviors constantly contradict each other. For example, many residents of the Mojave desert in eastern California detest large-scale industrial solar power but embrace small-scale residential solar. Urban chefs and foodies heralded plant-based meats when they were a niche industry, but are now critiquing these products as they move into the mainstream.

Scale infuses our attitudes, behaviors and decisions, often in ways that aren’t rooted cognitively. Why do those behaviors that we find the most meaningful personally effect the smallest environmental change? And must we choose?

For some consumers, Whole Foods embodies the tensions between sustainable lifestyles and large-scale corporate growth.

Connection versus impact

To see how complex these choices can be, consider food waste. According to research by Project Drawdown, a nonprofit that uses cost-benefit analysis to identify the most effective macro-scale ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, reducing food waste is one of the most productive strategies for curbing climate change.

But this doesn’t mean eating everything on your plate at dinner or buying “ugly produce.” Nearly one-third of all food waste occurs between the farm and the grocery store or restaurant, so that’s the optimal place to reduce it. Once a meal is plated, it’s ultimately too late to avert those losses.

Everyone who is concerned about the environment knows that large-scale solutions are important. And yet the solutions feel abstract, far away and embedded in stubborn power structures that are difficult to influence or engage with.

Environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken, founder of Project Drawdown, argues for concerted large-scale action to reverse global warming.

Can environmentalists admit and accept that they act at different scales for different reasons? In his book, “The $64 Tomato,” William Alexander humorously recognized that when harvested, each of his home-grown tomatoes had cost, well, US$64, factoring in pest management, watering and animal traps.

Growing tomatoes is an act of connection, and engagement with the natural world is ultimately what fuels many environmentalists to fight for wild species and places. That is no small feat. But as Alexander’s work demonstrates, these behaviors are practiced mainly by people who have benefited the most from industrial society. You can’t grow $64 tomatoes if you don’t have $64 to spare on what is ultimately a hobby.

Acting at the local level feels good because the results are visible and tangible. Some people dream of getting rid of possessions, installing solar panels, eating from the garden and practicing a life rooted in place, sensitive to the needs of the Earth. But the world is more complicated than that.

I may think I’m acting locally, but in fact I’m in contact with distant communities every day. I can identify local plants using my iPhone, then upload them to iNaturalist. And what is a back-to-the-land lifestyle if not seen through a hazy Instagram filter? Yet as geographer Andrew Blum states, “to ignore the modern is to be profoundly disconnected from the world in which we actually live.”.

In my view, we don’t get to choose. Everything local is global, and vice versa. It’s a matter of continuing to participate, to question ourselves and our behaviors, to assess and reassess the needs of the planet, and hold dearly the tensions that come with trying to make positive environmental change.


This article was originally posted on The Conversation.
Cover photo by Caleb Stokes on Unsplash.
85% of cities are feeling climate change—but nearly half aren’t dealing with it

85% of cities are feeling climate change—but nearly half aren’t dealing with it

By Jessica Klein

Last year, the United Nations reported that by 2050, about two-thirds of the global population will be living in cities. As people flock to urban centers, representatives from 620 of the world’s largest cities are using CDP, a nonprofit environmental and financial disclosure platform, to report their experiences so far with the dangers brought by climate change.

Unsurprisingly, in 2018, 85% of these cities have already reported experiencing major climate issues, from extreme heat waves to flooding. However, 46% of these cities reported that they’ve taken no action to deal with these problems.

According to CDP’s information, published in its new Cities at Risk report (which covers 2018 data), flooding is a regular occurrence for 71% of cities. Meanwhile, 61% of reporting cities have dealt with extreme heat, and 36% have undergone droughts.

As part of CDP’s report, each city was given a “hazard score.” The score came from the number or risks each city reported, multiplied by the severity of each risk (one for “less severe,” two for “severe,” and three for “extremely severe”). In the U.S., the highest hazard score went to St. Louis, Missouri, where reported climate change risks added up to a 34 hazard score—also the second highest worldwide, under Rio de Janeiro, which got a score of 35. In the middle range, cities like New York City scored 10 hazard points, and at the low end, Moab, Utah, got one.

However, it’s not the cities with the highest scores we should be most concerned about.

Katie Walsh, Head of Cities, States and Regions for CDP North America, emphasizes that reporting this information to CDP is a voluntary process. “Another way to think about this is: ‘Which are the cities that are not reporting on any climate hazards?’” she says. “Our work has demonstrated to us that you have to go through this annual measurement process as one step closer to [climate change] management.” The cities that don’t report, then, are that much further behind in preparing for increasingly dangerous climate events. Cities like St. Louis, on the other hand, that are reporting high scores—”that’s a good thing,” Walsh says.

Of the 620 cities that publicly reported their information to CDP (cities that reported privately were not included in the Cities at Risk report), 136 are in the U.S. Half of those cities, says Walsh, detail climate change hazards but “are not in a position to do vulnerability assessments.”

Vulnerability assessments force cities to consider how both their physical and social systems are going to be affected by the changing climate. For example, they ask cities to evaluate how their transportation systems will be affected and how climate change could affect their energy grids. Such assessments also make cities take stock of their most vulnerable populations. Where in the city do senior citizens live? Where are the low-income neighborhoods? Walsh says conducting these assessments is the best way for cities to start preparing to deal with future, increasingly severe climate changes.

Cities also told CDP the social risks they believe will stem from climate change, as well as whether those risks are short-term, medium-term, or long-term concerns. The greatest short-term risk reported, by 156 cities worldwide, was that to “already vulnerable populations.” Top long-term concerns centered on population displacement and the spread of disease. Many cities also considered the latter a significant short- and medium-term concern.

Overall, cities across the globe tended to underreport long-term risks—only 11% did. While Walsh said there were plenty of contributing factors to this, she brought it back to the fact that many cities have not completed vulnerability assessments, which would help them better foresee long-term problems. Also, it’s easy for cities to document the short-term risks. They’re already happening.

“It’s not that climate change is far out . . . [cities] know where they’re flood prone and that they’re getting more storm surges. They know how sea level rise is affecting their shorelines,” Walsh says. “The short-term risks are very palpable to them.”

Who’s them, exactly? “It’s all over the map,” Walsh says, when it comes to who from each city provides this information to CDP. Some work in the mayor’s office, others are urban planners or engineers or, in some cities, people who work in organizations dedicated to planning for climate change. Wealthier cities tend to be home to such organizations.

“Wealth disparity and inequality came up as one of the biggest risks that cities are going to face,” says Walsh. In total, 54 cities reported this type of inequality as a barrier to climate resiliency action. “In broad strokes, countries that are economically better positioned are better positioned to be able to react and adapt to climate change.”


This article was originally posted on The Daily Climate.
Cover photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash
Two-day workshop explores cost benefit analysis for climate change adaptation for sustainable flood management in cities

Two-day workshop explores cost benefit analysis for climate change adaptation for sustainable flood management in cities

A two-day training course from the 9th to 10th of May will provide city planners in Hungary with a better understanding of how to use Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) for climate change adaptation.

Through a series of plenary presentations and practical group exercises, the training will emphasise practical experiences and knowledge creation in relation to CBA impact assessment, economic valuation, damage cost assessment, adaptation costs and implementation and finance in a local and international context. The course is run in combination with an online learning course.

The specific course objectives include:

  • Understanding the different concepts and factors determining the risks from extreme climate events
  • Understand the data requirements in urban flood modelling and how to apply these in climate risk assessments
  • Understanding the basic terms of CBA and knowing each step required in conducting a CBA
  • Using a CBA tool to conduct a simple CBA
  • Grasping what instruments are available to raise revenues locally and internationally for urban adaptation, and identifying challenges faced by city planners in financing urban adaptation.

Through this course, city planners in Hungary will be in a better position to build resilience to flooding and more broadly climate change.

The course is organised by the Technical University of Denmark in collaboration with Climate-KIC, Acclimatise, Pannon Pro Innovation Services, the National University of Public Service and the Association of Climate-Friendly Municipalities.   

Key experts include Lisa Bay, Kirsten Halsnaes, Per S. Kaspersen, Max Steinhausen, Michel Wortmann, and our very own Virginie Fayolle who will be presenting and facilitating a panel discussion around the challenges and opportunities for cities to finance urban resilience.

For more information download the information pack below.


Cover photo by Jim Gade on Unsplash.
New York City launches updated climate resilience design guidelines

New York City launches updated climate resilience design guidelines

By Will Bugler

In April 2019, New York City released new and updated Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines that apply to all city capital projects, with the exception of coastal protection projects. The guidelines direct planners, engineers, architects, and others involved in project delivery on how to use regionally-specific future climate projections in the design of city facilities.

The guidelines are designed to be used throughout all stages of the project design process, starting with the initiation of capital planning and through final design. They provide step-by-step instructions on how to supplement historic climate data with specific, regional, forward-looking climate change data in the design of City facilities. The guidelines aim to ensure that resilient design becomes an integral part of the project planning process for City agencies and designers.

The Guidelines are an effort to incorporate forward-looking climate change data in the design of all City capital projects. Existing codes and standards already incorporate historic weather data to determine how to design for today’s conditions. However, with climate change the past is no longer a good guide to the robust design standards that will be required in the future. The guidelines therefore incorporate the work of the New York Panel on Climate Change (NPCC), which provides city-level climate projections.

Developed by the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resilience (ORR), the Guidelines encourage resilience approaches to infrastructure development in the city. A successful resilience strategy, the guidelines say, is one that “provides co-beneficial outcomes, reduces costs over the life of the asset wherever possible, and avoids negative indirect impacts to other systems.”

Instead the guidelines encourage infrastructure projects to take an integrated approach from planning to implementation, ensuring that they are a cohesive part of exiting processes that address goals defined by the City. The guidelines suggest that this is best achieved by:

  1. integrating “soft” resiliency strategies (operational measures or investments in green infrastructure) and “hard” resiliency strategies (built or intensive investments);
  2. addressing multiple climate hazards with single interventions; and
  3. reducing climate change risk in concert with other goals (e.g., energy efficiency or reduction in greenhouse gas emissions).

A copy of the NYC Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines can be downloaded here.

Photo by Namphuong Van on Unsplash

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