Hundreds of cities unprepared for climate disasters — report

Source: By Daniel Cusick, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 22, 2020

The flood caused widespread damage to city-owned docks, roads and rail lines, threatening an economic asset that generates $100 million annually for Wisconsin’s largest city.

Such events are becoming common in U.S. cities as climate change creates new threats and exacerbates old ones in every region of the country, from mega-storms in Houston to chronic flooding in Miami to water shortages from Atlanta to Los Angeles.

Hundreds of U.S. cities, already facing social and economic challenges, must bolster resilience to climate change if they are to remain competitive and grow economically, according to new research from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, or C2ES.

“Cities are well aware the burden of preparing for climate change is theirs. They’re also learning that addressing those challenges can make them more competitive and economically sound across the board,” C2ES President Bob Perciasepe said in a statement.

The report, based on literature reviews and interviews with mayors and experts across the country, says municipal governments “are already facing real, but largely unquantified, financial impacts from weather disasters and chronic climate-related stressors that drain local budgets and put municipal creditworthiness at risk.”

Among other things, climate disasters force governments to redirect tax dollars for infrastructure repair and recovery measures, often to the detriment of other public services. High-risk cities may also find it harder to raise capital using traditional finance instruments, such as municipal bonds, as their credit ratings suffer from elevated climate risk.

Climate change impacts and risks can also harm a city’s ability to compete for economic development opportunities, erode real estate values and its tax base, displace low-income residents and communities of color, and undermine “livability” factors that help draw and retain new businesses and people.

“At its core, livability requires a safe place to live, and climate change presents an obvious threat by bringing sea level rise, inland flooding, wildfires, deadly heat waves, catastrophic storms, and more to neighborhoods throughout the country,” the report states.

While many U.S. cities are only beginning to acknowledge and respond to climate threats, others are becoming exemplars whose resilience can be replicated elsewhere, said Amy Bailey, co-author of the report and director for sustainability and engagement at C2ES.

Washington; Atlanta; and Hampton, Va., for example, have used innovative environmental impact bonds to finance projects that reduce risks from peak rain events and sea-level rise (Climatewire, Feb. 11).

In Miami Beach, a study found that a $2 billion public and private investment in the elevation of homes and roads, and storm protection in Miami Beach, could avoid $1 billion in property damage and reduce insurance rates for property owners.

“This can be a real opportunity,” Bailey said. “You don’t have to stick your head in the sand because you fear [addressing climate change] will make you less competitive.”

In Milwaukee, which was not part of the C2ES study, port Director Adam Tindall-Schlicht said the facility has undergone roughly $2 million in flood remediation work since the storm using a combination of state and federal funds.

Resilience to hazards like January’s flood “is the key to the future” of port management on the nation’s coasts and navigable rivers, Tindall-Schlicht said.