Roger Pulwarty, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Robert Lempert, RAND Corporation
Kate Gordon, Paulson Institute
Katherine Greig, Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center at University of Pennsylvania (formerly New York City Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency)
Cat Hawkins Hoffman, National Park Service
Dale Sands, Village of Deer Park, Illinois
Caitlin Werrell, The Center for Climate and Security
Mary Ann Lazarus, Cameron MacAllister Group
Lauren Kendrick, RAND Corporation
Pat Mulroy, Brookings Institution
Costa Samaras, Carnegie Mellon University
Bruce Stein, National Wildlife Federation
Tom Watson, The Center for Climate and Security
Jessica Wentz, Columbia University
Sarah Zerbonne, Adaptation and Decision Science Coordinator
Fredric Lipschultz, Senior Scientist and Regional Coordinator
<b>Lempert</b>, R., J. Arnold, R. Pulwarty, K. Gordon, K. Greig, C. Hawkins Hoffman, D. Sands, and C. Werrell, 2018: Reducing Risks Through Adaptation Actions. In <i>Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II</i> [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 1309–1345. doi: 10.7930/NCA4.2018.CH28
Reducing Risks Through Adaptation Actions
New Approaches Can Further Reduce Risk
Integrating climate considerations into existing organizational and sectoral policies and practices provides adaptation benefits. Further reduction of the risks from climate change can be achieved by new approaches that create conditions for altering regulatory and policy environments, cultural and community resources, economic and financial systems, technology applications, and ecosystems.
A significant portion of climate risk can be addressed by mainstreaming; that is, integrating climate adaptation into existing organizational and sectoral investments, policies, and practices. Mainstreaming can make adaptation more likely to succeed because it augments already familiar processes with new information and tools, rather than requiring extensive new structures.100,101,102 Mainstreaming can also encourage risk management actions that synergistically and coherently address adaptation along with other societal objectives. Mainstreaming can also prompt innovation in existing organizational structures103,104 by improving their treatment of all types of uncertainty. However, mainstreaming can diminish the visibility of climate adaptation relative to dedicated, stand-alone adaptation approaches105 and may prove insufficient to address the full range of climate risk, in particular the risks associated with higher GHG concentrations.
Integrating climate adaptation into existing risk management processes requires including climate risks with the other risks an organization regularly assesses and manages; explicitly linking actions that address current climate variability with those needed to address larger, future changes; and linking policies across sectors (for example, energy and water) and jurisdictions. Much adaptation action occurs at the local level, so such linking can be horizontal (that is, among agencies within the same local jurisdiction) and vertical (that is, among different levels of local, state, tribal, and federal governments).104
Mainstreaming climate adaptation into existing decision processes has begun in many areas, in particular those with well-developed risk management processes such as financial risk reporting, capital investment planning, engineering standards, military planning, and disaster risk management.
A growing number of jurisdictions address climate risk in their land-use, hazard mitigation, capital improvement, and transportation plans. In 2015, FEMA began requiring states to include the projected effects of climate change in their state hazard mitigation plans.106 A small number of cities explicitly link their coastal plans and their hazard mitigation plans using a common, climate-informed vulnerability analysis to support both types of plans, thereby ensuring that the different city agencies are implementing risk reduction measures—such as land-use measures (reducing exposure), building codes (reducing sensitivity), and warning, evacuation, and recovery measures (increasing adaptive capacity)—that are synergistic and coordinated.107 The City of Baltimore used climate-informed estimates of increased current and future storm intensity to design its storm water master plan, which includes green space and bio-swales that capture runoff, to improve water quality and reduce flood risk. California requires its water agencies to address climate change in their water management plans. Through the Department of Energy (DOE) Partnership for Energy Sector Climate Resilience, electric utilities across the country are collaborating with DOE to develop resilience planning guidance, conduct climate change vulnerability assessments, and develop and implement cost-effective resilience solutions (Ch. 4: Energy). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), FEMA, and the U.S. Geological Survey are partnering with states to develop guidelines for integrated climate adaptation, land use, and hazard mitigation planning. Federal agencies have also begun implementing climate-smart management approaches for managing their natural resources (Ch. 7: Ecosystems, KM 2).
Private financial markets are increasingly paying attention to climate risk, for instance, by incorporating such risk accounting into their portfolios. In some cases, financial firms and companies perform climate risk accounting as part of a voluntary or mandatory disclosure system. In a recent report to the G20 (Group of Twenty), the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures provided a comprehensive framework for such disclosure and recommended that since “climate-related risks are material risks,” they should be disclosed in mainstream (public) financial filings.108,109 Ratings agencies have also begun to incorporate physical climate risk into credit ratings for corporations, infrastructure bonds, and other public-sector projects. Both Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s acknowledge emerging risks associated with climate change110,111 and now embed these risks into their credit ratings.112 In particularly vulnerable areas, such as South Florida, bond ratings are now beginning to reflect such risks.
The engineering community has begun incorporating climate resilience into its design standards by incorporating information about current and future climate threats and impacts113 and updating existing engineering standards, codes, regulations, and practices—currently based on stationary climate assumptions.114 The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recommends that engineers incorporate climate uncertainty, assess the costs of reducing risks, and follow an adaptive management process. Such a process would begin with low-regret strategies that perform well across a range of futures and periodically update as new information becomes available.113 The ASCE and the States of California and New York have formed committees to develop such standards.115
Other sectors of government and industry are also starting to consider climate risk a major systemic risk. In its 2018 Global Risks Report, the World Economic Forum listed the top five environmental risks—including extreme weather events and temperatures and failures of climate change mitigation and adaptation—in terms of both likelihood and the impact on the global economy.116 The U.S. military now routinely integrates climate risks into its analysis, plans, and programs,117 with particular attention paid to climate effects on force readiness, military bases, and training ranges (Ch. 16: International, KM 3).118,119 Naval Station Norfolk, for example, has replaced existing piers with double-decker piers that are elevated by several more feet and thus more resilient to rising sea levels and extreme weather events (Ch. 1: Overview, Figure 1.8).
Overcoming Up-Front Challenges
While yielding benefits, adaptation also presents challenges. These include difficulties obtaining the necessary funds; insufficient information and relevant expertise; jurisdictional mismatches among those responsible for taking adaptation actions and those who benefit from those actions; conflicting interests among relevant parties; and the pressures on agencies and professionals that serve the public to act cautiously, in particular by seeking to follow long-established procedures and experience.
Insufficient funding often hinders adaptation (Ch. 8: Coastal; Ch. 15: Tribes).120,121,122 At the local level, adaptation planning and assessment have been supported by a mix of local government funds and federal, state, and foundation grants.121 Full-scale implementation of the proposals resulting from these adaptation planning and assessment activities would require significantly more resources. In principle, the potential for longer-term savings can be used to generate near-term financing for adaptation efforts. But the mechanisms for doing so are not yet widely in place. Underwriters of municipal bonds, the most common means of financing water infrastructure in the United States, are just beginning to incorporate requirements for long-term sustainability under a changing climate as a condition for going to market.112
To the extent that climate resilience becomes an expected and required attribute of decisions concerning infrastructure and other long-term investments, as well as an expected part of asset management and life-cycle cost estimates, financing should become more available for cost-effective adaptation actions.123 Changing social and economic norms could also affect the availability of financing. Once the implications become widely understood, public expectations, professional standards, and due diligence on the part of financers may similarly discourage investing in long-lived infrastructure designed for stationary conditions, as opposed to currently changing and future climate conditions.124
Adaptation often increases up-front costs, thus increasing the salience of steps to reduce those costs. Federal, state, and local governments in the United States spend over $400 billion annually on public infrastructure.125 Estimates of annual adaptation costs range from tens to hundreds of billions of dollars annually.78 Taking advantage of new infrastructure investments and capital stock turnover provides one particularly favorable opportunity for low-cost, proactive adaptation in both the public and private sectors.2 Many jurisdictions and businesses possess significant stocks of deteriorating transportation, water, energy, housing, and other infrastructure, which often already lack resilience to current climate and weather events (Ch. 3: Water; Ch. 4: Energy; Ch. 12: Transportation).3,126,127 The expected turnover of this capital stock creates opportunities for adaptation but also raises challenges, such as equity concerns, if, for example, upgrading the resilience of housing stock makes it unaffordable for lower-income residents.
Flexible design and adaptive planning can also reduce near-term adaptation costs while keeping options open for future resilience.128 Such options begin with low-regret options, invest in capacity building, and adjust over time to new information. The Fort Pulaski example cited previously included a new coastal protection structure with an adaptive design that can be inexpensively adjusted as the future risk grows larger. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California uses adaptive management to organize its 25-year Integrated Resource Plan; factored into its near-term investments in local supplies is the expectation that some investments will be expanded and others reduced as climate, demand, regulatory, and other conditions change in the future.129 However, explicitly signaling that policies will change in the future may impede enforcement, make decision-makers seem indecisive, and make it easier for them to succumb to political pressure from special interests.130
Catalysts for Adaptation
Catalytic events, external incentives, community interest, leadership, and outside funding all help spur adaptation planning and implementation. Catalytic events, including disasters caused by extreme storms or droughts, often precipitate or accelerate adaptation action,131,132 as happened with Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the 2011–2016 drought in California (see, for example, Ch. 25: Southwest).
Internal drivers of adaptation include political leadership and policy entrepreneurs.103 In addition, a recognition of the challenges posed by climate change and an ability to integrate the problem and potential solutions into existing belief and value structures also provide important catalysts for adaptation.
External incentives include the legal requirements, engineering standards, climate-related financial risk disclosure requirements, and changes in insurance coverage. For instance, some existing laws and regulations provide catalysts for adaptation,133 typically through procedural planning requirements rather than substantive mandates. At the state and local levels, some laws specifically require the consideration of climate change impacts and adaptation options in planning processes, but these cover only a small subset of jurisdictions and geographic areas in the United States.134,135,136 At the federal level, few laws explicitly promote adaptation, but many can be interpreted as requiring the consideration of climate change impacts on the ability of a federal agency to comply with various statutory and regulatory mandates.23,137
Once begun, successful adaptation often entails sustained networks, financing, the sharing of best practices, and champions, as shown in Box 28.3.
Formal and informal networks of government, nongovernmental organizations, and academic, faith-based, and private-sector parties engaged in developing and implementing adaptation are expanding. These networks support individuals, communities, and organizations as they strive to understand and reduce current and future climate risks. Federal, state, and local agencies; nongovernmental organizations; utilities and industry associations; and private-sector consultants have in recent years developed a wide range of written guidance and online platforms intended to support climate adaptation planning and mainstreaming efforts. While not exhaustive, the list includes the 100 Resilient Cities, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN), and the Water Utility Climate Alliance.
Over the past several years, examples of sustained collaborative partnerships between research and management in support of climate risk management have included NOAA’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Climate Hubs, and the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASCs). These regional climate information networks provide data, tools, forecasts, interpretation, and extension services for agencies and communities to build into integrated services and work together to coordinate stakeholder engagement across multiple sectors as new knowledge emerges.150,151 Some examples include knowledge platforms, such as the Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (www.cakex.org), the Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse (http://www.adaptationclearinghouse.org/), and the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit website (toolkit.climate.gov); these platforms include directories of practitioners and inventories of data tools for managing natural and built systems in the face of climate change.
More local, targeted resources, such as Louisiana’s Coastal Protection Restoration Authority Master Plan Data Viewer (http://cims.coastal.la.gov/masterplan/), offer detailed information about climate risks and probabilities in specific geographic locations to help planners and communities better anticipate and prepare for climate impacts. Such initiatives and networks enable practitioners to share best practices and evaluate and inform adaptation implementation while empowering communities to advance preparedness and resilience efforts across the United States.
Beyond Incremental Change
Integrating climate risk into existing practices can lead to change that is more than incremental. For instance, it often proves profitable in the near term to build in low-lying areas subject to future extreme flooding152 rather than in areas with lower future risk. Updated flood maps and risk-adjusted insurance rates would likely lead to different patterns of development.153 In many cases, however, addressing the full range of future climate change requires substantial changes in organizational practices and procedures, in public- and private-sector institutions, in individual and societal expectations and norms, in capital investment planning, and in laws.154,155 Decision-makers may wish to take active steps to anticipate and steer change in desired directions and to avoid the unanticipated consequences of ad hoc or crisis-based responses. In some cases, this involves seeking, legitimizing, and accelerating large changes, rather than attempting to retain today’s conditions as long as possible.10,156,157
Reducing climate risk often requires managing interdependent systems in ways that transcend current jurisdictional and sectoral boundaries (Ch. 4: Energy; Ch. 17: Complex Systems, KM 3). Water, electric power supply, and agriculture often depend critically on one another (see Ch. 17: Complex Systems, KM 1) but are not treated similarly for potential adaptation actions. Effective climate risk management often requires closer coordination among regulatory agencies and, in some cases, may necessitate some restructuring. For instance, the City of Los Angeles’s One Water LA program requires multiple city agencies to coordinate on integrated management of the city’s water, land-use, and flood control actions.158 Major reforms can prove difficult and often occur only in response to major system shocks, such as reforms to the Stafford Act after Hurricane Katrina159,160,161 or the consolidation of many local water agencies in Australia into a small number of large, regional organizations during a decade of severe drought.162
Some sectors are already taking actions that go beyond integrating climate risk into current practices. Faced with substantial climate-induced future changes, including new invasive species and shifting ranges, ecosystem managers have already begun to adopt novel approaches, such as assisted migration and wildlife corridors (Ch. 7: Ecosystems, KM 2), and to rethink the goals of conservation management.163 Many millions of Americans live in coastal areas threatened by sea level rise; in all but the very lowest sea level rise projections, retreat will become an unavoidable option in some areas of the U.S. coastline (Ch. 8: Coastal, KM 1). The Federal Government has already provided resources for the relocation of some communities, such as the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe from Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana. But the potential need for millions of people and billions of dollars of coastal infrastructure to be relocated in the future creates challenging legal, financial, and equity issues that have not yet been addressed.
The ability of adaptation to reduce severe climate impacts like these will ultimately depend less on scientific uncertainties and the ability to implement engineering solutions than on perceived loss of culture and identity, in particular identities associated with unique cultural heritage sites and a sense of place (Ch. 8: Coastal; Ch. 15: Tribes, KM 2).68 Because different regions and groups face different levels of risk and have differing abilities to respond, considerations of equity and justice influence judgments about any limits to adaptation.52,68