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Georgetown Climate Center Identifies 100 Opportunities to Help U.S. Communities Prepare for Climate Impacts

September 4, 2014 —

The Georgetown Climate Center released 100 recommendations to improve federal programs that could be used to prepare for climate change in a new report issued today. The report will inform the White House State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.

The report, Preparing Our Communities for Climate Impacts: Recommendations for Federal Action, draws from a series of workshops with leading federal, state and local officials and builds upon lessons learned post-­disaster in New Orleans (following Hurricane Katrina), New York (following Hurricane Sandy) and Vermont (after Hurricane Irene). The report identifies more than 30 federal programs, initiatives and laws that can be used to prepare for extreme events such as storms, floods and heat waves as well as rising seas.

The report recognizes that recent extreme weather events and the mounting economic losses from such events have shown how vulnerable many states and communities are to climate change. Although state and local governments will be the primary actors when it comes to preparing for climate change impacts, the federal government can boost — or impede — preparedness.

The federal government sends billions of dollars to states and communities every year, some of which could be used more effectively to adapt to climate change. Federal laws and regulations also can be important drivers of state and local action. But, in some cases, federal rules have hindered state and local innovation. The recommendations in the report explore how existing federal dollars, programs, regulations and policies can be retooled, repurposed and deployed to promote and remove barriers to adaptation.

“This report reflects the experience of many communities that have faced challenges recovering from and preparing for storms and flooding,” said Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center. “Many states and communities are well aware of the need to prepare for rising seas, intense flooding, extreme heat, drought and other climate impacts. They need the federal government’s full support to see their actions through. Adopting this report’s recommendations will help communities across the country prepare for climate change.”

Among the report’s recommendations:

  • The federal government should fund state and local actions to prepare for
    climate change — rather than primarily reacting to extreme weather events that cost taxpayers billions of dollars every year. (Sandy alone cost the federal government $60 billion.) Currently, only a fraction of federal dollars are spent helping communities proactively prepare for escalating climate change impacts. Federal agencies should also ensure that communities recovering from extreme weather events with disaster relief funds are able to build back stronger to withstand future impacts. 
  • Federal agencies should require that all major federal investments in new infrastructure account for and be built to withstand future impacts from climate change. 
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency should incorporate climate change projections on the floodplain maps that govern federal flood insurance rates. These updates are needed to provide communities with accurate, risk-­‐based information for making land-­‐use decisions and to ensure the long-­‐term solvency of the National Flood Insurance Program. (As of March 2014, the program was more than $24 billion in debt.) 
  • The Army Corps and other federal agencies should align funding streams and support nature-­‐based projects that both restore coastal wetlands and provide flood control benefits (like living shorelines). Federal agencies and the White House Office of Management and Budget should also appropriately value the benefits of taking preventative action to respond to climate change and the value of natural ecosystems when calculating the costs and benefits of flood control projects. 

The recommendations are based on extensive work in communities affected by sea-­‐ level rise, storms, and heat waves. These recommendations were further developed over the course of three workshops convened by the Georgetown Climate Center in late 2013 and early 2014. Participants included senior federal, state and local officials, along with experts from the non-­‐governmental and academic communities. The workshops were held in coordination with the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and relevant federal agencies. The workshops focused on several different aspects of adapting to climate change: using disaster relief funding, using living shorelines and nature-­‐based strategies to prepare for sea-­‐level rise and building the resilience of water infrastructure including sewers and wastewater treatment facilities.

To arrange an interview regarding these climate adaptation recommendations or the Climate Center’s related work, please contact Chris Coil at 202-661-6672 or Tom Steinfeldt at 571-235-­8462. This report and the related workshops received generous support from the Kresge Foundation.

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