On Wednesday, I had the privilege of attending the knowledge network event: Climate Change and New York City: Creating Flexible Adaptation Pathways. The series of talks represent the findings of the National Panel on Climate Change (NPCC), one of Mayor Bloomberg's initiatives set in place to respond to climate change. While mitigation and adaptation are both important elements to create an effective sustainability plan for New York City, this study was primarily adaptation-based. The NPCC, a panel of experts, were charged with the task of providing advice about issues related to the adaptation approaching climate change. They have prepared a set of projections for climate change in New York City focused on how climate change has the potential to negatively and positively affect critical infrastructure in the metro area.
Noted during the event, is the surprising realization that the city already has many tools in place to deal with climate change, however the major take away point of the day is that we must develop a risk-based approach to adaptation now because of the environmental risks that exist already. Global Climate Models (GCMs) provide encompass the potential future paths of climate change.
Source: NPCC Climate Risk Information 2009
This image above demonstrates the uncertainties in future climate change (in this case for the City's annual temperature).The most effective response to uncertain climate change is one that implements a Flexible Adaptation Pathways. These plans need to be incorporated into the operations and planning of agencies and organizations that run and manage the critical infrastructure of NYC. Ways that climate change can be incorporated into the management of the City's critical infrastructure among others include adjusting risk and hazard management strategies to meet the new changing climate (which requires flexibility). Design standards can be recalibrated to include the projected effects that climate change will have so that the infrastructure developed can withstand the impacts of future climate change. Finally, further studies must be conducted to facilitate the development of adaptation plans. Climate change is thought of to have nonlinear tipping points and triggers, these must be better identified, characterized and understood. Cost-benefit studies should be conducted to analyze the economics associated with financing adaptation. In an open discussion among stakeholder panelists and audience participants it was suggested that two particular types of study be conducted to determine the cost of implementing adaptations: one which examines the cost of implementing adaptation plans as a rehabilitation plan versus the cost of setting forth plans at some other time, and the other which is an optimal scheduling theory suggesting that it might be cheaper to postpone adaptation plans.
The central focus of the meeting is that based on climate risk information, if we maintain the status quo, we will reach a point that supersedes the acceptable level of risk that a society can maintain at any given time. Maintaining the status quo represents the most dangerous path that we can take. Implementing inflexible adaptation pathways might delay this trajectory, however at some point in time these strategies will be unable to prevent rising above the societal acceptable level of risk. Flexible Adaptation Plans (with mitigation efforts incorporated as well) provide the most promising solution in face of the uncertainties affiliated with climate change. The effects of mitigation efforts are to be seen in the future, however our city is vulnerable to the impacts of variable climate and to heighten NYC's resiliancy we must start executing Flexible Adaptation Plans today.