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Mayor Bloomberg launches $20 billion climate adaptation strategy for New York
by Takver - Climate IMC
Wednesday Jun 12th, 2013 9:44 AM
In a bold statement on June 11, 2013 from a former Naval Yard on Staten Island that was flood damaged by Ex-Tropical Cyclone Sandy, Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York, launched a plan of climate adaptation and resilience for the city.

Much of the adaptive defences being planned are to prevent damage from future storms, rising seas and storm surge.

Flood resistance and resilience of buildings and essential services was also emphasised, including measures elevating or protecting critical building equipment, fire protection systems, electrical equipment, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

But more than preparing for the next super storm, Bloomberg emphasised the importance of building resilience and preparedness for a range of climate related extreme weather disasters from "droughts, heavy downpours like we had last week, and heat waves, which may be longer, and more intense, in the years to come."

Indeed. Cities like New York will get much hotter as heatwaves amplify the Urban Heat Island Effect. With rising temperatures, heatwaves are likely to substantially increase temperature related deaths in the city, according to a study by public health and climate reserachers at Columbia University in New York.

"The inclusion of increasing risks due to climate change in the post Hurricane Sandy rebuilding of New York City is a positive tipping point for climate policy and action - not just for New York City, but for cities around the world," said Cynthia Rosenzweig and Bill Solecki, the co-chairs of the City's Panel on Climate Change.

Bloomberg first convened the New York City Panel on Climate Change in 2008. A ground breaking move at the time, which produced one of the first city wide climate impact projections released as a report in 2009. The panel was reconvened by Bloomberg following Hurricane Sandy to update it's climate change projections. The panel presented updated information showing:

  • Sea levels could rise at a faster rate than forecast just four years ago - potentially by more than 2.5 feet by the 2050s.
  • By the 2050s, the city could have three times as many days at or above 90 degrees - leading to heat waves that threaten public health and the power system, among other infrastructure systems.
  • The number of days with more than two inches of rainfall will grow from three in the last century to five in the 2050s.

Sea level rise will also increase the odds of a "one-in-a-hundred-year" storm such as superstorm Sandy hitting New York. The odds will rise to one in 50 by the 2020s, one in 15 in the 2050s and one in two by the 2080s, according to Klaus Jacob, a research scientist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald. Due to regional conditions sea levels are rising 3 to 4 times faster on the US Atlantic coast than the global average.

Based upon these updated climate impact projections a process called the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency was undertaken, including workshops with local residents and businesses. The result is a comprehensive report and development proposals called A Stronger, More Resilient New York.

First level storm surge defences outlined include installing adaptable floodwalls; extensive system of permanent levees and bulkheads; expanding natural defences where available such as strengthening beach and sand dune defences; a storm surge barrier with gates and connecting levees at Newtown Creek; Surge Barriers for Jamaica Bay and Other Regions; tidal barriers along Coney Island Creek; offshore breakwaters to minimise wave zones; install a wetlands restoration project to weaken waves along Howard and Hamilton Beaches and elsewhere in Jamaica Bay in Queens. These first line defences would be designed and built progressively.

I was particularly impressed with Bloomberg's focus on ensuring critical supply of utility services should have resilience built in so that citizens can rely on delivery of these services during disasters like Hurricane Sandy. In particular, power and telecommunications utilities need to get there act together, particularly as they have the benefit of using city street infrastructure. It is not too much to expect that these private companies should improve their service resilience.

"Millions of New Yorkers lost power during Sandy - and hundreds of thousands lost heat, internet service or phone service. Fuel supplies were also knocked out, resulting in long waits at the pump. Most of these networks are not run or regulated by the City - but the time has come for all of our private sector partners to step up to the plate and join us in protecting New Yorkers." said Bloomberg.

Bloomberg outlined the city will also work with utility companies, technology developers, and building owners to diversify energy sources to increase the flexibility of the grid and strengthen it with the integration of distributed generation and renewable resources.

The adaptation plans of more than 250 recommendations detailed in the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency report was costed at nearly $20 billion, with an immediate start but staged delivery. Three quarters of these funds can be provided by City capital funding and Federal relief. The shortfall of 4.5 billion would need to be raised with the possibility of additional Federal funding or use of city capital.

This spending on flood defences and resilience may seem a lot, but really it is the equivalent of the damage and economic cost of $19 billion of Hurricane Sandy. In the future the cost of a storm such as Sandy or worse will increase to $35 billion in 2025, and by 2055, $90 billion.

In the medium term, these adaptations will more than pay for themselves by preventing loss from future storm damage, and flooding from rising seas. But as sea levels continue to rise, and we probably have more than 20 metres of sea level rise in the pipeline due to the already high levels of atmospheric CO2, scaling up the storm surge defences may prove ultimately impractical in the long term with some level of retreat and withdrawal necessary. But those decisions will probably be left to our grandchildren to make.

Andrew Steer, President and CEO, World Resources Institute commented in a statement:

"As we witness extreme weather events around the globe, it's clear that we're facing an increasingly dangerous future. Global emissions are at a record high and we're exposing our children to greater risks ahead.

"Today, Mayor Bloomberg laid out a bold vision and call to action. He and his city have witnessed firsthand the devastation that comes from unpredictable and extreme weather events.

"Building on the groundbreaking PlanNYC, the Mayor has a laid out steps to enhance infrastructure, retrofit buildings, and create more resilient coastlines in response to 'super' storms, rising seas, and other climate-related impacts. Around the world, cities and nations will need to make these kinds of investments to protect their citizens. They have much to learn from New York City.

"New York City has plans to protect itself against the impacts of climate change and to reduce its greenhouse gases, and thus attack the root causes. The United States as a whole is lacking such plans. This must change.

"It's time for President Obama to present a national plan on climate change that will reduce the risks and protect future generations. The actions required are clear. A recent WRI report identifies the key steps the Administration can take to achieve its 17 percent target, and make even deeper cuts later on.

"As Mayor Bloomberg said, the risks of climate change 'should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.'

"One thing is clear: Taking action today will be far less costly than waiting for the impacts to mount later on."

While New York launches it's climate adaptation program, we are still awaiting decision on whether President Obama will approve the Keystone XL pipeline, and other Federal regulatory actions to reduce carbon emissions.

Shaye Wolf, Ph.D., climate science director with the Center for Biological Diversity said "The mayor's plan could help protect New Yorkers from climate chaos, but who is looking out for the rest of America?" Dr. Wolf said. "President Obama needs to step up and offer a bold national strategy for reducing extreme weather dangers by cutting greenhouse gas pollution."

The Full statement of Mayor Michael Bloomberg is available on my blog post along with an embedded youtube video of the speech.

Takver is a citizen journalist from Melbourne Australia who has been writing on climate change, science and protests since 2004.