Climate Adaptation Planning – Challenges, Requirements, and the Need to Streamline

Climate Adaptation Planning – Challenges, Requirements and the Need to Streamline

The Challenge

Cities and counties across the United States face a variety of challenges from climate variability and change as well as non-climate stressors that changing climate conditions threaten to exacerbate. Local jurisdictions that repair infrastructure, make land use decisions, and engage communities in a way that accounts for future change, can help make their cities more resilient. However, many cities and counties lack the capacity, resources, and funding to assess climate risks, integrate climate adaptation into existing plans, and implement adaptation actions in the face of competing or more immediate needs.

Even so, a growing number of local jurisdictions are engaging in voluntary commitments to mitigate and adapt to climate change. A wide range of available resources makes this possible, and climate legislation increasingly requires it, but both can also make implementing a cohesive, streamlined adaptation strategy difficult. Several federal agencies (FEMA and NOAA), state agencies (California Adaptation Planning Guide), international institutions (GIZ), and NGOs (National Wildlife Federation) have developed climate hazard or vulnerability assessment and/or adaptation planning guidance and methods. Industry and sector-specific tools and literature are also available from a multitude of sources. No single option can meet the diverse adaptation planning needs of cities and counties across the US, but the range of sources also presents local jurisdictions with the challenges of selecting a methodology, building climate literacy, and using their assessments to inform multiple goals, plans and projects.

The Requirements

In California, legislation exists that actively seeks to promote the integration of adaptation and resilience into local planning processes. Senate Bill No. 379 Land Use: general plan: safety element (Jackson) (SB 379) calls on local governments in California to incorporate adaptation and resilience strategies into the Safety Elements of their General Plans as well as their local hazard mitigation plans starting in 2017. Assembly Bill No. 2140 General plans: safety element (Hancock) enables local jurisdictions to adopt a local hazard mitigation plan as their safety element, facilitating integration of hazard mitigation into General Plans.

To support local governments’ implementation of SB 379, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research recently issued draft guidelines for integrating climate considerations into Safety Elements. The draft guidelines build on the State’s Adaptation Planning Guide (2012) and emphasize the need for communities to adopt a longer-term perspective in preparing for climate risks. They also highlight the importance of identifying linkages and complementarity across different elements of the General Plan and other relevant plans. Thus, there is a need to unify and streamline efforts to boost resilience and integrate adaptation comprehensively into city and county planning in a way that leverages local capacity and resources, uses the best available science and data, and meets local needs as well as relevant requirements.

It is important to note that these requirements are in addition to local commitments and planning processes that each come with their own timelines and demands. Cities that commit to voluntary agreements, such as the Global Covenant of Mayors are required both to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the impacts of climate change by identifying climate hazards, assessing vulnerabilities, and developing adaptation plans. Cities may have adopted several plans that integrate or overlap with climate planning, such as Climate Action Plans, Adaptation Plans, Resilience Strategies, Transit Oriented Development Strategies and more. Adaptation has a crosscutting role to play across all these forms of city planning, so comprehensive integration of risk and vulnerability assessment and adaptation action is essential.

Towards a Solution

In support of implementation of integrated climate adaptation planning, Four Twenty Seven has developed a streamlined process to support local governments in their efforts to integrate climate risks into key planning efforts, such as local hazard mitigation plans, general plans, and climate action plans. Through our work for seven cities in Alameda County, on behalf of the County waste authority, StopWaste, we designed an assessment process and report to help cities meet the requirements of SB 379. For each city, this work responds to these requirements and others by providing a climate hazard exposure analysis and proposing a set of adaptation options to help each city plan for future conditions.

The assessment and report are designed to be applicable to multiple cities and useful for multiple planning processes. The objective is to develop one hazard assessment and set of adaptation actions that can fulfill or inform multiple city demands and decision making processes. In this case, the hazard assessment focused on asset-specific exposure, however, the methodology could be expanded to include the other components of vulnerability – adaptive capacity and sensitivity – in order to meet the needs of other jurisdictions and planning processes while promoting an accessible and streamlined approach to climate hazard assessment and adaptation planning. The second blogpost in this series on local adaptation planning will discuss climate hazard assessment in greater detail, and the third blog in the series will focus on adaptation planning.


Find ideas for successful planning in Four Twenty Seven’s Process Guide on local adaptation planning and a case study on our work in Alameda County

From Policy to Markets: the New Climate Agenda

The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States comes at a time where the world needs more engagement in climate policy, and threatens to derail the world’s efforts to keep global warning below 1.5oC. Financial markets’ interest in low-carbon and resilience finance can help counter-balance the expected scaling back of U.S. engagement.

Trump’s Climate Agenda

Myron Ebell, a well-known climate denier, is on Trump’s shortlist for nominees to the EPA.
Myron Ebell, a well-known climate denier, is on Trump’s shortlist for nominees to the EPA. Source: New York Times

While Donald Trump as a candidate did not expound much on his views on climate policy beyond calling climate change “a hoax” and promising to revive the coal industry in the U.S., the Republican agenda on climate change is well established. Trump’s short list of potential nominees for EPA and Dept. of Energy seems to confirm his alignment with the most conservative aisle of the Republican party on all things climate and environment. We expect the impact of the Trump administration on climate policy to be three-fold:

First, we anticipate a hard stop or slow down of U.S. efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, starting with the Clean Power Plan, mired in court since 2015, but also including other environmental regulations on air, water and land conservation. The incoming administration will likely face legal challenges since the Supreme Court mandated the EPA to regulate GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act, but these typically unfold over years and the EPA can also count on industry-led lawsuits to help bring down some existing or in progress regulations.

Second, we expect a sharp budget cut for the EPA, but also for development aid related to climate change (the U.S. is an important contributor to development finance institutions like the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank) and grants and subsidies to support local government. The Obama White House has been instrumental in providing concrete support and resources on adaptation and resilience, in particular with the Climate Data Initiative and the Climate Resilience Toolkit – the future of these programs is now called into question. Trump may also consider cutting funds for critical agencies like NOAA and NASA, which could impact long term climate data collection and analysis, similar to what was experienced in 2013 with the ‘sequester’.

Third, the U.S. will likely shift from being a driving force for a strong global climate agreement to becoming a negative influence, that may provide an excuse for other countries to slow down their own efforts. While the future of the Paris agreement is not called into question even if the U.S. withdraws, the effectiveness of multilateral efforts will be undermined by the absence of the second largest emitter in the world at the table. It is unclear at this point if the EU and China can and will jointly take over that leadership role, but together they could provide a stabilizing influence and governments in both regions take climate change very seriously.

Market Forces At Play

However, many analysts have noted that even without policy support going forward, the transition to the low-carbon economy is already well underway. Trump is unlikely to succeed at reviving the coal industry with low natural gas prices, and renewables and low-carbon technologies have largely reached the point where they compete effectively with fossil fuel sources. Financial markets are providing steady support for new renewable and energy efficiency projects, with over $65.5B worth of green bonds issued in 2016 YTD.

The world needs to step up adaptation finance by over 400 percent.
The world needs to step up adaptation finance by over 400 percent. Source: WRI

The private sector’s support is also going to be needed for adaptation and resilience. Disengaging from climate policy at a time where each year breaks new heat records, and 2016 is already locked into being the hottest year ever on record does not bode well for the future. Mercer estimates climate change will cause $1.5 trillion of potential impact of climate on returns for portfolios, asset classes and industry sectors, and impacts on communities and human welfare will be even more devastating.

UNEP estimates the financing needed for adaptation will be at least $100B a year, while current adaptation funding from multilateral organizations hovers around $25B a year. While there is a strong consensus over the need to bring more private capital into adaptation and resilience investments, meaningful flows are yet to materialize.

Mobilizing Private Capital for Adaptation

In this context, the discussion paper released today by the Global Adaptation and Resilience Investment (GARI) working group brings welcome insights into how investors see opportunities and barriers to adaptation investments. GARI was launched at Paris COP21, in conjunction with the UN Secretary General’s A2R Climate Resilience Initiative, to bring together private investors and other stakeholders to focus on the practical intersection of investment and climate adaptation and resilience. At COP22, GARI released Bridging the Adaptation Gap, a discussion paper that summarizes the discussions of over 150 private investors and other stakeholders in 2016.

The paper confirmed a high level of awareness among participants, with 70 percent of private investors surveyed declaring they see both risk and investment opportunity from the impact of climate change. Seventy-eight percent of respondents thought evaluating the physical risk from climate change was “very important,” and over 60 percent confirming that they were already, in fact, considering climate risk in their investment portfolio. The lack of a common approach to measuring climate risk, however, was identified as a critical barrier, with respondents calling for a transparent, practical approach to assess physical climate risk.

Where are the investment opportunities in adaptation? GARI maps the opportunities in key sectors. Source: Bridging the Adaptation Gap discussion paper.
Where are the investment opportunities in adaptation? GARI maps the opportunities in key sectors. Source: Bridging the Adaptation Gap discussion paper.

GARI also brought attention to investors’ interest in opportunities for investments in adaptation and resilience. Seventy percent of participants indicated they would consider making investments that supported adaptation to climate change or climate change resilience now. The paper catalogs various investment types, including existing infrastructure, corporate, and fixed asset investments that support adaptation and resilience to climate change. Over 60 percent of respondent investors are considering investments today in resilient infrastructure and in companies whose products address the impact of climate change on water, agriculture, healthcare, energy, and financial services.

Conclusion

The engagement shown by GARI participants, which includes some of the largest financial institutions in the world, opens the door to bringing private investors into a number of adaptation opportunities in need of funding, such as developing and deploying new and existing technologies to help deal with the effect of drought in agriculture, better flood prevention, resilient retrofits to infrastructure and cool, efficient housing.

Not all adaptation projects are suited to private sector investments however, and banks will not replace governments in investing in social capital, development projects and lifting the most vulnerable out of poverty. But leveraging and guiding financial flows towards projects that enhance economic and social resilience create a win-win opportunity and a powerful way to continue to make progress towards a low-carbon and resilient world in spite of political headwinds.

by Emilie Mazzacurati

Policy Brief: Climate Adaptation in the California Budget

California is a leader on climate resilience and adaptation efforts in the U.S. Yet translating adaptation policies into clear budget priorities can be a challenge. This Policy Brief provides a detailed analysis of the California budget for FY 2016-2017 with regard to adaptation and resilience spending, with an eye to lessons learned for other states and opportunities for improvement and clarification for future budgets.

California’s adaptation policy builds on a growing body of legislation – namely, SB246, AB1482, SB379, and Executive Order B-30-15 highlight California’s commitment to adaptation and resilience, as do numerous state and local programs. We found that these priorities are reflected in the 2016-2017 State budget, but somewhat disjointedly.

Governor Brown’s proposed budget, which the legislature passed on July 15, does not allocate specific amounts to programs labeled as adaptation- and resilience-focused. Rather, it supports programs related to drought resiliency, infrastructure upgrades, climate change, and other issues. Therefore, tracking resilience-specific finance is difficult; to overcome this challenge, we analyzed the 2016-2017 budget by looking at both specific sections of the budget and policies that relate to climate hazards. Within certain sections, we were able to compare allocations that support climate resilience to the total allocations for sector initiatives. Policies related to hazards include those designed to protect vulnerable populations and the overall strength of the state to respond to disasters.

In our view, California’s latest budget does not yet adequately address the state’s adaptation challenges, nor does it fully reflect the state’s priorities. However, with the final round of legislation passing before the close of the legislative year on August 31, 2016, the State set itself up for success by addressing gaps in allocations, prioritizing environmental justice and setting the stage to clarify cross-departmental standards for addressing climate change. It is now essential that the state move forward with the implementation of these initiatives in a clear, communicative way, in order to ensure that state funds engender climate resilience.

Download the full policy brief (PDF)

Insights in Resilience: International Adaptation

We asked our Director of Advisory Services Yoon Kim, about her work on international adaptation and for insights from her recent trip to the 2016 Adaptation Futures Conference in Rotterdam Netherlands.

1. Tell us about your work supporting the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) national adaptation planning efforts and your recent publication on this topic.

In the international arena, we’re currently seeing a shift from a focus on immediate adaptation needs to a more strategic, longer-term approach to adaptation planning. Working closely with USAID’s Adaptation Team, I facilitated the mainstreaming of adaptation into planning and decision-making in developing countries through the implementation of high-level, cross-sectoral stakeholder workshops. These workshops sought to catalyze the development of national adaptation plans (NAPs) as described under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change by demonstrating USAID’s approach to climate-resilient development, building broad buy-in and support for the NAP process, and identifying opportunities for cross-sectoral coordination and collaboration. To capture and share lessons learned from USAID’s experience implementing NAP stakeholder processes in Jamaica, Tanzania, and 11 coastal countries in West Africa, I led the development of a paper on USAID’s experience facilitating NAP processes, which was published in Climate and Development earlier this year.

2. What are some of the lessons learned from early NAP processes in developing countries?

Climate change does not respect sectoral or geographic boundaries. So, it is critical to engage key sectors as well as ministries, departments and agencies, including more powerful entities, such as the finance ministry, from the outset. Early and continuous engagement helps to promote ownership and buy-in for the adaptation process and facilitates coordination. The support of a powerful entity such as the Prime Minister’s or Vice President’s Office can also help to build support and motivate action.

Mainstreaming also tends to be more effective when one starts with an existing planning process and considers how climate change may affect it. For instance, in Jamaica, linking adaptation efforts to the country’s long-term development plan, Vision 2030 Jamaica, helped to make adaptation relevant to sectoral stakeholders and to demonstrate how adaptation planning could complement existing planning efforts.

3. You were just at the 2015 Adaptation Futures conference in Rotterdam, Netherlands. What was your key takeaway?

I was heartened by the range of adaptation efforts taking place in key sectors such as health, urban resilience, and disaster risk reduction. However, I also saw a couple of key gaps regarding financing and the private sector. As more jurisdictions move from vulnerability assessments to adaptation planning, it becomes increasingly urgent for them to identify a set of appropriate funding sources and mechanisms and to understand how best to apply them. While there is important work being done by a number of donors, research institutes, and non-governmental organizations on these issues, there is still a need to map financing options, both in terms of sources and potential mechanisms (e.g., bonds, taxes), and to link them to demonstrate sectoral and location-specific applications. Doing this successfully will require dialogue across international, national, and subnational levels and consideration from the outset of how funding will be accessed and utilized.

Regarding the private sector, we often refer to them as an undifferentiated block. However, to engage them effectively, we need to unpack this term and develop a more nuanced understanding of who we mean by the “private sector” in a given context. Four Twenty Seven has found in its work with different private sector entities that the needs and concerns of financial institutions differ significantly from those of manufacturing companies which in turn differ from healthcare providers. This differentiated understanding is critical for being able to identify entry points for engagement that not only speak to what these entities care about but also opportunities to leverage competitive advantage to develop solutions.

Redefining Climate Risk

Comment Letter from Four Twenty Seven to Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures. (Download full letter here)

May 23, 2016

Dear Chairman Bloomberg,

Four Twenty Seven, Inc., a climate resilience research and advisory firm, is pleased to submit this letter of comment for your consideration and to help inform the work of the Task Force on Climate-Related Risk Disclosures (TCFD) during Phase II.

We commend you for the important work undertaken by the TCFD and your deliberate efforts to engage practitioners and stakeholders in providing input along the way. Providing guidance around climate risk disclosures is a critical step not only to help ensure financial markets will not be blindsided by predictable risks, but also to ensure that investors send the appropriate price signals to the decision-makers for the underlying assets – from corporate boards to public officials and real estate owners — thus providing an incentive to better prepare for and adapt to the physical impacts of climate change.

Our comments stem from years of working closely with Fortune 500 corporations to help them understand climate change impacts, quantify risk and monetize costs. We anticipate this type of analysis will need to become widespread for corporations to comply with the forthcoming guidance from the TCFD, and wanted to share our lessons learned from our past work.

Our comments, detailed below following the questionnaire structure, center around two key takeaways:

  1. The need to redefine climate risk to better account for direct and indirect risks related to the physical impacts of climate change. Regulatory, technology or transition risks are by no means confined to greenhouse gases, and focusing a disclosure framework only on extreme weather events and direct physical impacts would be deeply misguided. It is critical that corporations understand, address and disclosure their exposure to risks and opportunities related to transition risk due to:
  • Regulatory changes driven by climate change (e.g. changes in underground water regulation, permitting, zoning, etc.);
  • Costs and revenues associated with finding and deploying adaptive technologies to improve corporate resilience, mitigate risk exposure and promote more efficient resources use;
  • Costs associated with capital expenditure, retrofitting or moving facilities, infrastructure and other critical assets out of harm’s way.
  • Costs and revenues associated with increasing the company’s adaptive capacity, ranging from increased legal and insurance costs to investments in human capital, supply chain risk management, engagement with local governments to support climate adaptation efforts, and other public-private partnerships.
  • Macro-economic and financial risk for property owners, market risks for certain products, etc.

 

  1. The need to incorporate climate data into decision-making processes and provide vulnerability assessments at the asset-level for both corporations and investors.
  • Corporations need to utilize fully the wealth of climate data and projections that are available, and leverage sophisticated techniques and models to incorporate uncertainty into their decision processes.
  • Climate risk analysis must be performed at the asset-level, even if the final disclosures do not include all the asset-level data, and should rely on common standards, assumptions and scenarios to enable comparison across assets and across markets.
  • Risk assessments should be subject to third-party verification to ensure they are complete and cover all the material risks.

Download Four Twenty Seven’s Comment Letter (FourTwentySeven_PhaseI_CommentLetter) for our detailed analysis on climate risk reporting.

From Science to Action: Using Climate Science for Adaptation

We have all heard about the doomsday climate change can bring. Rising seas, blistering heat waves, and epic storms are but small samples from the chronicle of destruction possible due to climate risk.  When considering the doomsday scenarios, questions arise about where, when, and how these changes will take place.

Recent research from a team of climate scientist led by James Hansen posits that the timeframe in which we will begin to see the impacts from sea level rise and super storms, may be more severe and shorter than expected. The paper argues that the phenomenon of stratification (when melting freshwater from glacier melt disrupts the saline pumps of the deep ocean, causing warm water to collect at the bottom of the sea where it melts ice shelves) along with other feedback loops, have not been fully captured in previous climate models.

The Hansen Theory

Hansen and his team suggest that with the new math in place “ice mass loss from the most vulnerable ice, sufficient to raise sea level several meters, is better approximated as exponential than by a more linear response. Doubling times of 10, 20 or 40 years yield multi-meter sea level rise in about 50, 100 or 200 years.” In other words, ice melt that was previously thought to be occurring at a predictable rate is now potentially occurring at rate several times higher.

This is not the first time that the science has been updated and caught the eye of the media. As a result, climate scientists like James Hansen and Michael Mann have become well known in environmentalist circles.  In 2012, climate activist Bill McKibben became especially revered when his article in Rolling Stone Magazine: Climate Change’s Terrifying New Math gathered similar attention and reactions from the media as the Hansen report.

As suggested by the new research and steady stream of media updates, it is clear that climate science is a constantly evolving and improving practice. While it is true that the data points are becoming more robust, and new discoveries like stratification are being baked into the latest climate models, scientists will be the first to tell us that we still have a lot left to learn about how climate change is altering our earth’s systems.

Climate Scientist James Hansen stands by a 1000 ton boulder that is theorized to have been lifted by a super storm 120,000 years ago onto the cliffs of North Eleuthera in the Bahamas. At the time of the ancient storm, ocean temperature was only 1 degree C warmer than today.
Climate Scientist James Hansen stands by a 1000 ton boulder that is theorized to have been lifted by a super storm 120,000 years ago onto the cliffs of North Eleuthera in the Bahamas. At the time of the ancient storm, ocean temperature was only 1 degree C warmer than today.

Michael E. Mann, the scientist who popularized the classic hockey stick graph stated in response to the new report “Some of the claims in this paper are indeed extraordinary. They conflict with the mainstream understanding of climate change to the point where the standard of proof is quite high.”

Towards Climate Adaptation Science?

While the work climate scientists like Hansen and Michael Mann continues to advance the science, some members of the climate community are beginning to question the value of continuing to refine the accuracy of climate science. Suggesting instead that it may be time to refocus resources traditionally spent on increasing the degree of confidence towards adaptation science.

The argument is that after a certain point the ability for climate science to generate new insights is subject to diminishing returns. As such, it doesn’t matter as much to nail down exact predictions of when and where and by how much the impacts of climate change will hit, when we know they are already here and will continue to grow. With the climate science we have now, we are very good at projecting what 60 cm of sea level rise looks like, and how that sea level rise will impact our coasts. However, we are not great at knowing when that sea level rise will happen.

Those wanting to focus resources on adaption science argue that this distinction shouldn’t really matter. Think of the results of climate science like a high blood pressure reading, how bad the reading is doesn’t change the fact that you still have to go exercise and change your diet if you want to be healthier; and its better to hit the gym sooner rather than later.

Using Science for Decision-Support

This is not to say that advancements from Hansen and other climate scientists are irrelevant. On the contrary, it is extremely valuable work, but their findings provide information that should be used to spark interventions that buffer vulnerable regions from the worst of climate change.

At Four Twenty Seven we are picking up where the scientific reports stop. By translating the key warnings and lessons of climate science into strategies that can reduce financial, infrastructural, and social risk, we can prepare for the impacts of climate change regardless of when they occur. By analyzing, monitoring, and providing site specific insights into how climate change affects normal operations, we manage the complexities for stakeholders whose responsibilities cover a wide range of populations and global facilities.

“LIDAR data is often collected by air, such as with this NOAA survey aircraft (top) over Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, CA. Here, LIDAR data reveals a top-down (bottom left) and profile view of Bixby Bridge. NOAA scientists use LIDAR-generated products to examine both natural and manmade environments. LIDAR data supports activities such as inundation and storm surge modeling, hydrodynamic modeling, shoreline mapping, emergency response, hydrographic surveying, and coastal vulnerability analysis.” (source)
“LIDAR data is often collected by air, such as with this NOAA survey aircraft (top) over Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, CA. Here, LIDAR data reveals a top-down (bottom left) and profile view of Bixby Bridge. NOAA scientists use LIDAR-generated products to examine both natural and manmade environments. LIDAR data supports activities such as inundation and storm surge modeling, hydrodynamic modeling, shoreline mapping, emergency response, hydrographic surveying, and coastal vulnerability analysis.” (source)

Having reliable climate data and a robust understanding of the changes climate change has put in motion is a great starting point for determining risk factors. LIDAR data from NOAA and other hydrological data sets can be used to anticipate coastal vulnerability to climate charged changes like sea level rise.  NASA has its own set of valuable climate data, which has been used to map everything from melting ice in Greenland to diminishing wine grape harvests in France and Switzerland. Such robust and continuously updated datasets allow for meaningful vulnerability assessments that can inform effective adaptation plans.

Our team has been putting climate data like this to use for our clients. As part of our commitment to the White House Climate Data Initiative we created a dashboard tool of Heat and Social Inequity in the United States, designed to help health care providers understand the risks climate change poses to their community and hospital operations.  It’s through tools like this that we hope to help our clients prepare for the risks climate change presents to the businesses and communities they serve.

It is our hope that the science continues to advance, and new research like that presented by Hansen and his team continues to give us a better picture of the rate at which we can expect climate change to escalate. We also hope to use this information to advance the important work of adaptation. Solving climate change takes both good science and a roadmap forward.  A ‘climate doomsday’ becomes less scary when we realize the power is in our hands to be prepared regardless of when it happens.

Learn more about our work to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Resilient Hospitals: Using Climate Data for Better Healthcare Planning

A busy medical ward is the last place you want the lights to go out in the event of a hurricane, flood or extreme weather event. These are also the conditions that can drive surges of patients to emergency rooms for treatment at a rate that can quickly outpace the hospitals capacity to react. Climate change increases the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events and conditions – from asthma to vector diseases — likely to increase demand for healthcare. However, most hospitals have yet to integrate local climate change projections into their risk management and planning processes.

Photo Credit: GetyImages
Photo Credit: GetyImages

Working with a coalition of healthcare networks and non-profit Healthcare Without Harm, we developed an award-winning user-friendly dashboard for hospitals to better understand how climate change effects their operations and the patient population that they serve. This innovative application enables participating healthcare networks to integrate climate risk analytics into their hazard and vulnerability assessments, strategic communications and long-range planning.

The Resilient Hospital Dashboard is an interactive platform that enables healthcare networks to identify hotspots, key drivers of risk, and the specific local impacts faced by each of their hospitals. By using climate, socio-economic, public health and facility specific data, our dashboards analytics help hospitals understand the impact of climate change on their community and patients.

 

How does it work?

Our Resilient Hospital dashboard integrates local climate projections and applies healthcare indicators unique to each hospital’s situation to account for results specific to their populations. It provides hospitals with a cost-effective way to access and understand climate data relevant to their day-to-day operations and specific to the populations they serve.

dashboardscreen
Climate, socio-economic, public health, and facility data inform the risk assessment in our Resilient Hospital dashboard.

In the same way that doctors and care providers use their expertise and medical knowledge to provide treatment that returns the best long-term health outcomes for their patients, our applications leverage climate and healthcare data to provide beneficial operational outcomes. It enables our clients to consider both the near and long-term impacts of climate change and expertise that can inspire actions that enable healthcare professionals and hospitals to operate when the need for their services is greatest.

From Data to Patients

Through the Resilient Hospital Dashboard we aim to tell a story about how hospitals can improve the bottom line, and do so by capturing the many individual stories of climate change. Behind every data point we use to identify risk and impact is a living, breathing patient admitted for treatment of heat stroke, asthma, or other environmental event.

Our data analytics and research shows that the people getting admitted for care are the most vulnerable among us. They include the young, the old, and the marginalized. While we originally set out to identify opportunities for hospitals to improve their operations — and our dashboard does that too, what we ultimately created is a data-driven, visual representation of the footprint climate change is leaving on society.

The trends we are seeing create a much-needed understanding of how climate change impacts communities. From this understanding we can find opportunities to act, and help doctors and care providers choose what actions can best support their planning process, enabling them to provide more consistent and higher quality of care, resilient to the operational shocks and stress of climate change.

dashboard

The Resilient Hospital Dashboard was developed as part of our commitment to the WhiteHouse Climate Data Initiative and won the CCBJ 2015 business achievement award.

Contact Aleka Seville for a demo or for more information: 415-930-9090

Insights in Resilience: Climate Change and Human Health

The healthcare sector is often the first to witness the impacts of poor air quality, extreme weather patterns and other climate related hazards that impact the health of their community. From heat waves to floods and exposure to rapidly spreading vector borne illnesses like malaria, lyme disease and more recently the Zika virus, the nexus of climate change and human health gets stronger every day.

We asked our director of research, Nik Steinberg, to present his work to inform the healthcare industry about the effects of climate change and the trends he is observing in how healthcare professionals approach climate change.

 

1. Tell us more about your work with the healthcare industry and how you help them build resilience into their operations.

Last year we built a new decision-support tool for hospitals across the United States. The work was fascinating because it combined systems analysis, climate science, and epidemiology. We started by identifying all the projected climate hazards within a hospital’s service area and then we sorted out the characteristics of those hazards – their projected frequency, severity, and timing. From there, we determined if the hazard was likely to impact the hospital itself and/ or the health and safety of the community. Next, we attempted to co-locate the hazards with exposed populations and facility systems to get a better idea of which type of patients are most exposed to heat waves and poor air quality, and where those patients live.

Our work is quite novel because it transforms something that once might have felt uncertain and ambiguous for some healthcare professionals — climate change impacts — and places it in context of their local hospital, community, and the people they interact with everyday.

We have observed that resilience building in the public health sector starts with a willingness and capacity to change – for whatever reason that may be. Our tool facilitates the information gathering and lays the foundation for an impact assessment, giving health professionals a defensible starting point and powerful communication tool on the local impacts of climate change on their patients.

2. What can healthcare professionals gain from learning about the risks of climate change, and your work specifically?

After our detailed research is complete, we step back and look for hotspots and correlations. Do future heat waves and poor air quality pose a considerable health risk to the community? Which patients are most exposed and where do they live? Is there a strong poverty-health connection in the community? How likely is it that heavy rainfall will become more severe over time and affect ambulatory services and hospital access?

These are the questions we try to address in our work so that hospitals can prioritize their resilience efforts and reach out to certain parts of the community or strengthen parts of the facility.

Many healthcare professionals are aware of these climate-related risks and their connection to the communities they serve, but this work helps outline the linkages that connect climate change and health at a local level and assigns real numbers to the expected impacts of that dynamic connection.

3. What trends are you seeing at the nexus of human health and climate change?

Human health has always been influenced by climate and weather, but the growing frequency of extremes like drought and flood and extreme temperatures generates a whole new set of challenges. Take, for example, the recent spread of the Zika virus and the drought-flood cycles that led up to heavy downpours across much of Brazil, leaving pools, puddles, and ponds for mosquito breeding, and allowing the Aedes spp. mosquito to surge across the country and eventually the rest of the Americas.

Unfortunately, changing rainfall patterns, like many climate impacts, tend to have a disproportionate effect on the vulnerable. A similar story can be told about oppressive heat. Global temperature increases also mean more severe extreme temperature, and recent heat waves in India, Russia, and even the U.S. hit the poor and outdoor laborers the hardest. Changing weather patterns and shifting climate zones will also expose new populations to these extremes.

Health effects are not always physical, and there is growing research showing the association between mental health and climate change. For illnesses like Lyme Disease or West Nile Virus, the mental health effects are very direct, but more often, the psychological responses to both disasters and acute ongoing impacts can induce a range of mental health consequences. I think the discussion around mental health and climate change will continue to grow as public health officials work to identify vulnerable populations and decipher the attribution of things like severe heat, poor air, and disasters to well-being.

There are positive trends, however, in the way researchers and public health officials are tracing vulnerability and identifying pathways of exposure. The body of research at the nexus of public health and climate change is growing, and one of the most promising outcomes of this work is the story it tells. From hospital directors to policymakers, decision-makers understand that our community’s health calls for aggressive action on the public health front to minimize and respond to a range of imminent new threats that were once uncertain or distant.

Insights in Resilience: Local Government and Adaptation

We reached out to Aleka Seville, our Director of Community Adaptation, and asked her about what makes a resilient community.
Aleka’s responses speak to the intersections between public planning, hazard response, and the measuring and reporting the effectiveness of adaptation solutions. Learn more about how we are partnering with governments to build resilience and prepare for the impacts of climate change from our partner page.
1) What makes a community resilient?

While our shared definitions of resilience are typically quite broad, one of the factors that I see as a major enabler of resilience is the “mainstreaming” of adaptation planning – accounting for climate change impacts in nearly every public planning process, from hazard mitigation to general and capital planning.

Communities that commit to assessing climate risk within existing planning processes are able to build on existing frameworks and, sometimes, tap existing budgets, to mitigate these risks. Incorporating resilience goals and metrics into current planning processes sets the stage for critical cross-agency coordination when implementing adaptation solutions.

Local Resilience

2) Where should a community start when developing an adaptation plan or resilience strategies?

At Four Twenty Seven, we talk about the “Adaptation Learning Curve” when deciding how we can best assist a community or organization in building resilience. Key to this discussion is an understanding of where the community is starting from and where they’d like to go based on their unique vulnerabilities, climate risk exposure, and adaptation goals. It’s difficult to make progress or prioritize resilience building without first understanding and raising awareness about the problems at hand. Therefore, we often begin by offering customized training and education activities to help communities engage key stakeholders and build support for action from the very start.

3) How can you tell if a community is making progress in building resilience?

Resilience is indeed a journey – one that looks different for every community. Given jurisdictional responsibilities and limitations, cities, counties, regional agencies and states all have a role to play in creating stronger, more resilient communities. The hard part is effectively coordinating those efforts. While a specific community could be making progress towards their unique resilience goals, if these goals are not informed by the efforts of other local agencies, this is a real risk of investing in maladaptive efforts. We challenge the communities we work with to think beyond their own jurisdictions when developing resilience goals. Those goals can then be informed by metrics that reflect not only what is happening within that community, but how those efforts contribute to resilience on a broader scale.

From Data to Action: Climate Adaptation in 2015

I remember 2014 as the year of climate science. The unfolding of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, and, in the US, the publication of the National Climate Assessment and the first Risky Business report brought to new levels our collective understanding of how devastating climate change would be for human and natural systems.

2015 saw growing recognition of the economic risk brought about by climate change – coming not just from the community of dedicated climate activists that have been raising the alarm for years, such as C2ES, Ceres’s Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), and the CDP, but this time coming from the world’s largest and most influential financial players.

Financial Risks of Climate Change
Mark Carney, describing the financial risks of climate change as “the tragedy of the horizon.”

A few key reports stand out: Mercer’s study on Investing in a Time of Change, Standard and Poor’s warning of climate change impacts on corporate and sovereign risk ratings, and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney’s famous speech on the “tragedy of the horizons.” All these studies, punctuated by a slew of catastrophic extreme weather events across the globe, point to the devastating systemic costs to our economies and our communities if we do not better prepare and adapt to climate change.

This alarm is starting to turn into action and concrete steps. Just in the past weeks, the Financial Stability Board, also headed by Mark Carney, announced an industry-led task force headed by Michael Bloomberg to develop voluntary, consistent climate-related disclosures in financial markets. The United Nations announced a private sector Working Group headed by private equity firm SigulerGuff to mobilize private sector investment in climate adaptation and resilience. The United Nations Global Compact and Caring for Climate launched a report providing concrete guidance and a conceptual framework on how corporations can adapt to climate change while helping reduce social and environmental vulnerability. What these initiatives speak to is the need for standardization in how we measure, quantify and disclose climate change risk.

Governments play a critical role in enabling private sector adaptation by providing data and guidance (Photo: Getty).

In the public sector, Governments have a key role to play in supporting private sector-driven initiatives to build social resilience and grow technological and financial solutions. 2015 saw governments treading new waters with regard to climate risk and resilience. In California, Governor Jerry Brown issued Executive Order B 30-15 directing state agencies to identify vulnerabilities by sector and to infrastructure and property. The City of San Francisco established the first-in-the-nation mandate to assess infrastructure risk posed by sea-level rise, promptly echoed by a similar mandate from President Obama for all federal agencies. The White House also worked to empower and challenge the private sector to develop new data-driven tools for climate adaptation through the Climate Data Initiative. And finally, the Paris agreement negotiated during COP21 includes extensive provisions to finance and implement climate adaptation measures.

The challenges ahead of us remain tremendous – deepening our understanding of how to best forecast and quantify social and economic impacts of climate change, measuring progress towards resilience, developing common metrics of success are only the very first steps towards bridging the adaptation gap. I believe 2016 will see critical new developments to help the world prepare and adapt to climate change. We’re ready for the challenge.

Emilie Mazzacurati, December 18, 2015.