How can communities overcome the upfront costs of adaptation?

Chapter 5 from our report summarizing the lessons we learned on the Great American Adaptation Road Trip. We partnered with the Georgetown Climate Center to get this to you. Chapter 6 coming soon.

Take home lesson #5: A key challenge for funding adaptation efforts is finding ways to overcome upfront investment costs in order to save money in the long run. Creative financing mechanisms and savvy individuals can pave the way.

The World Bank has estimated that it will cost between $70 billion and $100 billion annually to adapt to a 3.6-degree-Fahrenheit warmer world by 2050. However, these figures depend strongly on whether our adaptation efforts are proactive or reactive: The United Nations Development Programme estimates that every dollar spent on preparedness for disasters now can save up to seven in relief efforts later. But what does this mean for a local city planner or natural resource manager trying to attach a price tag to a resilience-building project at the local level? Continue reading

How can new partnerships help build resilience?

Chapter 4 from our report summarizing the lessons we learned on the Great American Adaptation Road Trip. We partnered with the Georgetown Climate Center to get this to you. Chapter 5 coming soon.

Take-home lesson #4: Resilience efforts that span multiple government departments or include non-governmental actors are often able to leverage resources and expertise and create wider buy-in for action.

For local governments, the ability to prepare for the impacts of climate change is often limited by available resources and expertise. In some cases, local governments have the motivation to lead adaptation action but lack capacity and knowledge in areas like coordinating volunteers and implementing new technological tools. In other instances, non-profit groups or individual citizens may ‘push’ local government to act. By creating new partnerships across government departments as well as beyond government doors, city planners may be able to fill critical gaps in their own resources, accomplish ambitious goals, and more effectively address the cross-cutting nature of climate change impacts.

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What drives communities to take action to adapt to climate change?

Chapter 1 from our report summarizing the lessons we learned on the Great American Adaptation Road Trip. We partnered with the Georgetown University Climate Center to get this to you. Stay tuned for Chapter 2.

Take-home lesson #1: Many drivers motivate communities to pursue initiatives that enhance resilience to climate change impacts; projects that have multiple benefits are more likely to be implemented.

As climate change impacts such as more intense coastal storms, hotter heat waves, bigger floods, and more extreme droughts emerge across the U.S., communities are responding and preparing in myriad ways. At the heart of most action is people’s desire to protect and improve the place where they live, but this core motivation manifests itself differently in different settings. Some communities are driven to action by the ‘wake-up call’ of a hurricane or another disastrous event that exposes vulnerabilities. Some communities find that resiliency to climate impacts is yet another benefit of neighborhood initiatives such as tree planting or smart zoning that enhance quality of life. And some communities may not be thinking about climate change at all but nevertheless implement projects that help them weather the storm or the drought. Understanding what motivates people to build resilience is key when it comes to designing incentives, determining what information people will use to make decisions, and communicating the need for a project.

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Lessons Learned About Life in the ‘New Normal’

When we tell people that we spent 103 days together traveling around the United States reporting the ways Americans are adapting to the impacts of climate change, the first question we usually get is: “And you’re still friends?” The second question is: “What did you learn?”

Our new report, published by the Georgetown Climate Center, answers this second question. Through it, we distill six lessons learned about resilience from the dozens of communities we visited over the course of the Great American Adaptation Road Trip.

report coverThe lessons are:

1) Communities have many reasons for building resilience, and the co-benefits of climate adaptation projects are often key to getting them implemented. Think: The dune habitat restoration project in Galveston, Texas that provides natural storm protection but also engaged 300 inner city Houston youth.

2) The likelihood and magnitude of the climate impact itself affects the nature of the resilience-building actions that can be taken. For instance, gradual sea-level rise allows for iterative, long-term planning in North Carolina while emergency planning is the way to go when facing sudden, extreme events such as flash floods, hurricanes, or forest fires.

3) Scaled-down climate science is essential for local planning and decision-making in many sectors. In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, researchers ran local data through global models to find that sea-level rise in the area will be slightly slower than Boston but faster than in the Pacific Northwest.

4) New relationships and partnerships across local governments and with private and non-profit allies can leverage the key skills needed to adapt to a changing climate. Cases in point: Airbnb partnering with San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Management to offer safe havens during disaster, or various city departments in Baltimore coming together to combat the urban heat island effect.

5) Communities need new funding and financing models to enable the investment needed to adapt to climate change. For example, a stormwater utility fee in Ann Arbor, Michigan has raised $5 million to reinvest in public flood protection projects and an urban tree program.

6) Sometimes adaptation and mitigation goals will conflict; but often times communities can reduce emissions while preparing for impacts. Our podcast from Long Island, New York explains how a post-Superstorm Sandy solar boom is both cutting carbon emissions and preparing residents for the next storm.

Our report fleshes out each of these lessons, highlighting specific adaptation stories that illustrate the point as well as key “faces of resilience”—people who serve as the linchpin of resilience efforts in their community. As Georgetown Climate Center Executive Director Vicki Arroyo and University of Michigan Professor Rosina Bierbaum write in the foreward: “This report brings to life what it really means to prepare for, survive, and thrive in a ‘new normal.'”

You can check out the report here, but we’ll also be posting its six main chapters one by one over the next couple of weeks in hopes of fostering discussion.