Cities are increasingly facing extreme storms, floods, heat waves, or rising seas because of the changing climate—and the toll of human suffering and economic costs are too great to ignore. Since 1980, there have been 208 U.S. weather and climate events, with total damages over $1 trillion.
That’s why many state and local governments are now taking firm action to prepare for these impacts, often while also reducing their own climate-change-causing emissions. This is not a partisan issue. Among the scores of U.S. mayors who are making their cities more resilient to the growing impacts of climate change are both Democrats and Republicans. The private sector is stepping up as well.
For example, New York City, after suffering nearly $20 billion in damage from Hurricane Sandy, is building a $335 million 10-mile flood protection system for Manhattan. As part of the planning for future storms, Mayor Bill de Blasio is working to ensure that lower-income neighborhoods are not disproportionally affected. Companies are responding too. The real estate company for Empire Stores in Brooklyn has invested $1 million in 1,100 feet of deployable flood barriers to protect against big storms.
Louisville and Washington, D.C., two fast-warming U.S. cities, are investing in green infrastructure, tree canopy, and parks in areas most vulnerable to searing heat waves. Norfolk, Va., a Navy hub, is working with military leaders to combat sea-level rise. The flood-prone coastal city is also planning living shorelines and other green infrastructure to reduce flooding from rain as part of its winning National Disaster Resilience Competition proposal.
My hometown of New Orleans, where most of my family lost homes in Hurricane Katrina, has invested billions of dollars in flood control measures since the storm, the most costly disaster in U.S. history. New Orleans’ actions include elevating public buildings to above the predicted flood level of 500-year storms and building sea walls, parks, rain gardens, and pumping systems to reduce flood risks.
Our Georgetown Climate Center works with New Orleans and many other states and communities to change laws and policies with climate change in mind and to promote solutions that benefit those most at risk.
City and county leaders have limited financial resources and technical capacity for addressing the complexities of climate change impacts. But for help, they can turn to regional adaptation collaboratives. These collaboratives allow local governments to share resources, leverage expertise, and develop coordinated plans and policy solutions.
One success story is in Southeast Florida, where a compact of four counties with 108 municipalities, including Miami Beach, West Palm Beach, and Key West, is implementing a Regional Climate Action Plan that includes projections for sea-level rise and a regional vulnerability assessment. In California, the San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative directs a “Resilient Coastlines Project” to connect and coordinate the region’s local sea-level rise initiatives.
State leadership also plays a substantial role. Our Center tracks state and community efforts to adapt to our warming world.
But while all these actions are important, they unfortunately will not be enough. To fully reduce the growing risks from the impact of climate change, we need national action. The federal government must now step up not only to continue to cut carbon emissions, but also to support the many innovative long-term adaptation efforts that cities and states are making to protect their vulnerable communities and citizens.
Lessons from thousands of climate plans, project insights, and reports are accessible through the Adaptation Clearinghouse developed by the Georgetown Climate Center, which also provides a tool to track progress of state and local adaptation plans.