City Adaptation in the Spotlight


ND-GAIN's upcoming climate change adaptation index of US cities' highlights the vulnerability and critical role of cities in preparing for climate change. MOMA
ND-GAIN’s upcoming climate change adaptation index of US cities’ highlights the vulnerability and critical role of cities in preparing for climate change. MOMA

The University of Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN) is delving into new territory by partnering with the Kresge Foundation to create a new index measuring US cities’ climate change vulnerability and adaptation progress. Five indicators will be identified by resilience experts to determine the most important identifiers of a city’s ability to continue functioning during and bounce back after environmental catastrophe. Five urban areas will undergo pilot assessments, scoring, and ranking before the system expands across the US.

The ND-GAIN Index currently only ranks countries. The new index will rank US cities.
The ND-GAIN Index currently only ranks countries. The new index will rank US cities. ND-GAIN

ND-GAIN’s existing global adaptation index takes over 50 variables into account to rank over 175 countries according to climate change vulnerability and readiness. Indicators include access to water, infrastructure development, climate exposure, governance, and the economy.

The ND-GAIN Index has been instrumental in providing a comparable global measure of climate risk. The index is free and open-source and has been applied to such evaluation as analyzing climate change risk to businesses and supply chains. As risk becomes more apparent and companies encounter more and more supply chain stoppages due to extreme weather, companies may begin to move operations to countries that rank higher in climate change readiness. The CDP reported in 2013 that 77% of S&P 500 corporations reported risks from climate change. That number was up from 61% the year before and is likely to continue increasing. Risk managers of major global corporations are already taking climate change vulnerabilities into account when making critical business decisions.

Cities are bound to be at the forefront of climate change adaptation for a number of reasons. Decades of urbanization currently has 54% of people living in cities globally, with this concentration even further exaggerated in the US at 80.7%. Cities also generated 85% of the US GDP in 2010. This concentration of population and wealth represents greater vulnerability to climate change as more lives and economic value are clustered in such a small area. The denser the center of activity, the more damage a single storm can cause. Hurricane Sandy alone is estimated to have caused as much as $30 billion in losses to businesses from damages and lost revenue.

Another reason cities have led the charge on adaptation action has been necessity. Until very recently, lack of initiative and a unified adaptation plan from the federal government has made US cities unusually vulnerable to climate change. However, the long-term impact of President Obama’s 2013 “Executive Order on Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change” and the recent launch by the White House of the “Climate Toolkit” paves the way for greater support from the Federal government to local communities across the country.

As businesses increasingly take climate change as a serious consideration in core business decisions, ND-GAIN’s new city-focused index may become a yardstick dictating future business strategy. Just as the index may expose a city’s vulnerability and risk as a site for new business development, it will also promote cities with effective adaptation strategies. The most vigilant cities will be repaid with private investment. When cities compete to be the safest and most prepared in the face of climate change, residents, businesses, everybody wins.

By Sasha Merigan