Racial Justice as a Cornerstone of Climate Justice

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.

 

Racial Justice and Climate Change

Introduction

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. A long legacy of racist housing policy and weak environmental protections contribute to this disproportionate exposure, coupled with systemic issues related to public health, education and wealth.

As part of our commitment to help raise awareness of the nexus between racial equity and climate change, this article will provide a brief overview of environmental injustice issues in the U.S., as well as highlight the disproportionate impacts of climate change on Black communities and people of color.

Disclaimer: We are aware that the history of environmental justice in the U.S. is deep and complex, and this short piece cannot do justice to the complex web of issues and suffering imposed on minorities. We hope this blog post provides an entry point for identifying organizations and researchers with greater expertise and a long history of commitment to environmental justice.

Housing Discrimination and Environmental Injustice  

The disenfranchisement of Black communities and other people of color in the United States includes discrimination in terms of access to education, public transportation, recreation, employment, healthcare and housing. Environmental racism is just one manifestation of this oppression and is particularly evident in housing and development.

Black communities and other people of color have been relegated to neighborhoods that have greater exposure to environmental pollution and toxicity than primarily white neighborhoods. Housing and lending policies have historically limited options for Black communities and people of color and concentrated these communities in locations with higher exposure to environmental hazards. In the 1930s, federal housing policy actively and intentionally contributed to segregation, subsidizing development for middle to low-income white households and prohibiting people of color from purchasing those homes. Relegated to live only in certain areas, entire minority communities were then “redlined,” labeling home buyers’ mortgages as too risky to insure. “Threat of infiltration of negro[s]” and “Infiltration of: Negroes” were often listed as reasons for giving a community a low grade, and for deeming the community as “hazardous.”

In America, where homeownership is the single most important source of equity- and wealth-building, Black households have historically been shut out of higher-value neighborhoods and have been systematically prevented from benefiting from the upward mobility and financial resources that accompany homeownership. Factors like redlining, disenfranchisement and the operation of toxic facilities in Black neighborhoods means that homes in majority Black neighborhoods are valued at half the price of homes with non-Black residents. Lack of opportunity to build equity through home ownership is a key reason that African American wealth equals just 5% of white wealth in the U.S.

Furthermore, as of 2019 over 30 million Americans live in areas where water infrastructure has violated safety standards. For example, in rural and primarily Black Lowndes County, Alabama, only around 20% of the population has a sewer system—the others have pipes deploying raw sewage into their yards. Navajo Nation residents rely on water contaminated by uranium mining, and infections and cancer are rampant in these communities. Lack of access to safe water leads some residents to drive for hours to obtain safe water, which in turn hampers education and work efforts, further perpetuating inequities. There is a nationwide trend in lack of enforcement and regulation around safety standards for drinking water, and often low-income, Black, Indigenous and other people of color who lack political clout endure the most severe impacts. In 2017 the American Society of Civil Engineers rated the U.S. drinking-water infrastructure as a D, estimating a need for $1 trillion investment in the next 25 years to prevent further erosion of pipes.

After decades of discriminatory housing policies and inequitable development, Black communities are still disproportionately exposed to pollution and environmental toxins, leading to detrimental health impacts which are often compounded by lack of access to suitable healthcare. This disproportionate exposure has been well-documented since the 1980s when a nationwide study by The United Church of Christ Commission on Racial Justice found that race was the strongest determinant of the location of commercial hazardous waste sites. Nationally, “African Americans are 75 percent more likely than Caucasians to live in fence-line communities—those next to commercial facilities whose noise, odor, traffic or emissions directly affect the population.”

Disproportionate Exposure to Climate Impacts and Climate Justice

While climate justice has multiple dimensions, at its core it refers to the understanding that those who are least responsible for climate change suffer its gravest consequences. Globally this manifests in developing countries experiencing the worst impacts of climate change, while their industrialized counterparts bear the responsibility for the carbon emissions responsible for worldwide climate impacts. From an intergenerational perspective, today’s younger generations are inheriting the consequences of older generations’ actions related to climate change, with Greta Thunberg a vocal advocate for generational justice.

Climate justice also manifests through racial inequity, in particular in the U.S., where the impacts of climate change will not be distributed evenly. While Black communities and other people of color bear the greatest health costs of industrial activity and of physical climate hazards, they also bear less responsibility for the greenhouse gas emissions causing the climate crisis. While individuals within these communities can be highly resilient, confronting social and economic disparities daily, these communities also often lack the resources to adequately prepare for and respond to the health impacts of pollution and physical impacts of climate change.

Floods

Flooding in the United States disproportionately affects Black residents, as Black neighborhoods are often in low-lying floodplains, with impermeable surfaces and a lack of effective flood protection infrastructure. In many cases, nearby chemical sites, refineries and other industrial infrastructure are also located in flood zones, multiplying the risks of exposure to toxic chemicals during storms. While many middle-income white households face difficult decisions about whether to permanently leave their home in the floodplain, not everyone has the economic freedom to make such decisions. In many cases, Black residents and other people of color do not have access to the transportation or the savings to evacuate at a moment’s notice, let alone permanently relocate.

Storms

The overexposure of Black neighborhoods to flood risk, alongside the lack of resilience investment in these communities, also leads to disproportionate vulnerability to the impacts of storms. During Hurricane Katrina, Black individuals were among those that were least likely to evacuate, with access to transportation being a key factor. The city’s four largest public housing buildings, primarily occupied by Black residents, were permanently closed after incurring storm damage. Four of the seven zip codes enduring the costliest flood damage due to Hurricane Katrina were at least 75% Black and the community most damaged by Hurricane Harvey was 49% nonwhite. This is a common trend across the nation.

These statistics, stem partially from a history of inequitable funding. In 1965 Hurricane Betsy hit New Orleans, causing the most damage in New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward, which are primarily Black neighborhoods. This catalyzed investment in levees to protect New Orleans from flood waters, but these investments went primarily to predominantly White neighborhoods which were not as damaged and already had some flood protection infrastructure. This distribution of funds foreshadowed the unequal distribution of impacts when Katrina hit decades later.

Sea level rise

Global sea levels have risen by about eight inches over the past century, with the rate of rise increasing recently. In responding to sea level rise, jurisdictions tend to take one of two approaches: invest in adaptation measures to keep the water out, or abandon an area to the rising seas. Studies show that low-income minority neighborhoods are more likely to be abandoned while higher-income predominately white neighborhoods tend more often to be protected. One reason for this is decision-making that relies only on financial indicators. Resilience investments driven by cost benefit analysis focusing only on the property values, rather than looking at social and cultural characteristics of a community, further contribute to the inequitable impact of climate change.

Relatedly, as the risks of sea level rise become more evident there is an increased risk of “blue-lining” – a term used by Tulane Professor Jesse Keenan, to express its connection to redlining. Many Black and low-income populations that did not receive investment in sound sewage and drainage systems due to redlining experience the worst impacts of flooding today. As banks and investors learn about exposure to floods and sea level rise, they are increasingly hesitant to offer funding to these neighborhoods. Yet without investment, communities are unable to improve their infrastructure and build resilience, further reinforcing the cycle of racial injustice.

Research in Miami-Dade County, Florida found a positive relationship between price appreciation and elevation in most study cities. This shift can potentially lead to ‘climate gentrification’—another term coined by Prof. Keenan, as minority populations migrate towards more exposed areas. For example, in Miami’s higher elevation, traditionally minority neighborhoods such as Liberty City and Little Haiti, rising property values are making homes unaffordable for residents, reflecting the new preference for high elevation. This combination of being priced out of higher elevation neighborhoods and property values decreasing in more exposed coastal areas may further contribute to the cycle of disproportionate exposure to sea level rise among Black populations and other minority residents.

Water Stress

According to the World Resources Institute’s data, 20% of the U.S. currently experiences “high” or “extremely high” water stress, and this number is expected to increase significantly by midcentury. Population growth will further threaten drinking water supplies, and the impacts will be uneven. In 2014 the water table in Fairmead, an unincorporated town in California’s Central Valley with majority Black and Latino residents, dried up and the citizens had to rely on donations and emergency relief for drinking water. Many of Fairmead’s residents are farmers, relying on water for their livelihoods as well as for human consumption, and water for irrigation comes from private wells that are only a few hundred feet deep. While these farmers cannot afford to drill deeper wells, nearby corporate farms can afford to drill wells up to 1,000 feet deep and are thus less affected by the dwindling water table. Climate change will exacerbate existing inequities around water access, particularly for Black and Indigenous communities.

Extreme Heat

Extreme heat kills more residents annually in the U.S. than any other climate hazard. Temperatures can vary by as much as 20ºF between neighborhoods due to the urban heat island effect. The hottest neighborhoods tend to be disproportionately covered in concrete and home to low-income and Black residents. Research shows that these urban development trends are connected to the history of racist housing policies. Residents in low-income and Black communities are also less likely than middle-income and white populations to have well-insulated homes, access to consistent air-conditioning or cool, safe public gathering spaces. Meanwhile, the asthma, heart disease and other chronic illnesses precipitated by exposure to air pollution, increases the health risks of extreme heat.

Conclusion

Due to a history of segregation and systematic economic oppression Black communities are consistently relegated to areas most exposed to flooding and extreme heat, while at the same time lacking resilience investment and access to educational, health and transportation resources to effectively prepare for and respond to disasters. Investing in equitable climate change adaptation is one facet of pursuing climate justice. Equitable adaptation requires involving community members in every step of decision-making and reviewing adaptation options based on the exposure and vulnerability of the community in question, as well as the potential for downstream impacts on others. We discuss this subject in our blog on equity as a cornerstone of adaptation.

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.

Economic Impacts of Bushfires: What California’s Wildfires May Foreshadow in Australia

January 29, 2020 – 427 ANALYSIS. As Australia’s bushfires rage on, questions arise on the long-term impacts on human health, biodiversity and the economy. This analysis shares lessons learned from the recovery from recent wildfires in California to offer some pointers of what might happen when the bushfires finally subside. While immediate economic impacts include emergency relief bills, business interruptions, costly loss of goods and reduction in tourism, the long-term impacts vary based on municipalities’ financial resources, economic make-up and preparedness.

Real Estate Markets

Over the past three years wildfires have razed thousands of buildings across California, destroying multiple communities. The impacts on real estate markets varies depending on the share of properties destroyed in a local community, as well as insurance penetration. After five percent of Santa Rosa’s housing stock burned in 2017, the city experienced an increase in property prices and rents following the fire: displaced households needed new dwellings, construction workers and emergency relief officials needed housing and amenities, and local businesses found new clientele. Although an estimated 3,300 people left Sonoma County after the 2017 fires, in Santa Rosa, CA, rebuilding has occurred more rapidly than expected. The areas affected by the fires had relatively high insurance rates, and families were able to pay for the reconstruction of their houses. Irreplaceable personal items were lost, but the city experienced a mini-economic boom due to construction in the area.

In contrast, the city of Paradise went from 26,000 residents before the Camp Fire down to 2,000. More than one year later, only a handful of houses have been rebuilt, and many residents struggle with whether they should move back. Insurance penetration was much lower in Paradise, and many low-income households cannot afford to rebuild their lives there.

Aside from short-term shortages in housing stock, long-term impacts on real estate and local economies depend on two main factors: whether the area experienced a permanent or long-term population loss, and whether insurance companies continue to offer policies for the area. This phenomenon has also been at play after other climate-related events, such as when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. The storm led to a four percent decrease in the island’s population.

Impacts can also indirectly touch other communities near wildfires: the same Camp Fire that devastated Paradise narrowly missed the neighboring city of Chico, CA. While Paradise’s economy has yet to recover, within three months of the fire, Chico’s population grew by 20%, with the addition of about 20,000 people. While Chico became the nation’s hottest real estate market the month after the fire, it also missed relief funds offered to towns touched by flames. From a sewer system now tasked with transporting 600,000 more gallons per day, to the need for more police force and a higher hospital demand, a year after the event, the city struggled to accommodate a population the city planners hadn’t expected for a decade.

Business Impacts

In California, the biggest impact was on the utility sector. As power lines and electric equipment were found to have started the wildfires, the liability ultimately resulted in Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E) bankruptcy, coined “the first climate-change bankruptcy.” In Australia fires are most often started by dry lightning so utilities are not so exposed to liability risk, but may still be exposed to significant costs from disruptions and repairs associated with wildfires.

The insurance sector is also very exposed. Merced Property and Casualty local insurance company went bankrupt after California’s Paradise fire. The company had USD23 million (AUD34 million) in assets and owed USD64 million (AUD94 million)  in liabilities after the fire, which the state of California took over after the company defaulted. Insurance claims for the bushfires have already reached around AU939 million (USD646 million). Australian insurance companies could face material losses, particularly those with concentrated portfolios of properties or companies in regions affected by the fires.

For example, insurer IAG is the primary insurer in New South Wales and is thus expected to face the most financial risk from the current fires. IAG and Suncorp have both temporarily stopped selling wildfire insurance in exposed areas of Australia, to prevent last-minute insurance purchases. The final bill may be absorbed by reinsurance companies, which also need to contend with multiple, costly events globally. Increased losses, even if they do not lead to a bankruptcy, can also open the door to liability. In 2019 insurance giant QBE saw a shareholder resolution regarding its lack of preparedness for climate impacts.

Beyond utilities and insurance, businesses across sectors face several short-term risks from wildfires, including business interruptions, labor shortages and reduced consumer activity due to evacuations or smoke which can affect urban centers not themselves touched by flames. Businesses may also face increased costs due to equipment and property damage or loss.  In the long term, recurring wildfires could decrease attractiveness of certain parts of Australia, which would reduce companies’ hiring pool and decrease tourism revenues.

Municipal Resources

Residents’ decisions to stay in a recovering area is largely affected by whether insurance companies choose to provide coverage or pull out after wildfires. This in turn, is a key factor in the viability of long-term development and the strength of cities’ tax bases. Faced with potential population loss, local governments may attempt to provide public insurance if private insurers leave a city or region, such as the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) in the U.S. However, as seen with the NFIP, this mechanism can lead to unsustainable development and a moral hazard, encouraging unwise economic decisions by shifting risks from the individual buying property, to the government and therefore the public.

The desire to help an area rebuild needs to be balanced against a forward-looking perspective on the new realities of climate change. As temperatures increase, droughts become more common and wildfire conditions become more frequent, climate change will make some areas no longer suitable for human settlement. In California some insurers have stopped offering wildfire insurance to certain fire-prone counties. After careful deliberation the state recommended the creation of a Wildfire Victims Fund to help pay claims to wildfire victims, while also supporting wildfire mitigation. However, this comes alongside recommendations to require home and community fire risk reduction standards, establish a development fee for new construction in the wildland-urban interface, and mandate that new development must be reachable by firefighters within a maximum amount of time.

The impact of wildfires on a city’s credit rating may also affect its economic prospects after an event. Issuers in Sonoma County were not downgraded after the 2017 fires, because of their strong credit quality, insurance coverage, commitment to rebuilding and long-term economic viability. The County has an emergency reserve fund, which helped make up the shortfall in property taxes for destroyed properties, assuaging any concern from rating agencies on their balance sheet post-disaster.

However, a Moody’s credit analyst noted that smaller, less well-resourced communities like those burned during the 2018 fires in rural Shasta County, will face less rapid rebuilding, which means less revenue and more difficulty repaying their debt. This highlights the need for proactive preparedness efforts, particularly as those municipalities in particular need of financing may see credit declines if they experience wildfire loss.

Hidden Costs: Health Impacts

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Aqua/MODIS

Wildfires’ impacts on human health can be long-lasting and widespread. While Paradise, CA burned down in 2018 San Francisco, about 200 miles away, had the worst air quality in the world. This led to school closures and business disruptions during the event, but its impacts are still being felt. Three to five months after Sonoma County’s 2017 fires there was a 20% increase in emergency room visits for breathing challenges, as well as a 20% increase in visits for cardiac problems three months after those fires. While populations are advised to stay inside to shelter from smoke, many evacuation victims do not have that option.

Suburban wildfire smoke is particularly dangerous because burning gas stations, buildings, cars and other man-made materials releases many toxins, along with tiny PM 2.5 particles. The long-term impacts of inhaling countless chemicals are not yet fully understood but will likely exacerbate the well-documented damage to lungs and hearts caused by PM 2.5 particles. As public health costs increase, municipalities’ expenses may rise and human productivity may decline, posing additional risk to economies and communities made fragile by wildfire.

Preparing for a New Normal

Recent attempts at risk mitigation highlight the challenges to improve prevention. In October and November 2019 over a million Californian’s lost power during multiple PG&E “Public Safety Power Shutoffs,” meant to reduce the risk of wildfire during “red flag” conditions, with high winds and warm temperatures. With less than a day’s notice in some cases, residents, businesses and schools around San Francisco’s Bay Area spent days without power. Elderly and those relying on medical equipment faced life threatening hardship, local businesses experienced significant loss, long-term, high-profile research was disrupted, and costs of the event were expected to be around USD2 billion (AUD3 billion).

Australia and California used to share firefighting resources since they didn’t need them at the same time, and firefighting contractors built their businesses around staggered fire seasons. Now, Australia and California fight fires concurrently, business models must shift and municipalities must reallocate resources.

As climate change increases the occurrences of wildfires across the globe, policymakers and communities will need to balance these considerations and invest in adaptation and resilience to limit the impact of future fires.

This article was also published on The Fifth Estate and Which-50.

Natalie Ambrosio contributed to this analysis.

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Four Twenty Seven works with investors and businesses to provide portfolio hotpot screenings and real time due diligence with site-specific data on heat stress, water stress and other climate risks. Wildfire analytics are forthcoming. Contact us for more detailed analysis and site-specific data on climate risk exposure and its economic impacts.

Four Twenty Seven Wins Climate Change Business Journal Awards

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.

The California Heat Assessment Tool

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.

Download the full press release.

Key Takeaways

  • Current climate change projections show that a typical California summer in 2100 may be 4-5° F warmer than today. Heat waves are also lasting longer, occurring later into the summer season and in areas less accustomed to heat waves.
  • Elderly or very young people, outdoor workers and individuals with preexisting health conditions or limited resources are most sensitive to the impacts of extreme heat and may be disproportionately affected. Some of these sensitive, or frontline, populations may experience adverse health impacts at temperatures 6-8° F lower than the general population.
  • Current thresholds for heat alerts are based on temperatures that exceed certain 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 online California Heat Assessment Tool (cal-heat.org) allows users to visualize projected changes in heat events that cause adverse health impacts, while also exploring data on social, health and environmental factors that contribute to heat vulnerability.

Public Health System Resilience Scorecard

Climate change will continue to adversely affect public health by threatening sanitation, altering the distribution of vector-borne disease, increasing the need for effective heat wave responses, introducing new mental health challenges and more. To help cities understand their vulnerability to these impacts and build resilience, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) developed a Public Health System Resilience Addendum for its Disaster Resilience Scorecard for cities.

The addendum includes 24 questions, defining a 0-5 scale for practitioners to quantify their responses (see example below). The questions cover the integration of public health with each of UNISDR’s Ten Essentials for Making Cities Resilient: disaster governance, disaster scenarios, finances, land use and building codes, ecosystem services, institutional capacity, societal capacity, infrastructure resilience, disaster response, and disaster recovery.

By capturing all of the possible weak spots in the broader health system, the addendum is meant to be a tool for mainstreaming public health considerations into disaster risk reduction plans, rather than just serving as a one-time assessment.  Using this integrated approach can help city officials build resilience over time. Recent events like the power outage that led to eight deaths in a Florida nursing home after Hurricane Irma demonstrate the preventable nature of many public health disasters. Ensuring that critical facilities have backup power supplies and that potential hazards are effectively communicated are ways in which effective planning can mitigate loss. By understanding existing vulnerabilities and how these will worsen with climate change, officials can implement essential adaptation measures that will save lives.

Four Twenty Seven contributed to this addendum and has developed a methodology to assess climate risk exposure in U.S. cities and counties. We are continuing research on quantifying local resilience to climate impacts and supporting public health responses to climate change. The forthcoming California Heat Assessment Tool will provide public health officials with an interactive platform to understand the projected increase in extreme heat events in each California census tract, based on the sensitivity of the local populations. It will also show the distribution of frontline individuals, such as the elderly, to inform effective local heat responses. This free, user-friendly tool will be live in mid-August.

Engaging with Corporates to Build Adaptive Capacity

June 5, 2018 – 427 REPORT. Shareholder engagement is a critical tool to build resilience in investment portfolios. Investors can help raise awareness of rising risks from climate change, and encourage companies to invest in responsible corporate adaptation measures. We identify top targets for shareholder engagement on physical climate risks and provide data-driven strategies for choosing companies and approaching engagement. Our report includes sample questions as an entry point for investors’ conversations about climate risk and resilience with corporations.

Shareholder engagement on climate change has grown tremendously in recent years. Over 270 investors, managing almost $30 trillion collectively, have committed to engage with the largest greenhouse gas emitters through the Climate Action 100+. In addition to their ongoing efforts to engage and encourage companies to reduce emissions, investors are becoming aware of the financial risks from extreme weather and climate change. Climate change increases downside risks: a negative repricing of assets is already being seen where climate impacts are most obvious, such as coastal areas of Miami. As climate change can negatively impact company valuations, investors must strive to bolster governance and adaptive capacity to help companies build resilience.

This Four Twenty Seven report, From Risk to Resilience – Engaging with Corporates to Build Adaptive Capacity, explains the value of engagement, for both corporations and investors and describes data and case studies to drive engagement strategies. While news coverage of extreme weather events can clue investors in to which corporations may be experiencing climate-driven financial damage, new data can empower investors to identify systemic climate risk factors and proactively engage companies likely to experience impacts in the future. Reactive engagement strategies based on news stories can also use data to more thoroughly explore corporations highlighted in the news, by examining other hazards that may pose harm to their operations.

The report also identifies the Top 10 companies with the highest exposure to physical climate risk in the Climate Action 100+ and calls for investors to leverage their engagement on emissions to also address urgent issues around climate impacts and building resilience.

Once they identify companies, shareholders can use a variety of questions to gain a deeper understanding of companies’ vulnerability to climate hazards and their governance and planning processes, or adaptive capacity, to build resilience to such impacts. The report provides sample questions for different components of climate risk, including Operations Risk, Market Risk and Supply Chain Risk, as well as Adaptive Capacity.

Key Takeaways

• The impacts of a changing climate pose significant downside risk for companies; a risk bound to increase as the climate continues to degrade.
• At present, investors are likely to become aware of exposure to financial damages from extreme weather events only after they have occurred. Disclosure is limited but gaining traction.
• Corporate engagement is a tool to encourage companies to deploy capital and technical assistance to build resilience in their operations and supply chains.
• Investors can select target companies reactively based on prior incidents or pro-actively identify firms that would benefit from resilience plans.
• Investors should question companies on their exposure to physical climate risks via their operations, supply chain and market, as well as how they are building resilience to these risks through risk management and responsible corporate adaptation strategies.

Download the report.

Download the press release.

Newsletter: Are we doing enough? The state of climate adaptation in the US

 

 

Four Twenty Seven’s monthly newsletter highlights recent developments in climate adaptation and resilience. This month, don’t miss a review of U.S. climate adaptation and a close look at opportunities to build resilience through collaboration.

In Focus: The State of Climate Adaptation


Are we doing enough? How is the field of adaptation developing in the United States? Rising to the Challenge, Together: A Review and Critical Assessment of the State of the US Climate Adaptation Field explores the field’s development, potential and challenges. Commissioned by the Kresge Foundation, the report was co-authored by Susanne C. Moser of Susanne Moser Research and Consulting, Joyce Coffee of Climate Resilience Consulting, and Aleka Seville in her capacity as Four Twenty Seven’s Director of Community Adaptation in 2017.

Based on a literature review and dozens of interviews with thought leaders and adaptation practitioners, this report finds that the emerging field of climate adaptation must continue to develop with increased urgency. Communities across the country are experimenting with adaptation, with the support of a growing knowledge base and suite of tools, and boosted by new actors including utility managers, private sector interests and philanthropy.

However, the field is largely crisis-driven and fails to adequately address the social equity aspects of adaptation choices, that should ensure all people benefit regardless of socio-economic status or race.  It also lacks a shared vision, consistent funding and agreed upon best practices among other shortcomings, the report found. The report recommends aggressive acceleration of adaptation planning, coordination across jurisdictions, and implementation among advocates, planners, and funders. Read more.

Read the Report

The United States of Climate Change


With examples from every state in the U.S. this United States of Climate Change” feature from The Weather Channel displays the vast, dire and varied implications of climate change. It also documents communities’ efforts to adapt to a rapidly changing world. From new species of pathogen-hosting mosquitoes flourishing in Mississippi to “flash droughts” threatening barley in small Montana towns that depend on selling the crop to beer brewers, there is a plethora of local stories highlighting cultural, social and economic impacts of climate change. The Washington Post reports on the thinking behind Weather.com’s framing of this feature.

For more examples of climate change’s local impacts, read about Four Twenty Seven’s work examining the impacts of climate change on Delaware’s workforce and our analysis of extreme heat and public health in Denver.

Working with businesses to build community resilience

As increasing numbers of climate disasters cause over $1 billion in damages, the economic impacts of these events are widespread and ongoing. California wine-growers will feel the financial effects for years as they work to rebuild their vineyards, while the communities that depend on this economy will also feel these consequences. Four Twenty Seven’s blog post “Working with Businesses to Build Community Resilience” outlines opportunities for local governments and businesses to support each other in adaptation efforts.

Businesses and communities depend on each other and have important roles to play in collaborative climate change preparation. While businesses rely on resilient infrastructure and city services, they can also support community recovery efforts and participate in planning. Likewise, local governments can create collaborative networks, share resources and engage businesses. Read more.

Read the Blog

Resources on Engaging Businesses in Adaptation

For more insight on corporate adaptation read the Caring for Climate report, The Business Case for Corporate Adaptation, which highlights the benefits for businesses to build their awareness of climate risk and opportunities for policymakers to encourage corporate adaptation.

Will Amazon HQ2 consider resilience?

Eager for an opportunity for up to 50,000 jobs and a potential $5 billion in investment, twenty cities received the anticipated advancement to the list of finalists for Amazon’s HQ2 last month. Among this short list is the Southeast Florida bid, a collaboration between Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties.

These counties have experience working together through the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, which also includes Monroe County. The compact’s Regional Climate Action Plan emphasizes the importance of regional strategies to build resilient economies and communities. Now the benefits of this collaboration are becoming increasingly clear, as many of the regional compact’s priorities, such as addressing sea level rise and improving infrastructure, are also important for bolstering economic success by helping to attract Amazon and other businesses to the region.

Inside the Office at Four Twenty Seven

Meet the Team: Lindsay Ross

Four Twenty Seven is delighted to welcome Lindsay Ross, who joins the team as a Senior Analyst, Macroeconomic Risks. Lindsay analyzes the economic impacts of climate change on corporations and financial markets. She studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), focusing on Energy, Resources, and the Environment as well as International Finance and Economics. Previously she worked for the U.S. International Trade Commission, assisting with research on the impacts of international trade on the U.S. economy.

Upcoming Events

Join the Four Twenty Seven team in the field at these upcoming events:

  • February 13: Climate Risk: From Assessment to Action, Washington, DC: CEO, Emilie Mazzacurati, will speak on a panel at this workshop hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank
  • February 28 – March 2: Climate Leadership Conference, Denver, CO: Climate Adaptation Senior Analyst, Kendall Starkman, will attend this gathering of climate, sustainability and energy professionals.
  • March 6: Inaugural Conference: Northern European Partnership for Sustainable Finance (NEPSF), London, UK. Emilie Mazzacurati will join the launch of this new Partnership to support sustainable finance.
  • June 18-21: Adaptation Futures 2018, Cape Town, South Africa: Director of Advisory Services, Yoon Kim, will facilitate a session at this conference, exploring integrating climate risks into infrastructure investment decisions.
  • August 28-29: 3rd California Adaptation Forum, Sacramento, CA: Save the date for this opportunity to join over 600 climate leaders in workshops, sessions and networking around adaptation action in California.

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Report: A Review of Climate Adaptation in the US

Events once considered “hundred year” disasters increasingly occur several times in individual lifetimes. In the face of urgent crisis, community leaders, businesses, nonprofits and individuals have seen a need to build resilience, to preserve human lives and the economies upon which they depend. Recognizing the emergence of a field of climate adaptation and seeking details on the field’s development, potential and challenges, the Kresge Foundation commissioned an assessment of the field of adaptation. This project culminated in a report, Rising to the Challenge, Together: A Review and Critical Assessment of the State of the US Climate Adaptation Field, by  Susanne C. Moser of Susanne Moser Research and Consulting, Joyce Coffee of Climate Resilience Solutions, and Aleka Seville, Four Twenty Seven’s Director of Community Adaptation at the time. Read the full press release below:

Download the Full ReportDownload the Executive Summary • Download the Appendices

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The emerging field of climate adaptation is growing in sophistication and influence, but there is a significant gap between the magnitude of the challenge and existing efforts to protect people and property from climate volatility, according to a report released today.

“Rising to the Challenge, Together” provides a critical assessment of the state of the climate adaptation field in the U.S. It was commissioned by The Kresge Foundation and authored by a trio of adaptation experts: Susanne C. Moser of Susanne Moser Research and Consulting; Joyce Coffee of Climate Resilience Consulting; and Aleka Seville of Four Twenty Seven, Inc.

The report finds that the challenge of climate adaptation and resilience is an everyday reality for decision makers across the United States. Climate change is widely recognized as a critical – possibly existential – threat to humans, other species, and the natural systems on which all life depends. As climate impacts accelerate and population grows in vulnerable areas, disasters are more frequent and more devastating.  Supercharged storms, catastrophic wildfires, and deadly heatwaves affect growing numbers of Americans – particularly those with low incomes who are least able to avoid or minimize the impact of severe events.

Communities across the country are experimenting with adaptation, defined as the management of and preparation for the impacts of global climate change and related extremes. They are aided by a growing knowledge base and suite of tools, and boosted by new actors including utility managers, private sector interests and philanthropy.

However, the field is largely crisis-driven and fails to adequately address the social equity aspects of adaptation choices, that should ensure all people benefit regardless of socio-economic status or race.  It also lacks a shared vision, consistent funding and agreed upon best practices among other shortcomings, the report found.

“Our research revealed a growing core of professionals, committed municipal leaders, engaged community residents and others who are proactively identifying ways to make their cities and regions more resilient,” said author Susanne C. Moser. “But without much-accelerated efforts to expand and professionalize the adaptation field we fear communities, businesses and particularly the most vulnerable are at growing risk. To ensure their safety, well-being and prosperity, we must rapidly come together to slow the release of planet-warming greenhouse gases; invest in smarter, more resilient systems, infrastructure and planning practices; and do both while building social cohesion and equity.”

The report’s findings and recommendations were the basis of a next-steps conversation among several dozen climate-resilience experts and thought leaders at a January 22 workshop in Washington, D.C. At that meeting participants discussed ways to better disseminate promising resilience practices, embed climate resilience in planning and policymaking, and generate new financing mechanisms for the work.

The report recommends aggressive acceleration of adaptation planning, coordination across jurisdictions, and implementation among advocates, planners, and funders. Leaders must press the urgency of addressing climate change both through adaptation and mitigation – pushing the field to think bigger, bolder and deeper. At the same time, funding support must grow and policy incentives should be aligned to support the incorporation of resilience across different practices and sectors.

“This report highlights the urgency of building climate adaptation as a field of practice,” said Lois DeBacker, managing director of The Kresge Foundation’s Environment Program. “It is critical to expand the number of people who understand the imperative of acting quickly, which actions yield the best and most effective protections against climate change-fueled events, and how to approach climate resilience in ways that advance equity.”

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