Cities throughout the United States are at the forefront of climate change. And many of them have also been at the forefront of climate action, working to adapt to increased flooding from sea-level rise, damages from extreme weather, and other impacts. Today, a group of local officials outlined what they need from the federal government to succeed in building climate-resilient communities.
The report comes from the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, a group of 26 mayors, governors, tribal leaders, and other local officials from around the nation. In a first-of-its-kind document, local leaders themselves aggregated hundreds of recommendations outlining the challenges their cities face in a warmer world, and the specific actions they need from the federal government in order to build resiliency.
Here’s a look at what officials said they’re up against, as well as what kind of support they need in the short- and long-term:.
Local Communities Are at the Frontlines of Climate Impacts
From regional impacts like longer and more severe large wildfires to increasingly heavy rainfall to public health dangers, climate change is already a significant threat to communities and their economies. “Cities are at the very front of climate change impacts, and must deal with its consequences through effective actions,” George Heartwell, mayor of Grand Rapids, MI, said in the report. “Grand Rapids faced the impact of flood, heat wave, and snow blizzards in the last three years. State and federal-level governments need to provide support to local governments and ensure coordinated efforts to address climate change effects.”
Grand Rapids is far from alone in the challenges it faces. According to the report:
Alaska’s public infrastructure costs may rise $3.6-$6.1 billion over the next 20 years due to the thawing and sinking of once-frozen ground. In more rural parts of the state, this thaw is likely to disrupt water supplies and sewage systems.
The Midwest will likely require more than $6 billion in infrastructure investments by mid-century to combat rising temperatures.
Cumulative costs of sea-level rise and associated flooding across the North Atlantic may exceed $88 billion by 2100.
Local officials are already leading the way toward addressing the impacts of climate change, but they cannot build resiliency alone. They need federal support—specifically when it comes to accounting for climate change in investments and planning and reducing emissions over the long-term.
Accounting for Climate Change in Federal Investments and Planning
Climate change’s implications on critical infrastructure like roads, bridges, and water treatment plants reach across all sectors and economies. Federal policies, like the National Flood Insurance Program, are not designed to account for increasing climate risks like sea-level rise.
The federal government, then, needs a way to account for the future risks of climate change in its current planning, building and investment programs— like some states and cities have already done. Delaware and Maryland now require that state-funded construction projects accommodate future sea-level rise, and cities like Houston, Texas have are creating solar-powered community-support stations for post-disaster assistance that operate off the electric grid. Incorporating climate change into planning decisions can build more resilient communities, which, according to the Task Force, can result in a more resilient economy nationally.
“Community investments in resilience pay off in protecting human life, minimizing loss and lowering recovery costs,” said Karen Weitkunat, mayor of Fort Collins, CO. “Federal agencies should incentivize local policy implementation and investments in hazard-prone areas to protect life and property.”
Capitalize on Opportunities that Build Community Resilience and Reduce Emissions
Adaptation, of course, is not enough—the Task Force recognized the need to reduce emissions over the long-term to avoid the worst of climate impacts in the future.
This can be addressed by improving the way emissions are incorporated into public and private investments, policies and practices. The Task Force outlined strategies that have the dual benefit of increasing community resilience while reducing overall emissions—such as increasing energy efficiency in transportation systems, reducing dependency on fossil fuels through more clean and efficient energy systems, and increasing the use of natural infrastructure. The federal government should prioritize these kinds of “win-win” investments to foster both mitigation and adaptation.
Federal Support for Local Resilience: The Missing Piece of the Puzzle
Momentum has been building toward more comprehensively addressing the three pillars of the U.S. Climate Action Plan—reducing domestic emissions, becoming an international leader on climate change, and helping communities deal with climate impacts. Following the June release of the Environmental Protection Agency’s power plant emissions standards and last week’s historic climate action agreement between the United States and China, today’s report helps address that last pillar of dealing with the local impacts of climate change. Now it’s time for the federal government to listen to its local leaders and start building a more resilient nation.