Category: Infrastructure

Report finds smart surfaces save cities billions through increased resilience

Report finds smart surfaces save cities billions through increased resilience

By Georgina Wade

A new report from clean energy advisory and venture firm Capital E finds that urban investment in smart surface strategies could secure billions of dollars in net financial benefits.

The cost-benefit analysis conducted in three cities, Philadelphia, El Paso and Washington D.C., concludes that smart surfaces can strengthen resilience, improve health and liveability, expand jobs and slow global warming. Smart surfaces include green roofs, solar panels, permeable pavement and reflective pavement.

Additionally, these strategies could potentially deliver half a trillion dollars in savings from urban employment nationally.

Source: U.S. Green Building Council

The report highlights concerns about cities becoming urban heat islands, especially as more effects of climate change become evident. The damage and cost of increased temperature and air pollution are particularly acute for urban low-income urban areas having profound, directly measurable effects on both physical and mental health outcomes.

Smart surface technologies, like cool roofs, help manage high temperatures by reflecting light and heat rather than absorbing it. Green roofs, so roofs with a plant cover, for example, can also provide a means of improving resilience through stormwater management and water quality while providing a means of filtration.

Additionally, investment in the green economy offers jobs across a wide range of skill levels with relatively low entry barriers. Installing smart surfaces in urban areas would help create relatively well-paid jobs and increasing the availability of positions in construction.

And, city officials are responding positively to the report’s findings. As former mayor of Austin Will Wynn notes, “Delivering Urban Resilience provides an entirely convincing case that city-wide adoption of ‘smart surfaces’ like green and cool roofs and porous pavements are both cost-effective and essential to ensuring that our cities remain liveable in a warming world.”

The Delivering Urban Resilience report also provides a methodology for quantifying the full costs and benefits for smart solutions giving cities the ability to financially quantify green options.

 Download the full report by clicking here.

Cover photo by US Air Force: About 2,100 trays of sedum, a regional high desert plant, cover most of the 21st Space Wing Headquarters building roof. It was selected because of its drought resistance. The green roof, installed in 2007, is designed to reduce energy consumption and rainwater runoff, and extend the life of the roof, ultimately saving taxpayer dollars. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lea Johnson).
Government inaction over new building regulations could cause a tripling of heatwave deaths by 2040

Government inaction over new building regulations could cause a tripling of heatwave deaths by 2040

By Georgina Wade

Inaction by the UK government over new building regulations that would ensure homes, hospitals and schools do not overheat, could spell death for thousands of people every year.

A 2017 report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warns that the number of people dying as a result of heat is expected to more than triple to 7,000 a year by 2040 with hospitals and care homes being particularly vulnerable.

And Britain’s recent seasonal temperature averages have proved to be anything but normal. In June 2017, Britain experienced its longest period with temperatures above 30°C since 1976. On the hottest day of the year in 2016 there were almost 400 extra deaths, while a 10-day heatwave in 2003 brought about 2,000 heat-related deaths and another 680 fatalities occurred during hot weather in 2006.

The CCC made the initial recommendation for new regulations in 2015 but faced rejection by ministers, citing a commitment to “reduce net regulation on homebuilders”.

The Government’s current Heatwave Plan contains advice on protecting vulnerable people before and during hot weather. But it is a guidance; not a policy to adapt buildings to prevent the problem in the first place.

Deputy Chair of the CCC Baroness Brown believes the issue will only get worse with a lack of regulation.

“More than 90 percent of our population live in urban areas and as we have all been experiencing, heat is a significant problem,” she said. “We know it’s bad for productivity, we know it’s bad for wellbeing and we know it’s bad for health yet building regulations don’t cover heat and the management of high temperatures.”

Research conducted by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) found that 45% of building professionals estimate there is ‘little or no additional cost’ of incorporating passive cooling measures in new buildings at the design stage.

Additionally, the report found that retrofitting was more likely to involve a higher cost compared to built-in overheating measures. Experts also stress that air conditioning should not be the first choice as it is expensive, energy-intensive, and expels water heat into the environment, making the problem of overheating worse for others.

With a lack of regulation being the most commonly reported barrier cited by building professionals to address risks of overheating, government intervention is essential. And Lord Deben, Chairman of the CCC, stresses there is no time for delay.

“The events of the past year have been, by almost any measure, exceptional,” he said. “However, it is now time for government, and for parliament, to act. Climate change is happening, not waiting. It is neither justifiable nor wise to delay further.

Cover photo by Ján Jakub Naništa on Unsplash
Climate adaptation vital to limit damage so far

Climate adaptation vital to limit damage so far

By Tim Radford

The risk of flooding to millions more people in Asia, Europe and North America will rise, demanding climate adaptation for a warmer world. The probable changes as the world heats are so great that climate adaptation to cope with the inevitable is now essential, scientists are warning.

Forest damage, drought and floods, for example, will all worsen, and tidal ranges are already changing. More than half of all the natural vegetation of California is at risk as temperatures rise.

Even were the US and other nations to honour the promises made in the Paris Agreement of 2015, one fourth of California’s natural wilderness would be under stress from global warming, a new study shows.

And on top of temperature rise, California is increasingly at risk from severe drought, says a different study. US government scientists believe they have established a link between the retreat of Arctic sea ice and a decline in rainfall in the Golden State.

Drought and flood

And while California becomes ever more parched, its forests at ever-greater risk of insect attack and wildfire, 43 other US states face a dramatic increase in flood hazard, with a tenfold rise in the numbers of people at risk from the worst river floods.

And – although President Trump has dismissed climate change as a hoax and announced a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement to limit the use of fossil fuels – the tide gauges of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays on the east coast of the US tell a different story. They confirm that climate change has already begun to affect high and low water tides.

US researchers report in the journal Ecosphere that they looked at the consequences for California if global greenhouse gas emissions continue at their present rate, to go on fuelling global warming.

They mapped 30 different vegetation types – California’s canopy includes a huge variety of mountain conifer, forest coastal woodland, upland sagebrush scrub, grassland and so on – and considered nine climate and precipitation variables, and then looked at computer models of future global warming, which predict – at worst – a global average rise of 4.5°C by 2100.

“Mitigating future climate change must be accompanied by adapting to the climate change we have already caused. Doing nothing will be dangerous”

“At current rates of emissions, about 45-56°C of all the natural vegetation in the state is at risk, or from 61,190 to 75,866 square miles,” said James Thorne of the University of California Davis, who led the study.

“If we reduce the rate to Paris Accord targets, those numbers are lowered to between 21 and 28% of the lands at climatic risk.” The research measures only the impact of climate change: not of the accompanying hazards.

During the 2012-2016 Californian drought – the worst on record – more than 127 million trees died of insect infestation, and wildfire devastated huge tracts of forest and scrub.

And according to researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, more drought could be on the way. They report in Nature Communications that the steady attrition of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean triggers a change in atmospheric convection over the tropical Pacific, which creates the right conditions for an atmospheric ridge over the North Pacific, which means California gets a lot sunnier, and therefore drier.

Rising rivers

“On average, considering a 20-year mean, we find a 10-15% decrease in California’s rainfall. However some individual years could become much drier, and others wetter,” said Ivana Cvijanovic, who led the research. “The recent California drought appears to be a good illustration of what sea ice-driven precipitation decline should look like.”

Elsewhere in the US, drought may not be the big problem. German researchers report in the journal Science Advances that they calculated the necessary increase in flood protection over the next 25 years worldwide, as the planet warms.

They looked not just at individual countries but at cities too, to calculate the numbers at hazard of rising rivers, including Europe.

In Germany, the numbers at risk from the worst 10% of all floods will rise sevenfold. In North America, the increase will be tenfold. In the US, 43 states could see more damage from the worst floods.

Asia’s risk greatest

The overall numbers at risk are greatest in Asia – 70 million people now, and 156 million by 2040. The scientists make the case that governments need to think about adaptation. The surprise was that even the most developed nations would be affected.

“The findings should be a warning to decision-makers,” said Anders Levermann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and one of the authors. “If they choose to ignore the issue, sadly enough disaster will come.

“The time has come where mitigating future climate change must be accompanied by adapting to the climate change we have already caused. Doing nothing will be dangerous.”

And the impact of climate change so far is now backed up by evidence in the Journal of Geophysical Research. Once again, the research is driven by a concern to identify future sources of flooding or erosion.

Shifting tides

Oceanographers built a computer model based on a century of measurements of the tides at 15 locations in the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays on the US eastern coast. Overall, by 2100, sea levels could rise by as much as a metre.

They found evidence that sea level rise so far has already begun to change the ranges of low and high tides – in some cases by up to 20% – which in turn are governed by the contours of the two great river estuaries.

“In the Delaware Bay, as you go upstream toward Philadelphia, the shore lines are converging in a kind of funnel shape, and so we see that amplifies sea level rise’s effects on the tides,” said Andrew Ross, a meteorologist then at Penn State University, but now at Princeton. “That amplification gets magnified the farther you go upstream.”

This article was originally published on Climate News Network and is shared under a Creative Commons license

About the author: Tim Radford, a founding editor of Climate News Network, worked for The Guardian for 32 years, for most of that time as science editor. He has been covering climate change since 1988.

Cover photo by Everaldo Coelho on Unsplash.
New guidance document for investors illustrates climate change impacts on infrastructure

New guidance document for investors illustrates climate change impacts on infrastructure


Acclimatise, Climate Finance Advisors (CFA), and Four Twenty Seven have released a new guidance document to increase the climate resilience of large infrastructure investments. The “Lenders’ Guide for Considering Climate Risk in Infrastructure Investments” clearly breaks down the ways in which physical climate risks might affect key financial aspects of prospective infrastructure investments. Ten sub-sectors, including airports, marine ports, gas and oil transport and storage, power transmission and distribution, wind-based power generation, data centres, telecommunications, commercial real estate, healthcare, and sports and entertainment, are analysed and illustrated with topical examples.

“Since Paris, private investors and asset owners have increasingly focused on what investment risks and opportunities are created by climate change.  The Lender’s Guide developed by Acclimatise, Climate Finance Advisors, and Four Twenty Seven provides the first practical approach to assessing the impact of climate change on infrastructure investments for owners, developers, and lenders.  For the first time, the guide provides infrastructure investors and lenders with a concrete approach to climate risks and opportunities,” said Jay Koh, Chair of the Global Adaptation & Resilience Investment (GARI) Working Group.

Cover of the new Lender’s Guide for considering Climate Risk in Infrastructure Investments

This guide provides a framework for questioning how revenues, costs, and assets can be linked to potential project vulnerability arising from climate hazards, such as increasing temperatures or sea-level rise.  A heightened frequency of extreme weather events may lead to more disruptions of infrastructure service delivery resulting in lower revenues and increased expenses. In the United States for example, hurricane damage in 2017 to infrastructure in key economic centres, such as Houston, Texas, exceeded tens of billions of dollars (USD), not to mention losses to revenues and increased operating costs due to recovery efforts.  In addition to the well-known costs from Hurricane Sandy to New York City’s transit infrastructure, that storm also led to 893 flights cancellations and knocked out about 25% of cell towers belonging to all carriers in a coastal area spread over 10 US states, leading to service (and therefore revenue) disruptions for infrastructure assets far beyond New York City. Additionally, incremental changes in climate such as water resource availability or temperatures are also likely to affect the operational and economic performance of infrastructure over time. Reduced precipitation can for instance decrease river flow and negatively impact the operability of hydropower facilities.

The guide also draws attention to the potential opportunities emerging from resilience-oriented investments in infrastructure. Concrete measures, such as replacing copper cables with fibre-optic ones, have proven successful in enhancing the ability of infrastructure to cope with extreme events and increasing revenue for companies who undertook such transformations.

John Firth, CEO of Acclimatise, states “Understanding the risks, as well as any opportunities, that might arise from a changing climate is paramount to infrastructure investments. This guide helps lenders integrate climate risks and opportunities into their strategic planning, hence improving the performance of their investments. Such a process feeds into the recommendations of the Financial Stability Board’s (FSB) Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). ”

Stacy Swann, CEO of Climate Finance Advisors notes that “Financial institutions play a pivotal role in scaling up and directing finance to address climate change. As a general matter, these institutions are always weighing risks against potential returns when seeking good, sustainable investments. Yet, climate risks are often overlooked in this process. This guide can help investment and credit officers begin to ask the right questions about how climate change can impact the financial sustainability of their investments, leading to better – more sustainable – investment decision-making.”

Yoon Kim, Director of Advisory Services at Four Twenty Seven adds “Incorporating climate change considerations into infrastructure investments enables investors proactively to identify and address the risks and opportunities presented by climate change. This guide helps investors and lenders unpack the question of how physical climate risks may affect key considerations related to infrastructure investments to inform investment decisions that make sense now and into the future.”

As the international community is moving forward with the implementation of the Paris Agreement, critical issues such as catalysing resilient investments occupy centre stage and raise questions across various fora, such as GARI. This guide emerged from ongoing discussions among participants of GARI during 2017, and is part of a growing global effort to deliver guidance to corporates and financial institutions to implement the TCFD recommendations.

Download “Lenders’ Guide for Considering Climate Risk in Infrastructure Investments” by clicking here.

About Acclimatise

Acclimatise is a UK-based climate change advisory and analytics company that specialises on climate change adaptation and resilience building. Acclimatise is a trusted advisor for many organisations across a wide range of sectors including government, finance, insurance, water, energy, transport, mining, agriculture, defence, food and beverages, and international development. The company’s 24 staff have successfully worked on more than 350 projects in over 70 countries for 180 public, private and non-governmental organisations. Acclimatise is currently involved in complementary projects for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Global Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptation and the United Nations Environment Programme – Finance.

For more information, visit, follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, and subscribe to our newsletter.

Acclimatise contact: Elisa Jimenez Alonso

About Climate Finance Advisors

Climate Finance Advisors (CFA) is a consulting and advisory firm based in Washington, DC with extensive experience in development, finance, sustainability, and climate change. CFA’s mission is to facilitate the acceleration of sustainable, climate-smart investments and to encourage the integration of climate considerations into investment decision-making and underlying investments. The CFA team is comprised of bankers and finance professionals with more than 75 years’ collective expertise working at the intersection of finance, climate change, infrastructure and project development. The CFA Team has a deep understanding of the financial implications of climate risk for investments, and understands how risks are integrated into the investment decision making process.

For more information, visit, LinkedIn, Twitter and subscribe to the newsletter.

CFA contact: Stacy A. Swann

About Four Twenty Seven

Four Twenty Seven is an award-winning market intelligence and research firm specialized in the economic risks of climate change. Four Twenty Seven’s data analytics solutions bring climate intelligence to economic and financial decision-makers. Four Twenty Seven provides financial portfolio climate risk assessments, development of climate resilience strategies, quantification of metrics and indices for benchmarking, monitoring and evaluation, and training and stakeholder engagement to financial institutions, Fortune 500 corporations, and governments worldwide. The company was founded in 2012 and is headquartered in Berkeley, California with offices in Washington, DC and Paris, France.

For more information, visit, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and subscribe to the newsletter.

Four Twenty Seven contact: Yoon Kim 

About GARI

The Global Adaptation & Resilience Investment Working Group (GARI) is a private investor-led initiative that was launched at COP21, the global climate summit in Paris in 2015. GARI is a partner of the UN Secretary General’s A2R Climate Resilience Initiative. GARI has brought together over 150 private and public investors, bankers, leaders and other stakeholders to discuss critical issues at the intersection of climate adaptation and resilience and investment with the objective of helping to assess, mobilize and catalyze action and investment.

For more information on GARI, please see:

Cover photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash
Video: Mobilizing finance for climate-resilient infrastructure

Video: Mobilizing finance for climate-resilient infrastructure

In September, the Standing Committee on Finance (SCF) organized its annual forum to communicate and exchange information among bodies and entities and with other key stakeholders dealing with climate change finance in order to promote linkages and coherence.

The objective of this year’s SCF forum was to identify gaps in mobilizing and accessing finance for climate-resilient infrastructure and to provide high-level policy inputs and recommendations on how to scale up investment in climate-resilient infrastructure. In particular, it assessed trends in climate-resilient infrastructure, gaps and barriers and explored measures to close the gaps in climate-resilient infrastructure financing.

Recordings and documents to all sessions can be found on the UNFCCC website: LINK.

The video provides a summary of the main themes discussed by participants at the forum:

Cover photo by Piotr Chrobot on Unsplash.
Businesses call on Trump to reverse decision on scrapping flood risk regulations

Businesses call on Trump to reverse decision on scrapping flood risk regulations

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Just weeks before major Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria made landfall on US American soil, on 15 August, President Donald Trump signed an executive order revoking the so-called Federal Flood Risk Management Standard (FFRMS). Now a large group of influential businesses is asking him to reconsider.

The FFRMS flood risk regulations were put in place in 2015 through an executive order signed by former President Barack Obama and was informed by the rebuilding process after Hurricane Sandy. Brian Pallasch, the managing director for government relations and infrastructure initiatives at the American Society of Civil Engineers said to Newsweek “The purpose of that federal flood risk management standard was to ensure that where federal dollars were being spent on infrastructure…that the project sponsor understand and take a look at their flood risk portfolio.”

The current president’s decision had stirred some controversy in August but was largely overshadowed by the aftermath of the shocking events in Charlottesville. However, the story was largely picked up again when Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on 25 August as a category 4 storm that unleashed record amounts of rainfall on the region.

In Cedar Bayou, the National Weather Service recorded a total of 51.88 inches of rainfall, which is now the continental US rainfall record. The flooding caused by Harvey was of historical proportion, displaced over 30,000 people and caused wide-spread damage. It also helped amplify the message of those who criticised Trump’s rollback of the FFRMS.

Among those asking the President to reconsider is a group of businesses, part of the Ceres BICEP Network, that includes giants like Nestle, Unilever, and L’Oreal. Their letter points out that, in the long run, FFRMS will help save taxpayers, businesses, and the government money highlighting a FEMA study that showed “every dollar invested in flood mitigation leads to an average of four dollars in savings on rebuilding.” Furthermore, they express concern about the impacts climate change will have on communities and the economy, saying that “as a network of major businesses with operations in the U.S. and around the world, we believe the flood-risk management standard is an example of smart decision-making that will strengthen the country’s resilience against growing climate risks.”

Cover photo: New Orleans, LA, Sept. 14, 2005 — Six Flags Over Louisiana remains submerged two weeks after Hurricane Katrina caused levees to fail in New Orleans. Bob McMillan/FEMA Photo. Public domain.
BBC podcast: Florida’s sinking real estate

BBC podcast: Florida’s sinking real estate

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

In a recent installment of the BBC’s Worldwide Service “Business Daily” show, Ed Butler traveled to Florida to learn more about the impact sea level rise is having on the state’s booming real estate market.

“The forecast is not too bright,” Butler says as he arrives in Florida greeted by turqoise water, mansions, and yachts. Florida’s coastal real estate is some of the most economically valuable in the United States, but with more than one million homes having been built just a metre above sea level, climate change is posing a significant threat to it and its residents.

So far, the real estate market is alive and well on Florida’s coast and no one seems to be panicking. Mortgage broker Courtland Hunt, for example, offers 30-year loans for people living in areas that already flood frequently and could be under water permanently by 2050. As he puts it, “if the government and insurance companies say these people can buy a home, then I’ll help them buy a home.”

South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard, on the other hand, voices his concern that coastal mortgages could be the next financial bubble to burst. He says that “right now, South Florida is still a lot of fun,” but he is aware that at some point investors will stop putting more money into the region due to increasing flood risk, salt water intrusion and loss of fresh water.

During the episode, Ed Butler also talks to home owners who have been stranded by high tides, and delves a little bit more into the rising issue of getting coastal homes insured.

Access to the full episode by clicking the link: BBC World Service Business Daily – Sinking State?

Cover photo by Mathew Hurst (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Meeting the challenge of sustainable infrastructure needs to meet the challenge with public-private collaboration?

Meeting the challenge of sustainable infrastructure needs to meet the challenge with public-private collaboration?

Graham Watkins, Inter-American Development Bank

Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean keep demonstrating their commitment to sustainable development. Adopting the 2030 Agenda and ratifying the Paris agreement showed their willingness to remain well below 2C degrees Celsius. Such commitments require mobilizing enormous amounts of resources, in particular from private sector investors.

This week, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel during the PPP Americas event in Costa Rica. Increasingly, sustainability is a focus of discussions in the PPP agenda – particularly regarding the importance of climate resilience and stakeholder engagement. The panelists included Guy Felio from Stantec in Canada, John Firth from Acclimatise, Christophe Dossarps from the Sustainable Infrastructure Foundation, and Jaime Garcia-Alba from our sister organization – the International Investment Corporation (IIC)– together, a collective 100 years of experience!

What are the main challenges to moving towards more sustainable infrastructure over the coming years? The discussion focused on several key challenges:

  1. First, we need to emphasize that infrastructure is about providing services – movement, energy, water, sanitation, and communications – and no longer about the asset – roads, power plants, pipelines, sewers, and transmission lines. This will require new approaches to policy and planning that consider that there may be different solutions available to provide the same services.
  2. Future discussions also need to be about existing infrastructure as much as about new infrastructure – there are many opportunities to improve existing infrastructure. Operational costs (which could reach 80% of the total infrastructure cost) are often under-emphasized, compared to capital costs.
  3. We need to address how climate change will affect service supply through direct impacts on assets but we also need to look at how climate change will affect service demand. Sadly, in a review of 15 country PPP regulatory frameworks undertaken by Acclimatise, none referred to the management of climate risks, even though each of the countries had a national climate change policy – which just shows how far we must go.
  4. We need greater emphasis on operational management. To achieve cost savings over project life-cycles, we will need to consider how data on infrastructure is gathered, managed, and used for decision making – permitting adaptive management.
  5. We need to enable greater engagement with the private sector, both as project developers and operators and as financiers, to increase the delivery of services that have traditionally been in the public domain.

The coming 15 years will be extremely challenging – climate change will likely accelerate and so too will technological change – innovation will help overcome the challenges and drive the transition from business as usual to sustainable infrastructure provision:

  1. Modeling uncertainty is necessary and increasingly more sophisticated and useful in planning investments – but in many cases, professional judgment may be more important to deciding on the most appropriate approach.
  2. “Big data” – making available data in ways that it can be used more effectively for decision making – information on service demand and supply and factors that affect demand and supply and ensure that this information becomes more transparent.
  3. Pay attention to risk across the whole life cycle of projects – we need to address the institutional/governance context, planning, procurement and tendering, preparation and design, construction, and, critically, operations and maintenance.
  4. Standardize the way in which we report on risks – building on global reporting and disclosure standards for companies and assets – ensuring that we transparently bridge the communications gap between engineers, developers, and financiers as well as between the public sector, private sector, and civil society.
  5. Finally, we need to agree on our vision for the way forward – to provide a common, clear, and yet simple understanding of what “sustainable infrastructure” is and how to achieve it – as a framework to “house” different approaches to resilience and sustainability.

Delivering this agenda requires systemic change, in particular regarding the way the  public and private sectors work and relate to each other– and, as we have pointed out previously, it requires us to clarify our vision, to commit to working as a team, to collaborate and coordinate to empower change, and to continually communicate our successes to institutionalize the changes.

Cover photo by IDB used with kind permission
Flood and hurricane risk varies widely across US

Flood and hurricane risk varies widely across US

By Tim Radford

New evidence based on groundwater and stream flow reveals mixed messages for the United States, as flood and hurricane frequency depends on region.

The northern states of the US can expect more flooding in a warming world. The southern and southwestern states can look forward to fewer floods. And the evidence comes not from climate models or from flood records over the decades, but from down-to-earth measurements of groundwater and stream flow.

There is a mixed message for Americans along the Atlantic coast as well. Atlantic hurricanes will become more frequent and more intense. But the very conditions that favour hurricane intensity could mean that those that hit the coast will be less severe, according to a separate study.

Catastrophic floods

Both studies are about probabilities: catastrophic floods of the kind that hit Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Maryland and Louisiana in the winter of 2015-16 could happen again. The rainy north could experience long dry spells.

But the probabilities point to a wetter future for the north, and a less moist one for the south, according to Gabriele Villarini, of the University of Iowa, US, who has been looking at 30 years of data from more than 2,000 US Geological Survey stream gauges and comparing it with readings of groundwater from Nasa’s GRACE or Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellite.

He and colleagues report in Geophysical Research Letters that northern states held more groundwater, and therefore were more at risk from minor or moderate flooding. Those in the south were experiencing steadily lower levels of groundwater, and therefore were less likely to see rivers and streams bursting their banks after rainfall.

“Generally, flood risk is increasing in the upper half of the US and decreasing in the lower half,” says Dr Villarini. “It’s not a uniform pattern, and we want to understand why we see this difference.”

The finding is consistent: last year Dr Villarini looked at 50 years of data from more than 700 stream gauges in 14 states to confirm that flooding was, indeed, getting worse, even as drought conditions in the southwest were on the increase.

In a separate study he reported evidence of increasing flooding by those hurricanes and tropical cyclones that crossed the coastline to dump huge quantities of water inland.

But quite how bad future hurricane assault on the US is going to be is the subject of much brow-wrinkling. Hurricanes develop as sea surface temperatures rise. So as global temperatures steadily increase because of human combustion of fossil fuels – and 2016 is seen as the hottest year ever recorded – so does the hazard.

Researchers have found that by any objective standard, the hurricane damage to the US has increased, and all the indications are that the insurance bills will go on rising.

As waters go on warming, more northerly states are increasingly at risk and those unlikely things, the superstorm and the megadrought, will become measurably less unlikely.

But like floods – which are made more probable or more devastating by local conditions, river management, and freak tides and storm surges – hurricanes are capricious.

The circumstances that make hurricanes probable may even set up the conditions that make the same hurricanes weaken as they near land. A new study in Nature sees a pattern even in the caprice.

Jim Kossi of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s national centres for environmental information looked at two sets of data gathered over three 23-year periods from 1947 to 2015. The first were observations from the US National Hurricane Centre. The second was a measure of sea surface temperatures and wind shear – changes in speed with altitude – over the same period.

Hurricane buffer zone

Tropical hurricanes happen in times of high ocean temperatures and low wind shear. But as they near the coast, they hit an environment of higher wind shear and cooler ocean temperatures. And this may sap their energy. It is as if intense hurricanes create their own coastal buffer zone.

“They have to track through a gauntlet of high shear to reach the coast, and many of them stop intensifying. It is a natural mechanism for killing off hurricanes that threaten the US coast,” Dr Kossin says.

“It is good news. Greater activity produces more threats, but at the same time, we increase our protective barrier. It’s pretty amazing that it happens to work that way.”

The finding is not likely to provide much solace, if only because some think the trend for hurricane frequency and for hurricane damage is rising. Conversely, too, when hurricane activity is low in the Atlantic basin, those hurricanes that do hit the coast could intensify.

And there is another possibility: the relationship between tropical and coastal wind shear conditions may not survive climate change. “There is no reason to think that this is a stationary mechanism,” says Dr Kossin. “It’s entirely possible that changes in climate could affect the natural barrier and thus significantly increase coastal hazard and risk.”


This article was originally published on Climate News Network and is shared under a Creative Commons license.

Cover photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Giles (CC by 2.0).
Surface water flooding, not sea level rise the main vulnerability for many ports

Surface water flooding, not sea level rise the main vulnerability for many ports

By Jim Hight

Editor’s note: This post was adapted from an article that first appeared in the Climate Change Business Journal.

Many seaports will have to invest significant resources to assess their climate-related vulnerabilities and develop adaptation strategies in the coming decades. But the sheer variety of port settings and configurations means that this common challenge will require individually tailored solutions.

“Every port is different,” said Heather Wood, Ports Market Sector leader for environmental consulting and engineering firm Kennedy Jenks. “They all do the same things, but they’re located in very different places, with different climates, different environmental concerns.”

“Some are smack in the middle of communities that have grown around them while some are in industrial areas with few neighbors,” said Wood. “Some are inland, some are close to the ocean. Some have issues with subsidence like New Orleans and Hampton Roads.”

A port’s most obvious vulnerability would at first glance appear to be sea level rise (SLR). But while SLR and the associated higher storm surges have the potential to overtop wharves and piers, reduce the clearance between ships and bridges and create other impacts—flooding from more intense precipitation is a greater threat to many ports.

“Ports are already prepared for hurricanes and northeasters, and they know when they have to shut down,” said Wood. “It’s the localized flooding that can occur in the middle of operations that could short out a system and disable their increasingly automated systems of sensors, cameras and wireless infrastructure.”

In a study of climate change vulnerabilities for the Port of Manzanillo—Mexico’s largest and fastest growing container port—Acclimatise and Worley Parsons Advisian identified surface water flooding as a more significant near-term problem than SLR. Like many ports, it sits at the bottom of a catchment basin where it receives runoff from the surrounding city. Soil erosion combined with garbage collecting in the drainage system are “already causing disruptions that are likely to increase with very heavy rainfall events associated with climate change,” said Richenda Connell, CTO of Acclimatise.

Without new measures to mitigate flooding, disruptions at Manzanillo from more intense precipitation could double by 2050, leading to higher maintenance costs and more downtime. As part of their report, the consultants provided a cost-benefit analysis of adaptation actions (see chart) to give port authorities and private terminal operators a menu of their options.

SLR figures into long-term planning

Of course, sea level rise must be factored into ports’ long-term planning. “What I see routinely is that when ports are planning for new infrastructure, most are taking climate change into consideration,” said Doug Daugherty, managing principal of technical and scientific consultancy Ramboll Environ. “Where potential issues come up is for the existing infrastructure.”

Some studies over the last 10 years illustrate the potentially enormous scale of the SLR challenge. A 2008 OECD study on vulnerable port cities by R. Nicholls and a 2011 article in Climatic Change by Nicholls and colleagues ranked the top 20 port cities for climate vulnerability.

Heavily populated, low-lying deltaic cities in South Asia rank at the top for vulnerability, with 37 million people expected to be exposed by 2070 in Kolkata, Mumbai and Dhaka. The top three in exposed asset value: Miami, Guangzhou and New York-Newark, where over $9 trillion in property will be at risk in 2070.

In December 2015, four Stanford University Civil and Environmental Engineering professors published a “Thought Exercise” to estimate the cost of elevating all U.S. ports to a new height based on regional 2070 projections for sea level rise and storm surge. Their estimates: $66 billion to $88 billion, plus 495 million cubic meters of fill, which would cost an estimated $30 billion for dredging, dozing and compaction. And those estimates excluded the costs of adapting buildings and infrastructure.

As the projections from Nicholls et al make clear, ports aren’t stand-alone infrastructure but gateways to cities, regions and countries. And port planning for climate change must be integrated with regional planning, especially for transportation. “Ports can’t function without the rails, trucks and the larger transport network to move freight and the workforce.,” said Wood. “While ports can plan for sea level rise, it’s imperative that other transporation modes do the same.”

Changing projections

Like all coastal governments and property owners, ports face great uncertainty in terms of how quickly sea levels will rise. For SLR projections in its 2011 MasterPlan 2035, the Port of Miami used estimates from the Climate Change Advisory Task Force established by the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, which in 2008 predicted a 1.5 foot rise by 2060. But Miami-Dade and other South Florida counties later updated these projections, estimating 2060 sea levels at 11 to 22 inches higher, 28 to 57 inches by 2100.

“The projections keep changing,” said Daugherty, noting recent scientific papers examining whether the Antarctic ice sheet is melting faster than currently predicted. “Other scientists are looking at the possibilities that when we get to certain higher temperature ranges we might lose the Antarctic and Greenland ice, which would put us geologically in similar conditions as a past interglacial period with its corresponding much higher sea levels than what is currently projected.”

So, what triggers a port owner to take climate change adaptation seriously and invest the relatively small sums needed for a climate vulnerability assessment?

Ramboll Environ has performed such assessments for California ports in the context of environmental impact reports (EIRs) prepared for port planning and capital projects. Although the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) does not require an analysis of the environment’s impact on a proposed project—an interpretation upheld by the state Supreme Court in December 2015—many local governments, including port authorities, choose to include an analysis of climate change impacts in their EIRs.

In developing countries, port climate change risks assessments are generally funded by multilateral development banks—and MDBs’ funding is typically triggered by contemplated investments in port expansions or upgrades, according to Connell, whose firm also also worked on a climate adaptation study for the Muelles del Bosque port in Cartagena, Colombia.

The Manzanillo project was funded by the InterAmerican Development Bank (IDB), and the Cartagena project by the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

IDB and other MDBs like the World Bank and IFC “work very hard to use the lessons from these types of studies to spread the word more broadly through their communities,” said Connell. Connell expects port authorities and private terminal operators to eventually become more active in funding such studies in developing countries’ ports, especially those that are expanding.

Ports and large port users have also funded adaptation measures that benefit an entire community. As noted in The Business Case for Responsible Corporate Adaptation published by UNEP, CDP and others in 2015, Brazilian mining firm Vale invested $18.6 million in the Capixaba Hydrometeorological Monitoring Center in partnership with the Government of Espírito Santo. The sophisticated weather forecasting helps Vale and the community be more alert for extreme weather events.

Image: Costs & Benefits of Adaptation Measures, Port of Manzanillo. Source: Accliamtise, Worley Parsons Advisian.

A rapidly changing industry

Planning for climate change impacts, where it occurs, is taking place within an industry that is investing heavily in upgrading channels and infrastructure to accommodate super-sized “post-Panamax” container ships (so named because the Panama Canal is being upgraded to accommodate them).

Ports are competing to become Post-Panamax Ready. According to Panorama, the magazine of Colombian airline Copa, East Coast ports are dredging harbors and raising bridges to become PPR with the expectation that they’ll take market share from West Coast ports.

The Port of New York and New Jersey is investing $1.3 billion to raise the roadbed of the Bayonne Bridge that spans the Kill Van Kull strait between Staten Island and Bayonne, N.J., by 64 feet

With their port clients engaged in such large and fast-paced capital programs, it’s difficult for climate change consultants to get a seat at the table. According to Connell, the key is raising awareness within the ports and shipping industries.

“It’s like anything in the world of climate change adaptation,” said Connell. “The first step is building this broad-based awareness of whether it’s an issue. For ports, the role of organization like PIANC [World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure] in raising awareness is essential to get that first step in place.”

Acclimatise, Ramboll Environ and other firms are supporting PIANC to develop guidance on adaptation. Daugherty is serving as principal U.S. representative to PIANC’s permanent task group on climate change.

Connell says she and her colleagues view such work with industry associations as important for business development and for advancing the practice of climate change adaptation.

“We see that assisting industry associations as they seek to mobilize their members is a very important step in getting as broad a community of stakeholders as possible enlightened,” said Connell. “Acclimatise has also supported oil and gas industry associations in a similar vein.”


Jim Hight is Senior Editor of the Climate Change Business Journal. He has served as a Contributing Editor for both Environmental Business Journal and Nutrition Business Journal and as a Research Analyst for Environmental Business International since 1999. He has written extensively about finance, marketing and regulatory affairs in the environmental and nutrition industries. Jim has consulted since 1983 for a wide range of private companies, public agencies and nonprofit organizations.

Cover photo by Andy Liang (CC BY 2.0)