Report: Climate Change and Sovereign Risk

This joint report provides a comprehensive analysis of the ways in which climate risks affect sovereign risk, demonstrating new empirical evidence of how climate risk and resilience influence the costs of capital. It also explores the implications for Southeast Asia in particular, where countries are highly exposed to climate change risks and their economic consequences. Lastly, the report outlines five policy recommendations based on these findings. The report was a collaboration between the Centre for Sustainable Finance at SOAS University of London, the Asian Development Bank Institute, the World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore and Four Twenty Seven.

Download the full report.

Download the Executive Summary.

Watch the launch event.

“Climate Change and Sovereign Risk” outlines six transmission channels through which climate change affects sovereign risk and in turn the cost of capital, providing examples of each and explaining how they’re connected. It uses empirical analysis to demonstrate the significant impacts of climate risk exposure on the cost of capital. Using a sample of 40 developed and emerging economies, econometric analysis shows that higher climate risk vulnerability leads to significant rises in the cost of sovereign borrowing. Premia on sovereign bond yields amount to around 275 basis points for economies highly exposed to climate risk. This risk premium is estimated at 113 basis points for emerging market economies overall, and 155 basis points for Southeast Asian economies.

To further explore these channels, the report provides a closer look at Southeast Asia, a region with significant exposure to climate hazards such as storms, floods, sea level rise, heat waves and water stress. Physical risks are expected to considerably affect economic activity, international commerce, employment and public finances across Southeast Asian countries. Transition risks will be prominent as exports and economies become affected by international climate policies, technological change and shifting consumption patterns. The implications of climate change for macrofinancial stability and sovereign risk are likely to be material for most if not all countries in Southeast Asia.

The report highlights the need for governments to climate-proof their economies and public finances or potentially face an ever-worsening spiral of climate vulnerability and unsustainable debt burdens. It outlines five policy recommendations, emphasizing the importance for financial authorities to integrate climate risk into their risk management processes and for governments to prioritize comprehensive climate vulnerability assessments and work with the financial sector to promote investment in climate adaptation.

The report was originally posted by SOAS University of London.

Panel Recording: RCLCO Webinar on Climate Risk and Real Estate Investing

This RCLCO Real Estate Advisor webinar focuses on integrating climate risk analytics into decision-making for real estate investors and opportunities to leverage this information to build resilience.

Speakers

  • Stephen Bishop, Senior Associate of RCLCO Real Estate Advisors, discusses the impacts of physical and transition climate risks on real estate.
  • Emilie Mazzacurati, Founder & CEO of Four Twenty Seven, presents on opportunities to leverage climate data to inform an understanding of climate risk in real estate portfolios.
  • Cyndi Thomas, Managing Director of RCLCO Real Estate Advisors, shares RCLCO’s  framework for integrating climate risk mitigation practices.
  • Moderator: Joshua A. Boren, Director, Business Development at RCLCO Real Estate Advisors

Webinar: Climate Change and Wildfires

How will climate change increase wildfire potential? This Four Twenty Seven webinar shares our methodology for assessing global wildfire potential and highlights key findings from our analysis.

Speakers

  • Natalie Ambrosio Preudhomme, Director, Communications, provides an introduction to the implications of wildfires for finance, business and government stakeholders.
  • Colin Gannon, Director, Research, explains Four Twenty Seven’s methodology for assessing wildfire potential.
  • Lindsay Ross, Director, Global Client Services, shares key findings from the analysis, highlighting regional hotspots and discussing actionable ways to leverage this data to inform investment in resilience.

For more information on Four Twenty Seven’s wildfire dataset read our report, Climate Change and Wildfires: Projecting Future Wildfire Potential.

Moody’s: U.S. Nuclear Operators Exposed to Physical Climate Risks

Increasing physical climate hazards affect the operations and costs of nuclear plants due to their water needs and reliance on critical equipment. In its report, Nuclear Operators Face Growing Climate Risk but Resiliency Investments Mitigate Impact, Moody’s Investors Service leverages Four Twenty Seven’s physical climate risk data to explore the exposure of nuclear power plants to climate hazards, including heat stress, water stress, flooding and hurricanes.

The analysis found that nuclear power plants are vulnerable to increasing frequency of extreme weather conditions such as flooding and storm surge, due to their need for water cooling which means many plants are adjacent to large bodies of water. Technology and equipment required for safe plant operation are susceptible to damage and nuclear plants along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico are particularly exposed to floods from sea level rise.

Clustered in the Midwest and eastern part of the U.S., market-based plants face less risk of hurricanes or sea level rise than regulated/cost-based plants. However, they face increased heat stress and water stress which can reduce plants’ cooling capacity. The credit impact for market-based plants can be more significant than the regulated plants that are more easily able to make-up costs through rate recovery programs.

Nuclear plant operators face physical and economic risks due to extreme events driven by climate change, and operators and owners will have to consider these risks and explore increased resilience options, as they approach license expiration and renewal processes between 2030 and 2050.

Moody’s subscribers can read the full report here.

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To learn more about Four Twenty Seven’s climate risk data, check out our solutions for investors, banks and corporations or read our report on Assessing Global Wildfire Potential.

Newsletter: How will climate change worsen wildfire exposure?

Four Twenty Seven's monthly newsletter highlights recent developments in climate risk and resilience. This month we share new data on wildfire potential, highlight the connection between racial justice and climate change and feature new reports on climate risk.

In Focus: Projecting Future Wildfire Potential

Four Twenty Seven Analysis - Days of High Wildfire Potential will Increase by Up to Three Months in Most Exposed Regions
 

Areas ranging from California and Australia to the Amazon, Spain and the Arctic have experienced unprecedented loss of life and damage from wildfires in the past several years. Climate change is already making wildfires more severe and Four Twenty Seven's latest analysis finds that it will lead to more days with high wildfire potential in areas already prone to wildfires, and create hotter and drier conditions that will expose entirely new areas. 

This analysis leverages Four Twenty Seven's new dataset, which provides the only known globally comparable assessment of future wildfire potential in a changing climate at a scale of approximately 25 kilometers by 25 kilometers. The data is built upon the two key factors of soil moisture deficit and wildfire fuel type and incorporates data from global climate models to provide a view of changing conditions by 2030-2040, capturing both absolute and relative change in frequency and severity. This new data is now available on-demand for our clients via Four Twenty Seven’s Physical Climate Risk Application for real assets.

Register for our webinar on August 20th at 8am PST / 11am ET / 16:00 BST to learn more about the methodology and findings.
Read the Report
Climate Change and Racial Justice

Exploring Environmental Justice and the Need for Equitable Adaptation

The relationship between race and climate change is too often ignored. The recent protests for racial justice and police reform call attention to the fact that racism is still deeply embedded in our institutions and public policies. In the United States, people of color are disproportionately affected by polluting industries and climate change, while at the same time often lacking the resources to prepare and being excluded from decision-making on adaptation investment.

As part of our commitment to help raise awareness of the nexus between racial justice and climate change, Four Twenty Seven published a two-part blog series on the nexus of racial justice and climate change. The first blog focuses on exposure, providing a brief overview of environmental injustice issues in the U.S., and shedding light on the disproportionate impacts of climate change on Black communities and people of color. One solution is to ensure that climate adaptation intentionally considers this disproportionate exposure, factoring racial equity into decision-making. The second blog on adaptation outlines the need to integrate equity into adaptation and highlights emerging best practices.

Read our analyses:

Webinar Recording

Last week Four Twenty Seven and Moody's hosted a webinar exploring these topics. Four Twenty Seven's Yoon Kim discussed disproportionate exposure of people of color to climate hazards, Moody's Investors Services' Ram Sri-Saravanapavaan presented on the implications of inequality on sovereign credit, Tulane's Jesse Keenan discussed climate justice in urban development and UC Irvine's Michael Méndez presented on racial equity in climate policy. Register here to watch the recording

Central Banks on Climate Risk

The Bank of England's Climate Risk Disclosure

Last month the Bank of England published its first TCFD-aligned climate risk disclosure, assessing the exposure of its own portfolios to physical and transition risks. The Bank underscores the importance of addressing climate change as a financial risk and states the importance of assessing and disclosing risks even as the best available resources continue to evolve. The risk assessment leverages Four Twenty Seven and Moody's Analytics analysis on physical risk exposure. Meanwhile, the Bank of England's Climate Financial Risk Forum published a guide for financial stakeholders to assess, manage and disclose climate risk.

Guide to Climate Scenario Analysis for Central Banks and Supervisors

The Network for Greening the Financial System released a four step approach for central banks and supervisors to implement scenario analysis for climate risk, accompanied by a detailed set of climate scenarios. The steps include identifying the scope of the assessment; identifying scenarios; assessing the best way to connect climate risk exposure to economic and financial impacts; and explaining the results and methodology.

Indebted to Nature - Exploring Biodiversity Risks for the Dutch Financial Sector

Last month the De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB) and PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency released this report outlining the ways in which biodiversity loss poses economic and financial risk and the role the financial sector plays in biodiversity loss. The report also assesses the Dutch financial sector's exposure to biodiversity risk leveraging Four Twenty Seven's database. The separate report, Methods for analyses in Indebted to nature, explains the full approach. 
Public Consultations on Climate Risk

EIOPA Discussion Paper on Methodological Principles of Insurance Stress Testing

The European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority's (EIOPA) recent discussion paper outlines an approach to climate risk stress testing for transition and physical risks, citing Four Twenty Seven's methodology. EIOPA has asked for feedback by October 2.

European Central Bank Consultation on Climate Risk Disclosure Guidance

The European Central Bank (ECB) published guidance asking banks to disclose their climate-related risks and integrate these risks into their risk management processes. Compliance will be expected when the guidelines are finalized at the end of the year. The ECB has solicited feedback through a public consultation open until September 25.
Four Twenty Seven Wins
WatersTechnology Asia Award

Four Twenty Seven Recognized as Best Alternative Data Provider

The WatersTechnology Asia Award 2020 for Best Alternative Data Provider recognizes Four Twenty Seven’s innovation, accuracy and high standard in curating and deploying data for financial stakeholders.
This regional award showcases vendors and end users with high quality solutions with global relevance that are also especially pertinent to Asia markets.This came as financial regulators across the Asia-Pacific region have increasingly contributed to the global call for increased measurement and disclosure of climate risks in investment portfolios, encouraging financial actors to step up. With an office in Tokyo and a partnership with Sydney based DB Funds Advisory, Four Twenty Seven is excited to bring our award-winning climate risk data to more financial stakeholders in these markets. 

Four Twenty Seven Recognized in Exeleon Magazine's Top Companies

Business and Tech Magazine Exeleon, includes Four Twenty Seven in its listing of the top 100 companies to watch in 2020. "While the past several years have seen an increase in awareness of the material risks of climate change, Four Twenty Seven was on the leading edge of analyzing many complex scientific datasets and translating them for financial and business stakeholders." Exeleon writes. "Emilie and her team publish deeply data-driven and location-specific analysis, based on the best available climate data and the specific need of financial stakeholders."
Four Twenty Seven Partners with Nova Group

Nova's Climate Resilience Assessment Leverages Four Twenty Seven's Physical Risk Data

Four Twenty Seven is pleased to announce a partnership with Nova Group, GBC, a leading environmental and engineering due diligence advisory firm. Four Twenty Seven's asset-level physical climate
risk data now informs Nova’s new Climate Resilience Assessment, providing resilience recommendations based on the risks and characteristics of the specific asset of interest.
Inside the Office at Four Twenty Seven

Associate Director, Research - Stephanie Auer

Four Twenty Seven welcomes Stephanie as Associate Director, Research. Stephanie develops and incorporates metrics of novel climate indices into Four Twenty Seven’s products and services. Stephanie’s background is in data science and conservation ecology. She has worked for NatureServe and the California Academy of Sciences in ecological forecasting, data visualization and mapping, with a focus on analysis and communication for climate change adaptation planning.

Join the team! Four Twenty Seven is Hiring

There are several opportunities to join Four Twenty Seven's dynamic team. See the open position below and visit our Careers page and Moody's Careers page for more information.
  • IAM Modeler with expertise in Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) and in translating IAM outputs for a wide range of stakeholders
Upcoming Events

Join the team online at these upcoming events and check our Events page for updates:

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Copyright © 2020 Four Twenty Seven, All rights reserved.
Four Twenty Seven sends a newsletter focused on bringing climate intelligence into economic and financial decision-making for investors, corporations and governments. Fill in the form below to join our mailing list. As data controller, we collect your email address with your consent in order to send you our newsletter. Four Twenty Seven will never share your mailing information with anyone and you may unsubscribe at any moment. Please read our Terms and Conditions.
 

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Climate Change and Wildfires: Projecting Future Wildfire Potential

August 6, 2020 – Four Twenty Seven Report. Wildfires are complex physical phenomena that come at extraordinary costs to human and natural systems. Climate change is already making wildfires more severe and this new research finds that it will lead to more days with high wildfire potential in areas already prone to wildfires, and create hotter and drier conditions that will expose entirely new areas. Understanding which areas are exposed to changing wildfire conditions will help leaders in government, finance and public health to mitigate catastrophic loss. This report explores Four Twenty Seven’s new methodology for assessing global wildfire potential, identifying regional trends and hot spots.

Download the report.

The 2019-2020 Australian bushfires raged for seven months, killed more than 30 people, hospitalized thousands more,[1] and burned more than 10 million hectares of land.[2] While the full financial and ecological impact is still unknown, costs from those fires are likely to exceed the $4.4 billion.[3] Meanwhile, ten of the largest wildfires in Arizona’s history occurred in the last eight years and nine of California’s largest wildfires occurred in just the last seven years.[4]

Beyond direct losses and disruption from damage to buildings and infrastructure, air pollution from wildfires has led to healthcare costs in excess of $100 billion in losses per year in the United States.[5] Leaders in government, finance, and public health need to understand how and where climate change will further heighten wildfire potential because of the serious threat wildfires pose to societies, economies, and natural systems.

This new report, Climate Change and Wildfires: Projecting Future Wildfire Potential, outlines Four Twenty Seven’s approach to quantifying global wildfire potential, capturing both absolute and relative changes in frequency and severity by 2030-2040.  Wildfire potential refers to meteorological conditions and vegetative fuel sources that are conducive to wildfires. Using a proprietary methodology submitted for peer review, our analytics link climate drivers such as changing temperature and precipitation patterns with the availability of vegetative fuels to assess wildfire potential in the future.

The analysis also explores key regions exposed to increasing wildfire potential and discusses the implications for financial stakeholders and communities. Our analytics affirm common understanding about locations exposed to wildfire, providing an indication of the increasing severity and frequency of wildfires in areas already prone to these events. The report also offers insight into areas that may have less obvious exposure, but are likely to have higher wildfire potential over time. Preparing for wildfires is a local, and often regional effort. The relatively high spatial granularity of our results (~25 kilometers) enables decision-makers to evaluate wildfire potential at a useful scale.

Key Findings:

  • Four Twenty Seven developed a first-of-its-kind global dataset projecting changes to wildfire potential under a changing climate, at a granularity of about 25 x 25 kilometers.
  • In areas already exposed to wildfires, by 2030-2040 climate change will prolong wildfire seasons, adding up to three months of days with high wildfire potential in Western Australia, over two months in regions of northern California and a month in European countries including Spain, Portugal and Greece.
  • New wildfire risks will emerge in historically wet and cool regions, such as Siberia, which is projected to have 20 more days of high wildfire potential in 2030-2040.
  • Globally, western portions of the Amazon and Southeast Asia will experience the largest relative increases in wildfire severity, further threatening crucial biodiversity hotspots and carbon sinks.
  • Confronting this new risk will take unprecedented resources and new approaches in regions not familiar with wildfires and worsening wildfire seasons will continue to threaten already limited resources in currently exposed areas.

Download the report.

Download the press release.

[1] Cohen, Li, “Australian bushfire smoke killed more people than the fires did, study says,” CBS News, March 20, 2020, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/australia-fires-bushfire-smoke-killed-more-people-than-the-fires-did-study-says/.

[2] Rodway, Nick, “‘We are a ghost town’: Counting the cost of Australia’s bushfires,” Aljazeera, January 27, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/ghost-town-counting-cost-australias-bushfires-200127035021168.html.

[3] Ben Butler, “Economic Impact of Australia’s Bushfires Set to Exceed $4.4bn Cost of Black Saturday,” The Guardian, January 7, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jan/08/economic-impact-of-australias-bushfires-set-to-exceed-44bn-cost-of-black-saturday.

[4] Cappucci, Matthew and Freedman, Andrew, “Arizona wildfires grow as flames flicker throughout Desert Southwest and California,” The Washington Post, June 22, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2020/06/22/arizona-wildfires-grow-flames-flicker-throughout-desert-southwest-california/

[5] Fann N., Alman B., Broome R. A., Morgan G. G., Johnston F. H., Pouliot G., & Rappold A. G., “The health impacts and economic value of wildland fire episodes in the U.S.: 2008-2012,” The Science of the Total Environment, 2018.

Four Twenty Seven Announces Partnership with Nova Group, GBC

July 9, 2020 – BERKELEY, CA – New Climate Resilience Assessment leverages Four Twenty Seven’s physical climate risk data to enable proactive risk management by commercial real estate stakeholders

Commercial real estate assets are increasingly affected by climate change, whether it be costly hurricane damage, increasing energy costs due to higher temperatures, or the impacts of sea level rise on asset value. As it becomes evident that every asset has its own risks and that these risks will continue to manifest in financial loss, real estate investors and property managers need to prepare. Granular, site-specific data on risk exposure is the critical first step for understanding these impacts, and it is essential to use these assessments to inform investment in preparedness. Nova’s new Climate Resilience Assessment fulfills this demand for data-driven insights into how to build resiliency, based on the risks and characteristics of the specific asset of interest.

“The single most frequent question we get from clients is ‘I know my risk now, but what do I do next?’ We are delighted to partner with Nova Group to answer this question, filling the urgent demand for site-specific guidance on how to build resilience,” said Emilie Mazzacurati, Four Twenty Seven’s Founder & CEO.

“Arguably there is no greater risk confronting the global commercial real estate industry than climate change. We are thrilled to partner with the industry leaders of Four Twenty Seven to amplify their forward-looking, predictable, and location-specific data to create a more resilient world,” stated Ben Bohline, Nova Group’s President & CFO.

Read Nova Group’s announcement here.

Racial Justice and Climate Change: Adaptation

Introduction

Black communities and other people of color are disproportionately exposed to the impacts of climate change and also tend to have fewer financial and healthcare resources to prepare for and respond to these impacts. Adapting to climate change without an explicit focus on racial justice can further reinforce inequalities; hence, building systemic resilience to climate change must include investment in communities that are on the frontlines of climate impacts, including Black communities.

For the Local and Regional Government Alliance on Race & Equity, “racial equity means that race can’t be used to predict success, and we have successful systems and structure that work for all.” Equity means that different groups are provided with the resources they need to address their distinct challenges, acknowledging that these will not necessarily be equal. Thus, adaptation must include equity in every step of the process, from risk assessment and decision-making to planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Key elements of equitable adaptation include conducting vulnerability assessments that account for place-based vulnerabilities, integrating consideration of social and cultural value within budgeting decisions, involving frontline communities in the decision-making from the start, and investing in the resources and policies these communities need to thrive. While by no means exhaustive, this article highlights the importance of racial equity for several phases in the climate adaptation process and shares some emerging best practices.

Risk and Vulnerability Assessment

The first step in the climate adaptation process is identifying risk exposure and vulnerability. Climate risk is not based solely on exposure to climate hazards like floods and extreme heat, but also on vulnerability, driven by a community’s specific characteristics. Vulnerability is shaped by the sensitivity of a given population and its adaptive capacity. Thus, the impact of a climate hazard, such as a storm or drought, will depend upon the resources and sensitivities of exposed communities.

Adaptive capacity is multifaceted, including both tangible resources such as access to transportation, air conditioning and green spaces and intangible elements such as social capital. Effective risk and vulnerability assessments explore these characteristics of a community, to identify how risks may manifest, and serve as the foundation for determining what adaptation measures are needed. For example, members of low-income communities with low vehicle ownership and greater dependence on public transportation will be less likely to be able to evacuate during an extreme event, experience longer-term impacts if subway stations are flooded or damaged, and be more likely to face economic hardship if they cannot get to work or lose their jobs. For extreme heat, communities with more urban green spaces, widespread access to air conditioning, or access to public cooling centers such as libraries, are likely to be less vulnerable than communities in dense urban centers with little greenery and/or those without access to safe public cooling centers.

Social capital is built through regular interaction, shared values or culture, and human connections, which build trust and lead individuals to look out for one another. In some cases, high social capital has increased communities’ resilience, helping to counterbalance a lack of tangible resources. For example, during Chicago’s deadly 1995 heat wave, while Black communities were hit hardest, the Black community of Auburn Gresham stood out with lower death rates than Chicago’s most affluent neighborhoods. The distinguishing factor was the way Auburn Gresham’s infrastructure was conducive to building social capital—its sidewalks and restaurants promoted opportunities to get to know each other and interact. Assessing the social elements of adaptive capacity in climate vulnerability assessments is critical to understanding a community’s needs and ensuring that adaptation efforts build on and leverage existing social capital.

Sensitivity refers to the characteristics of individuals and communities that affect how a climate hazard may impact them. For example, Black communities often have high sensitivity to climate hazards, due to preexisting health conditions, which are driven by disproportionate exposure to environmental toxins. Likewise, agricultural communities are particularly sensitive to water stress due to the water-intensive nature of agricultural activities, with those that lack financial resources and political influence likely to experience the greatest impacts. Engaging with a community to assess its exposure to physical climate hazards, the resources it has to respond, and its residents’ particular sensitivities lays the groundwork for equitable adaptation.

Budgeting

A climate risk assessment centered on concerns for social equity can inform an equitable planning and budgeting process. Traditional cost benefit analysis can undervalue the needs of low-income communities or communities of color, due to its emphasis on ensuring adaptation costs do not exceed  property values. While this approach is often used to determine the best locations for adaptation investment, it can perpetuate inequitable distribution of impacts and investment. For example, in Cedar Rapids, IA, a flood mitigation study found that a region on the Cedar River’s West Bank did not qualify for investments in flood barriers due to relatively low property values. However, hundreds of these homes were destroyed by flooding in 2008. Policy makers can integrate a consideration for equity and improve the longer-term return on investment by replacing the current cost benefit analysis to account for vulnerability and longer-term community impacts and savings, rather than only up-front economic impacts.

The distribution of disaster recovery funds will dictate the resources available for community rebuilding and, in many instances, Black communities do not receive the funds they need. For example, after Hurricane Harvey, Taylor Landing, TX received $1.3 million in recovery funds—about $60,000 per affected resident. Taylor Landing is a town of 228, which had a median household income of about $69,000 in 2017 and, according to the Census, had no Black residents. Meanwhile, nearby Port Arthur, a town of 54,000 residents, with a median household income of $32,000 and a population that was over a third Black, received $4.1 million from the same funding—about $84 per affected resident. This inequitable distribution of funds is due to an unrepresentative regional fund allocation system. The members of the council that distributes the funds disproportionately represent the region’s smaller, primarily white towns, rather than the region’s largest cities, including Port Arthur. Moreover, the Small Business Administration approves disaster loan applications from primarily white communities at almost twice the rate that it does for applications from majority Black communities. This discrepancy is largely because disaster loan applications are based on credit scores, which are typically lower for minority populations and are more likely to remain low if these communities lack the resources to recover. This exemplifies the need for Black communities most exposed to climate impacts to be represented in decisions about resource allocation to support climate resilience and for reconsidering financing structures.

Acknowledging that many Black communities face compounding challenges due to a historic lack of investment in their communities, investing in these communities, and reducing the loss and costs that come with repeated impacts are important steps in ending this cycle. This calls for a restructuring of federal disaster response funding processes, moving beyond rigid frameworks based on home value and including advisory committees composed of members of the frontline communities. Financial institutions also have an opportunity to increase the flow of financial capital to Black communities. Strategies can include building advisory offerings meant to foster financial literacy and savings, shifting to key performance indicators focused on client financial health rather than promoting indebtedness and creating new models to reach those typically excluded. For example, accepting proof of current employment instead of requiring credit history to allow individuals to begin building credit would help those typically unable to access capital begin to obtain financing. Building equity in budgeting and promoting equitable lending practices would play a role in breaking the cycle of disenfranchisement.

Integrating Equity into Adaptation

Maladaptation and the Need for Change

There are many different types of adaptation measures, including structural measures, land-use policies and capacity-building. The impacts and efficacy of any adaptation measure is highly context-dependent. One common point of failure is the exclusion of certain stakeholders or when planners, consultants, and policy-makers make their own judgements of what is important and may ignore important characteristics of the community. In this case, there is often high potential for maladaptation, or unintended consequences that end up perpetuating existing social inequities by increasing the exposure of those who are already on the frontline.

For example, levees and other flood barriers often worsen downstream flooding as they force the water through a narrower channel, so there is more volume to inundate surrounding areas that do not have flood protection. The cost benefit calculations discussed above drive these engineering decisions and lead to protection for more affluent communities while nearby low-income towns endure the consequences. Likewise, while increasing flood insurance premiums may help provide incentives to move from flood-prone areas, for those who cannot afford to leave it also leads to increased affordability challenges and potentially the decision to forgo flood insurance, compounding challenges when flooding does occur.

As governments begin to invest in adaptation measures, there is a risk of climate gentrification, or the pricing out of Black residents and low-income communities. For example, in Norfolk, VA, part of the sea level rise strategy is to demolish several public housing units, replacing them with mixed-income buildings and transforming the rest of this exposed area into a green space that can absorb floodwater. The city provides some assistance and vouchers for relocation, but the burden largely falls on the low-income residents. In some cases, their only options are to live farther away from the city center, paying more money for gas to commute to work and making the daily efforts of providing for their families even more challenging.

Many factors influence the efficacy of adaptation outcomes, including whether or not the adaptation is responsive to the community’s needs. For example, if a new cooling center is built, but residents lack transportation or feel uncomfortable meeting in public spaces with few amenities, the cooling center will do little good. Likewise, evacuating ahead of hurricanes saves lives and warning systems can help prompt more thorough evacuations. However, residents that are not informed about the importance of evacuations or those who do not trust public authorities are unlikely to heed evacuation warnings, particularly if evacuations are challenging due to resource and transportation constraints. The long history of racism and exclusionary government programs have weakened trust of public authorities in some communities. Creating adaptation strategies that are truly equitable and effective requires understanding the community’s needs and tailoring a climate response that can be fully embraced by the community at risk.

Changing Policies

Policy makers must start exploring alternatives to adaptation guidelines that perpetuate inequity, such as the Army Corps of Engineers’ sole use of property value metrics when assessing which communities get flood protection, or waterfront adaptation that leads to climate gentrification. Some cities including those in the Bay Area, Atlanta and Chicago have started developing Land Trusts to ensure that affordable housing is available in the long-term, even as areas increase in value. The Land Trusts permanently own the land, but allow low-income families to enter into long-term leases and to build equity on the homes. When the time comes to move, the family sells to another qualifying low-income family and a resale formula is used to determine the amount, providing profit for the family that is selling while keeping the home affordable for other low-income families. This is one example of ways that innovative policies can foster equity alongside climate adaptation.

Engagement and Representation

Community engagement should be integrated into all steps of the adaptation process. This engagement can be broken down into three forms: outreach, consultation and deliberation. Outreach is the one-way, information sharing that comes from informing the community about climate risks or adaptation efforts, and consultation involves soliciting community feedback on draft plans and decisions. While this is important, it is essential that community engagement doesn’t just occur in the middle or end of the process, but rather is a central component from the beginning. Having community members present during the decision-making process will help identify what the community really needs. Equitable representation of community members, in terms of demographics and socioeconomic status is essential.

Another important outcome of intentional community engagement is transparent, two-way trust-building. Understanding the language, scientific literacy and culture of a community helps to build trust, and ultimately, to reduce vulnerability as a result of more successful and inclusive adaptation efforts.

Building Upon Existing Capacity

As discussed above, social capital is an important component of resilience and shared culture is one element of social capital. It is often the case that strong bonds exist in communities of color based on shared culture. While many Black communities and other communities of color lack financial capital and, thus, often do not have financial resources to build resilience, their social capital provides a solid foundation from which to build equitable, cohesive adaptation plans. Funneling resources through existing networks such as local religious groups and community cultural centers helps bolster this social capital while also allowing the organizations most informed regarding a community’s needs and trusted by its population to lead adaptation.

One example of adaptation rooted in community engagement and trust building is Baltimore’s Make a Plan, Build a Kit, Help Each Other program centered around residents sharing their stories and discussing the impacts of climate change, while working with local experts to develop preparedness plans. It is important to meet communities where they are, framing adaptation efforts around ensuring that communities have the social resources needed to prepare for climate hazards and acknowledging the wealth of insight and experience the community has to provide.

Conclusion

Equitable climate adaptation involves identifying areas that are on the frontlines of climate change and what they need to prepare for climate impacts. It also involves considering the implications of policy and ensuring that a disproportionate burden is not placed on frontline communities. Investing in equitable adaptation is one essential tool for addressing the disproportionate impacts of climate change on Black communities and other people of color. For too long, planning decisions have excluded communities of color, with long-term negative impacts. While more recent adaption efforts have sought to end this vicious cycle by creating a more inclusive environment for planning, communities of color still lack the political clout and funding to move projects forward. Opportunities to build partnerships with (or within) these communities, identify new funding and development models that directly address decades of exclusion, and reduce repeated loss by helping those most exposed confront climate change, must be embraced and advanced.

 

Panel Recording: Electric Vehicles, Green Public Travel

This Responsible Investor Digifest panel features a discussion on the time frame for adoption of evolving electric vehicle technology, the improvements of green mass transit, how this affects carbon transition risk and the investment impacts and credit rating implications of the transport revolution.

Speakers

  • James Leaton, Vice President and Senior Credit Officer of Moody’s discusses the future of mobility and its cross-sector credit implications.
  • William Todts, Executive Director of Transport and Environment, highlights prominent issues to consider post-COVID-19 in the transport space.
  • Joy Williams, Senior Advisor of Mantle 314, shares investor and analyst perspectives on navigating resilience.
  • Moderator: Daniel Brooksbank, Head of Strategic Content, Responsible Investor

The Compounding Challenges of Climate Hazards and COVID-19

April 22, 2020 – Four Twenty Seven Analysis.  The devastating human health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are exacerbated by climate hazards, which threaten communities around the world. This analysis explores exposure to floods, heat stress, hurricanes and wildfires in U.S. municipalities alongside the impacts of COVID-19 on the same regions. It discusses the compounding challenges for economies, infrastructure and human health and the importance of preparing for these overlapping disasters.

Introduction: Climate Preparedness Takes on New Meaning

Last week in the Southern U.S., residents and policy-makers weighed the risks of high winds and flooding alongside the risks of spreading COVID-19, as many evacuated to storm shelters, and 750,000 people lost power across ten states from Texas to West Virginia. Meanwhile that same week 50,000 people in Connecticut lose power because of a storm, with restoration efforts complicated by COVID-19 precautions. The threat of climate-driven extreme weather events takes on new meaning when standard responses such as evacuating to shelters conflict with guidelines for preventing the spread of the disease. The pandemic’s impacts have been compared to Hurricane Katrina hitting all 50 states. FEMA, which is leading the nation’s response, typically only battles disasters in a few states at once.

To ensure the safety of residents, many are typically urged to evacuate ahead of hurricanes and wildfires. However, crowded evacuation centers are prime conditions for diseases to spread. Authorities in several states are actively exploring the best responses to this challenge, considering options for increasing the capacity of evacuation centers, taking temperatures before admitting evacuees and booking blocks of hotel rooms as a last resort.

Hazards such as heat waves and wildfires pose human health risks that will contribute to already overwhelmed healthcare systems. Further, many communities rely on cooling centers and visit public spaces such as shopping malls to seek relief during summer months. Measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 include the closure of facilities such as libraries and malls that typically serve as cooling centers. During a time when residents are encouraged to stay in or near their own homes, a heat wave would pose new danger. However, measures to improve preparedness, such as ensuring that hospitals have back-up power generators, improving availability of virtual healthcare and seeking alternative sources of personal protective equipment, will help communities prepare for the impacts of climate hazards as well as the pandemic.

The economic consequences of the pandemic also exacerbate the challenges presented by climate hazards for cities and residents. For those individuals who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19-related closures, decreased income may make it difficult to acquire needed emergency supplies or pay to relocate to a safe haven. Local governments already reaching deep into their coffers and straining existing resources, may have trouble allocating emergency personnel and resources to evacuate residents and to rebuild after a disaster.

This analysis explores the regions of the U.S. that are particularly exposed to the climate hazards of floods, heat stress, hurricanes and wildfires and how this exposure may exacerbate existing challenges due to COVID-19.

Extreme Rainfall and Flooding

Devastating flooding last year disrupted lives, threatened livelihoods and contributed to 19 million acres of cropland going unplanted. Seventy percent of those acres were in the Midwest, which was sodden for months. Communities are bracing for new floods this year which are expected to be severe, though not as devastating as last year’s floods. Counties in the Midwest are among the most exposed to increasing extreme precipitation due to climate change in the next several decades (Figure 1), where these floods are likely to become a regular occurrence.

Figure 1. Exposure to extreme rainfall by county, with red representing the most exposed counties and dark green representing the least exposed. Source: Four Twenty Seven.

This year, inundation would exacerbate the existing challenges of containing COVID-19, while COVID-19 containment precautions would, in turn, make flood response more challenging. Midwestern states such as Michigan, Illinois and Indiana are among states with the highest number of COVID-19 cases relative to their populations. While less densely populated communities have fewer cases to date, many Midwestern counties such as Cook County in Illinois and Franklin and Hamilton Counties, in Ohio already have a significant number of COVID-19 cases. Likewise, smaller towns typically have fewer financial resources and fewer staff dedicated to emergency relief.

The economies of many Midwestern communities depend upon agricultural and manufacturing industries, which require manual labor and the physical presence of the employees. Some manufacturing facilities reopened to produce personal protective equipment, and farms and grocery stores are both considered essential. However, these industries are at heightened risk of disruption from employees falling ill, as seen at several meatpacking facilities across the country. Floods can exacerbate these challenges, inundating roadways, manufacturing facilities, farms, and even grocery stores, preventing healthy staff from getting to and from their place of employment and disrupting the movement of goods. These impacts can also threaten food security if they disrupt food supply chains.

Heat Waves

Figure 2. Exposure to heat stress by county, with red representing the most exposed counties and dark green representing the least exposed. Source: Four Twenty Seven.

NOAA predicts above-average temperatures for much of the country through July, with no regions expecting below-average temperatures. Exposure to extreme heat is concentrated in Missouri and western Illinois, fanning out across the Midwest and South and including several areas that have had high numbers of COVID-19 cases to date (Figure 2). For example, the metropolitan areas surrounding Chicago and Detroit have both been hard hit by COVID-19 and face moderate exposure to heat stress. The Southeast corner of Florida faces high numbers of COVID-19 impacts as well as high heat stress and a looming hurricane season.

It is currently unclear how warmer temperatures will affect the spread of the virus. However, heat waves hinder worker productivity and can lead to safety concerns for outdoor workers, such as farmers. In addition to their human health impacts, heat waves also lead to higher peak energy demand as use of air conditioning surges. If governments and businesses alike continue to require or encourage their employees to work from home, reliance on air conditioning and power will likely be higher this year than in typical summer months. Resulting power outages can disrupt business continuity, particularly with operations dispersed across employees’ homes.

Hurricanes

Figure 3. Exposure to hurricanes by county, with red representing the most exposed counties and dark green representing the least exposed. Source: Four Twenty Seven.

Climate change is contributing to more frequent intense hurricanes and more severe storms are expected this season compared to the average season. States along the Gulf Coast and Atlantic Ocean are highly exposed to hurricanes (Figure 3), and several of these states, such as Louisiana and Florida, also have among the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases to date.

Local governments that depend upon sales tax are likely to feel the most immediate fiscal impacts from COVID-19, while those that rely more on property tax may feel longer term impacts influenced by foreclosures. In Florida, sales tax was responsible for 77% of the state’s general revenue in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, which suggests that it will face the fiscal impacts of COVID-19 over the next several months, corresponding with the hurricane season, when funds may be most needed. Other states, such as Louisiana, have extended their tax filing date indefinitely, which will delay tax income. Regions that depend on tourism, such as the Florida Keys, will be going into hurricane season with fewer fiscal resources than usual this year. A lack of fiscal resources will challenge preparedness efforts and emergency response to hurricanes.

Wildfires

As climate change contributes to more severe droughts and extreme heat events, wildfire season in the western U.S. has worsened over the past several years. California, Washington and Colorado are among those states most exposed to wildfires, and they are also among those states with the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases to date.

While the spring is usually spent preparing for wildfire season, these preparations have been hindered this year. Annual efforts to remove brush have been postponed, while hiring has been delayed and annual trainings have been canceled. Fire agencies are going into this year’s season understaffed, with many firefighters already sick or quarantined. They are also wary of the dangerous conditions of base camps, where firefighters sleep in close quarters on the front lines.

The economic impacts of COVID-19 on employment and incomes will exacerbate the losses caused by wildfires and will likely lead to higher numbers of residents facing tough questions around whether or not to leave an area if they lose their homes. The resulting emigration or delayed rebuilding will in turn reduce local government revenues.

Residents in fire-prone areas increasingly wear N95 masks to protect themselves from wildfire smoke. However, these masks are in short supply and authorities have directed that masks should be saved for medical personnel. If shortages persist into this year’s wildfire season, communities could face greater long-term respiratory health impacts due to wildfire smoke.

Conclusion

As COVID-19 continues to spread and its timeline remains unknown, each region of the country faces exposure to climate hazards which will complicate containment efforts. However, in a time when local jurisdictions and individuals are paying increased attention to disaster preparedness there is an opportunity to strategically prepare for climate hazards and invest in resilience that supports responses to any disaster. Hurricanes, wildfires, floods and heat waves are inevitable in our changing world, and the more proactive resilience-building that occurs, the better positioned communities will be to minimize the loss of lives and livelihoods.