I couldn’t seem to turn on the TV this week without being inundated with coverage of the ongoing floods and tornadoes in the Midwest. The dearth of other content is not just due the doldrums of the sports and political seasons — things are genuinely getting worse on the disaster front. Much worse.
The horrible scenes of twister damaged homes across the Midwest and continuing flooding along the entire Mississippi River merely displaced the stories on recovery efforts from the Hurricanes Maria, Irma, Harvey, Michael as well as the Camp Fire and other drought inflamed disasters in California and the Western U.S.
The Fourth National Climate Assessment predicts more frequent and severe storms, longer and more severe droughts, and the continued and likely accelerating rise of sea levels. All of this will only add to the challenges faced by states, counties and municipalities that are on the front lines of these disasters and to the taxpayers who foot the bill for the hundreds of billions in recovery and rebuilding costs.
The Government Accountability Office found that the increasing frequency and scale of disasters as well as the federal government’s role in funding recovery and flood and crop insurance, make climate disaster a high risk for federal fiscal exposure. GAO reported that the federal recovery efforts alone have cost nearly half a trillion dollars since 2005. To put that spending in context, it represents approximately $4,000 out of the pockets of every American family. Congress will either have to put our nation further into debt or shift the burden to our taxpayers. Addressing climate change is not only an environmental imperative, it’s critical to our nation’s economic security.
It is clear that we have learned a lot about how to respond to, and recover from, major disasters. In the past 40 years. federal agencies, state and local governments, and the extensive network of volunteer organizations such as the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and the Cajun Navy deserve much credit for their growing ability to save lives and help rebuild communities.
It is also clear that just getting better at response and recovery will keep us on the defensive, always playing catch-up. More importantly, the focus and investment post-disaster does little to keep us safe in the first place. We have to retire the old approach that we can just come in after the storm or fire and rebuild — even if we rebuild stronger. Ask anyone who lost their home, business, community or especially a loved one to one of these disasters. They will tell you that as appreciative as they are for the world-class support from governments and volunteers, it’s small comfort for the trauma and years of personal recovery they face. We need to get ahead of the curve by investing in resilient communities and infrastructure so fewer families have to live in devastation.
Congress is beginning to address this. While some members seemed locked in a partisan fight that is keeping funding from storm and fire ravaged communities in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and California, Congress did add a program in the 2018 Disaster Recovery Reform Act that shines a ray of hope on efforts to be more proactive in disaster mitigation. The creation of a National Public Infrastructure Pre-Disaster Mitigation fund, which FEMA plans to implement through a new program called Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities allows FEMA to invest in communities before a disaster strikes. Research by the National Institute of Building Sciences found that just building to the current resilient building codes returns 11 times the cost of the initial investment. FEMA’s new program will allow several hundred million dollars in resilient investments to move forward each year without having to run the congressional appropriations gauntlet, but this is really just a small start.
FEMA’s new pre-disaster fund represents only six cents for every dollar spent on reactive recovery. We need to help communities rebuild, but we also need to be serious about investing to make our communities safe from the coming storms, fires, and other climate threats. While construction to current resilient building codes is the right answer for new construction, it doesn’t address the vast balance of structures built on codes that are old and don’t address the new science and technology of climate resilience. We need to invest in fixing or replacing our failing infrastructure and ensuring that all new construction is resilient to future risks — or we will face this problem all over again.
This doesn’t mean that the federal government alone shoulders the entire responsibility. A successful resilience strategy will only work if we bring both the public and the private sectors into the fight. Resilient building codes are one example, but we also need to value and incentivize resilient investments for everyone.
There is a silver lining to our climate challenges — economic growth. Americans are very good at innovating and building and we can leverage our need to be more resilient by growing the economy with good resilient and sustainable jobs. Some of these jobs are found in building, upgrading and maintaining our new and existing infrastructure to make it resilient to the increasing risks from a climate-impacted world.
Not only can we put Americans to work building our resilient future, we can take the lessons we learn in that effort and export it to the rest of the world. This is an approach that works for all Americans and provides a strong economic as well as environmental future for people in all parts of our nation and the world.
This is what we did to become world leaders in democracy, agriculture, manufacturing and technology in the previous centuries, and we can do it with climate in the 21st century. Climate change is real and addressing it is literally an opportunity we can’t afford to ignore.
This story was first published on The Hill.
What does the future hold?
New research on sea level rise emphasizes the potential for dire changes over the course of the century. Recent satellite data suggests that warming water is causing East Antarctica to melt more quickly than previously thought and a study released in early May found that almost a quarter of West Antarctica’s ice is thinning, with its largest glaciers shrinking five times faster than in 1992. A study based on expert opinion found that there is the possibility of sea levels rising by 2 meters (6.5ft) under an extreme scenario of 5˚C global temperature increase. This would mean an area of land as big as Libya would be lost, and up to 2.5% of the population globally could be displaced.
Extreme scenarios of sea level rise will have severe impacts on our cities and economies. Sea level rise is happening today to a lesser extent; however it is already having tangible impacts on real estate values. This means increasing costs for property owners and tenants, but it also has far-reaching market impacts on access to and cost of insurance, fluctuations in market values and potential increase in local taxes to fund adaptation efforts.
Of all U.S. states, Florida is expected to experience the greatest consequences of sea level rise. Between 1960 and 2015, sea levels along the Florida coast rose by 10-15 cm (4-6 in), and the range of projections vary wide looking a few decades out, with projections ranging from 33 to 122cm (13-48 in) by 2060.
Widespread flooding risk in Florida
65,000 homes in Florida worth $35 billion are expected to be underwater or impacted daily by high tides in 2040. From soaring insurance premiums and increasing risk of disclosure to declining property value and diminishing tax revenue, sea level rise is already challenging property owners, investors and banks. Among other impacts, the value of single-family homes in Miami-Dade County that are exposed to sea level rise declined by about $465 million between 2005 and 2016.
Furthermore, climate change is predicted to increase the number of strong hurricanes in the region. These stronger storms will combine with sea level rise to exacerbate the impacts of extreme floods. Storm surge flooding damages buildings and landscaping, destroys merchandise, and can also have wide-reaching economic impacts due to damaged power and transportation infrastructure.
Last but not least, tidal flooding, also called “nuisance” or “sunny day” flooding increased from 1.3 to 3 days per year in the Southeast from 2000-2015. By the end of the century tidal flooding could happen daily. Even with no rainfall, these floods have significant impacts – halting traffic, overburdening drainage systems and damaging infrastructure.
Investors and businesses have a responsibility to understand these risks: using best available science to measure exposure to sea level rise and other flood risks, getting informed on adaptation efforts by local governments, and engaging with local industry associations or other groups to promote further investments in resilience.
Four Twenty Seven works with investors to provide portfolio hotpot screenings and real time due diligence with site-specific data on sea level rise and other climate risks. Contact us for more detailed analysis and site-specific data on sea level rise exposure and detailed analysis of local jurisdictions’ response.
Do bond ratings reflect governments’ and businesses’ exposure to physical climate change? Founder & CEO, Emilie Mazzacurati, joins the Bond Buyer’s Chip Barnett to discuss physical climate risk for investors, businesses and governments. Emilie describes the financial sector’s growing awareness of material climate risk in their bond and equity portfolios and shares efforts being taken to understand and address these risk. Chip and Emilie also discuss the challenges cities face when striving to adapt to climate impacts, the benefits of building resilience and the interactions between corporate and community resilience.
For more insight on the interactions between climate change, cities and financial risk read our reports on Assessing Exposure to Climate Risk in U.S. Munis and Assessing Local Adaptive Capacity to Understand Corporate and Financial Climate Risks, or listen to our webinar on Building City-level Climate Resilience.
FEBRUARY 19, 2019 – SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – Four Twenty Seven receives Climate Change Business Journal Awards for three climate change risk and resilience projects.
The Climate Change Business Journal (CCBJ) released its 10th annual CCBJ Business Achievement Awards, recognizing outstanding business performance in the climate change industry. CCBJ assesses markets and business opportunities across the emerging climate change industry and acknowledged Four Twenty Seven’s contributions to this field through our global dataset on climate risk in real estate, the development of the California Heat Assessment Tool and our contribution to the EBRD-GCECA initiative on Advancing TCFD Guidance on Physical Climate Risks and Opportunities.
Four Twenty Seven and GeoPhy earned the Technology Merit: Climate Change Risk Modeling and Assessment award for releasing the first global dataset on climate risk exposure in real estate investment trusts (REITs). REITs represent an increasingly important asset class that provides investors with a vehicle for gaining exposure to real estate portfolios. However, real estate is also increasingly affected by risks from climate change. Four Twenty Seven applied its scoring model of asset-level climate risk exposure to GeoPhy’s database of listed REITs holdings to create the first global, scientific assessment of REITs’ exposure to climate risk.
The California Heat Assessment Tool (CHAT) earned the Project Merit: Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience award for its innovative approach to helping public health officials, health professionals and residents understand what changing heat wave conditions mean for them, through a free online platform. CHAT is part of California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment, a state-mandated research program to assess climate change impacts in California, and was developed by Four Twenty Seven, Argos Analytics, the Public Health Institute and Habitat 7 with technical support from the California Department of Public Health.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Global Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptation initiative on Advancing the TCFD Recommendations on Physical Climate Risks and Opportunities earned the Advancing Best Practices: Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience award. This project culminated in a conference and report building on Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) recommendations and providing common foundations for the disclosure of climate-related physical risks and opportunities. It identifies where further research or market action is needed so that detailed, consistent, industry-specific guidelines can be developed on the methodology for quantifying and reporting these risks and opportunities. Four Twenty Seven and Acclimatise provided the technical secretariat that led the working groups and authored the report.
January 15, 2019 – 427 REPORT. Building resilient communities and financial systems requires an understanding of climate risk exposure, but also of how prepared communities are to manage that risk. Understanding the adaptive capacity, or ability to prepare for change and leverage opportunities, of the surrounding area can help businesses and investors determine how exposure to climate risk is likely to impact their assets and what the most strategic responses may be. This report outlines Four Twenty Seven’s framework for creating location-specific actionable assessments of adaptive capacity to inform business and investment decisions and catalyze resilience-building.
Every investment, from real assets to corporate initiatives, is inextricably connected to its surrounding community. From flooded or damaged public infrastructure hindering employee and customer commutes to competition for water resources threatening business operations and urban heat reducing public health, the impacts of climate change on a community will impact the businesses and real estate investors based in that community. Thus, evaluating how acute and chronic physical climate hazards will affect local communities and communities’ responses enables investors and corporations to assess the full extent of the risks they face.
This report, Assessing Local Adaptive Capacity to Understand Corporate and Financial Climate Risks, outlines Four Twenty Seven’s framework for capturing a city’s adaptive capacity in a way that’s actionable for corporations seeking to understand the risk and resilience of their own facilities and for investors assessing risk in their portfolios or screening potential investments. The framework focuses on three main pillars: 1) awareness, 2) economic and financial characteristics, and 3) the quality of adaptation planning and implementation. It is informed by social sciences research, recent work by credit rating agencies, and our experience working directly with cities and investors.
While a city’s adaptive capacity plays a key role in determining whether or not exposure to climate hazards will lead to damage and loss, cities are also likely to find that their resilience to climate impacts is an increasingly important factor in attracting business and financing, as adaptive capacity is more frequently integrated into credit ratings and screening processes. It is valuable for both cities to understand how investors are interpreting adaptive capacity and for investors to understand which factors of local adaptive capacity translate into increased resilience and reduced financial loss for their assets.
As California’s climate warms, residents increasingly endure extreme heat events that adversely impact public health. This exacerbates existing risks and will bring new challenges for different regions in the state, threatening the efficacy of traditional intervention strategies. Current thresholds for heat alerts are based on temperatures that exceed historical statistical thresholds, rather than temperatures that cause public health impacts. These ‘health-neutral’ thresholds may underestimate the health risks for the most sensitive populations. The new California Heat Assessment Tool (CHAT) is based on research that establishes local, health-based thresholds for extreme heat that help public officials, health professionals and residents understand what changing conditions mean for them. CHAT is part of California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment, a state-mandated research program to assess climate change impacts in California, and was developed by Four Twenty Seven, Argos Analytics, the Public Health Institute and Habitat 7 with technical support from the California Department of Public Health.
Explore CHAT at cal-heat.org. This online tool advances the understanding of what types of heat waves pose public health risks and examines how the frequency and severity of local heat waves are expected to change over time due to climate change.
Read a brief report, The California Heat Assessment Tool: Planning for the Health Impacts of Extreme Heat, that shares key findings from the research and summarizes the data analysis visualized in the tool.
Access the technical report detailing technical methodology and view other projects funded by the California Fourth Climate Change Assessment.
Access the users needs assessment for a detailed explanation of the literature review and interview process that defines the data gap the research team addressed.