NYC Publishes Plans for Climate Change Adaptation

New York City published a new report detailing the city’s plans to adapt to changing climate.

The plans, revealed in the first report of the New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC) and published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, outline the measures the city will take to proactively respond to climate change in a way that will provide both long-term environmental, and short-term economic, benefits to the city.

Established by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2008, the NPCC report outlines a framework for deploying risk management tools to address the city’s climate adaptation challenges, particularly the challenges posed to the city’s energy, transportation, water, and communication systems.

The NPCC brings together teams of committed scientists and experts, led by Co-chairs Cynthia Rosenzweig (NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies; and Columbia University Earth Institute, Center for Climate Systems Research) and William Solecki (City University of New York, CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities), to protect the city’s critical infrastructure from the risks of a changing climate.

Under the existing New York City comprehensive sustainability plan, PlaNYC, efforts focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions with initiatives to increase building energy efficiency and retrofit ferries to use cleaner fuel. The new NPCC plan recognizes that these actions will not stop climate change alone and points to the climate risks already facing the city, such as heat waves, blackouts, flooding, and coastal storms.

In response to these challenges the NPCC calls for New York City to begin to adapt to climate change immediately and proposes the creation of Flexible Adaptation Pathways, strategies that evolve through time as climate risk assessment, evaluation of adaptation strategies, and monitoring continue.

The report suggests approaches to climate change adaptation can be incorporated into the management of the city’s infrastructure, such as recalibrating building design standards to include climate change projections, expanding the legal framework governing the design and operation of infrastructure to include the impacts of climate change, and engaging with the insurance industry so that it contributes to adaptation strategies by creating products that respond to and recognize long-term risks.

The NPCC suggests that all agencies and organizations that manage infrastructure adaptation strategies should draw from a range of responses, including adjustments in operations and management, capital investments in infrastructure, and development of policies that promote flexibility.

The NPCC proposes several recommendations for action, focusing on critical infrastructure and alignment with broader-scale actions, including the creation of a climate change monitoring program to track and analyze key climate change factors, impacts, and adaptation indicators across the city, as well as studying relevant advances in research on related topics.

“Cities are at the forefront of the battle against climate change. We
are the source of approximately 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
And as the climate changes, densely populated urban areas–particularly
coastal cities–will disproportionately feel the impacts,” said New York
City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “Those of us in local government
recognize the importance of national and international leadership on
climate change. But we are not waiting for others to act first.” 

NPCC Recommendations for Action

1. Adopt a risk-based approach to develop Flexible Adaptation Pathways, which includes regular reviews of the city’s adaptation program.

2. Create a mandate for an ongoing body of experts that provides advice and prepares tools related to climate change adaptation for the City of New York. Areas that could be addressed by this body 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.

3. Establish a climate change monitoring program to track and analyze key climate change factors, impacts, and adaptation 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.

4. 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. Include the private sector in these interactions.

5. 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. New York City should work with FEMA and NOAA to update the FIRMs and SLOSH maps to include climate change projections.

6. Work with the insurance industry to facilitate the use of risk-sharing mechanisms to address climate change impacts.

7. Focus on strategies for responding to near- and mid-term incremental changes (e.g., temperature and precipitation changes) as well as long-term low-probability, high-impact events (e.g., catastrophic storm surges exacerbated by sea level rise).

8. Pay particular attention to early win–win adaptation strategies, such as those that have near-term benefits or meet multiple goals (greenhouse gas mitigation, emergency planning, etc.).


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