Resilient Communities, Infrastructure and Natural Resources Factsheet

An Initiative of the U.S. Climate Alliance

│The True Cost of Climate Change

In 2017 alone, severe climate-related events cost the United States roughly $306.2 billion in damages, shattering the previous U.S. annual record cost of $214.8 billion in 2005 – the year of Hurricane Katrina.  According to White House estimates, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma reduced September 2017 employment growth by roughly 140,000 jobs, and reduced 3rd quarter GDP growth by 0.6 percent.

Worryingly, this is part of a growing trend.  The severity and frequency of extreme events are on the rise: of the top 20 costliest hurricanes to land on U.S. soil, all but three occurred since 2000.  In addition, many areas of the country are experiencing extreme precipitation, high temperatures, and drought.  The human and economic toll of climate change will continue to grow without coordinated action to both reduce our emissions and prepare for unavoidable climate impacts. 

There is a growing recognition that extreme events will disproportionately affect low income communities and elderly populations with the least physical and financial ability to adapt to a changing climate.  States are now taking steps to better understand the human, physical and economic impacts of severe weather and climate change on their communities, especially those most vulnerable, to help plan and respond to a changing climate. This analysis will ensure they are investing in mitigation and adaptation actions that deliver benefits that far exceed the costs of inaction.  States are also working with local and community leaders to expand access to tools and resources they can utilize to build resilience to climate impacts.  Finally, as we continue to expand the built environment, states are exploring ways in which they can enhance the resilience of both built and natural infrastructure, including through improved procurement practices.

│ State Leadership to Date

Coordinated action through the Climate Alliance builds on years of leadership by member states in helping to protect their communities, economy and infrastructure from climate impacts.  Some examples:

●      The Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) is a joint partnership by the state and UConn to increase the resilience and sustainability of vulnerable communities along Connecticut’s coast and inland waterways by addressing critical infrastructure, coastal flooding, sea level rise, and living shorelines.

●      Hawai‘i produced the Sea Level Rise Vulnerability & Adaptation Report - a tool to estimate the scale and cost of potential flooding and erosion with sea level rise, and to recommend measures to reduce exposure to sea level rise and increase the state’s capacity to adapt. 

●      Maryland’s CoastSmart Communities Program assists coastal communities to address short- and long-term coastal hazards, such as coastal flooding, storm surge, and sea level rise by connecting local planners to essential resources, information, tools and trainings.

●      Minnesota is experiencing larger and more frequent episodes of extreme rainfall that can lead to flooding, and its Interagency Climate Adaptation Team is working with stakeholders to help meet this challenge by advancing priority climate adaptation recommendations from its recent comprehensive report Adapting to Climate Change in Minnesota.

●      The New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance, based out of Rutgers University, focuses on building capacity in New Jersey to address climate change through adaptation and resiliency, including: (1) providing policy analysis and recommendations; (2) developing decision-support tools to assist in adaptation and resilience efforts; and (3) convening practitioners and decision makers around climate change. Additionally, the Alliance works directly with communities to implement projects, including a 15-municipality regional resilience plan to address the impacts of coastal hazards and storm surge.

●      New York State requires applicants in several permit and funding programs to demonstrate consideration of sea level rise and flooding and is developing guidance on incorporation of projected riverine flooding and official state sea level rise projections into these permit and funding programs.

●      North Carolina is addressing sea level rise in part through the state’s Coastal Resource Commission Science Panel, which develops 5-Year Sea Level Rise Synthesis and Assessment Reports to monitor changing conditions, evaluate state-specific data, and serve as a resource for decision makers at the local and state levels.

│ U.S. Climate Alliance Collaboration

The Alliance is working to build greater resilience of its communities by fundamentally changing the way we design, procure and manage our infrastructure assets, and by giving governors access to critical tools and resources to help our states and communities prepare for climate impacts.  Cooperation will be focused on four strategic opportunities:

●      The Economics of Resilience:  A key first step will involve defining the challenge – as Alliance states are expected to invest trillions in infrastructure between now and 2050, Colorado is undertaking a model analysis of the state’s economic and physical risks in 2050 compared to 2018 with regard to vulnerability to floods, wildfire, and drought, quantified on a county-by-county basis.  The results of the analysis will be shared with Alliance states, and the initiative will explore how to cost-effectively replicate the analysis for interested states.    

●      Community adaptation preparedness training, funding and implementation: Massachusetts is leading the way with its new Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program, which helps local communities identify climate vulnerabilities and community strengths, develop and prioritize resilience actions and then implement these priorities with bond funding.   Massachusetts will work directly with interested states and partners to embed this model in a proposed playbook, including through a strategic partnership with The Nature Conservancy, who has supported this program in Massachusetts.

Based on priorities of individual Alliance member states, the Alliance will work with The Nature Conservancy to identify strategies to address risks posed by extreme weather events and sea level rise.  The Nature Conservancy will share its experience and best practices in community engagement, deployment of resilience strategies and tool development to help build technical capacity and promote safer, more resilient futures for communities across the Alliance states. Additionally, The Nature Conservancy will bring its many years of public policy experience in this space to help states and local jurisdictions plan for climate change impacts and implement effective solutions.

●      Life-cycle procurement for resilient infrastructure:  By integrating policy, financing, regulation and data-driven innovation, and developing cross-sectoral partnerships to engage communities, governments and the private sector in scaling solutions, we can deliver both low-carbon and high-performance infrastructure outcomes in the 21st century.  Governor Jerry Brown’s 2015 Life Cycle Infrastructure Executive Order (B-30-15) is one of several examples for states to build resilience through better project planning and design, capital facilities and procurement reform and life-cycle asset management.   California will work directly with interested states and partners, such as the National Council on Science and the Environment, to develop a playbook for policymakers.  The Alliance will also explore new funding mechanisms that recognize the value of natural infrastructure and the importance of life cycle risk management for public assets meant to last 30 to 50 years and creating new local incentives to help communities tap into state and federal expertise.

●      Critical data to drive climate resilience: The Alliance intends to work in concert with the Independent Advisory Committee (IAC) on Applied Climate Assessment – reconvened by Governor Andrew Cuomo after its disbandment by the federal government - to improve the collection and communication of actionable data to drive climate resilience.  Other cooperative efforts will include landscape level outcomes and protection of natural and working lands to secure water, food and the ecosystems that support them.