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  • Get Past the Past

    Climate Change In & Around NYC

    Get Past the Past

    Climate Change In & Around NYC

    Speakers: Gary Yohe (Wesleyan University), Megan Linkin (Swiss Reinsurance America Corporation), and Christopher Zeppie (Port Authority of New York and New Jersey)
    Moderator: Alyssa Katz (Pratt Center for Community Development)
    Organizer: Nancy Anderson (The Sallan Foundation)
    Presented by the Green Science & Environmental Policy Group
    Posted October 27, 2010

    Overview

    Climate change holds great uncertainties, but the fact of climate change is not in doubt. Cities in which more than half the world's populations now live are ever more at risk. The New York Metro Area—with its dense population, concentration of essential infrastructure systems, and high-value buildings—is particularly vulnerable. Today, City government, the Port Authority, and private insurers are developing risk management tools for identifying, assessing, and managing risks posed by climate change. On the evening of September 23, 2010, experts Gary Yohe, a professor of economics at Wesleyan University, Megan Linkin of Swiss Reinsurance Corporation, and Christopher Zeppie of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, provided insights on how each of these stakeholder groups are thinking through complex climate adaptation issues—some of which are beyond the realm of past experience—and how decisions about adaptation are being made. This discussion followed from a New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC) report, Climate Change Adaptation in New York City: Building a Risk Management Response, which dealt with this subject matter in depth.

    Gary Yohe of Wesleyan University provided some historical context for institutional climate action in New York City. As co-author of Chapter Two of the NPCC report, 'Adopting a risk-based approach,' he was well-placed to describe the origins and role of the NPCC as independent advisor to City's Climate Change Task Force. Yohe's presentation included a slide that emphasized the value of adaptation in the near to mid-term. At the core of Yohe's presentation was a methodology for assessing risk and prioritizing adaptation projects. The procedure for calculating risk takes into account the probability and consequence of an extreme event and assigns a risk level based on the multiplicative product of those two characteristics. In order to prioritize adaptation projects, the opportunity cost of using the resources available for one adaptation or another is weighed against the risk level from climate change and other sources of social and/or economic stress.

    Megan Linkin of Swiss Re provided an insurer's perspective on climate risk. She began by describing how insurers and re-insurers chiefly determine risk by evaluating the prevalence of natural catastrophes against the increased exposure that results from human settlement in high peril areas. Based on that data, Linkin provided a risk outlook scenario for New York City and revealed that relative to other coastal cities, New York is considered highly susceptible to weather related perils. Insurers acknowledge that climate change has the potential to alter both the frequency and intensity of the events they protect against – high impact, low probability events. Therefore, the insurance industry has a vested interest in understanding the future implications of climate change. The Nat Cat models that insurers have developed to calculate the costs of natural catastrophes could be of significant use to adaptation planners; however, they are only as good as their input data. Linkin went on to describe the uncertainties that arise from the use of historical data and to highlight the need for regular updates to those data in order to improve the accuracy of projections.

    The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) is unique as an independent, bi-state institution that serves the region by facilitating the transport of people and goods within and the region and with the rest of the world. PANYNJ announced its sustainability policy in March 2008 and indicated that it was aiming to reduce green house gas emission by 80% by 2050. Christopher Zeppie of PANYNJ's Office of Environmental Policy, Programs and Compliance, outlined what PANYNJ is doing not only to mitigate but also to adapt to the effects of climate change. Using available climate change data PANYNJ has identified which of its resources would be vulnerable to climate change. Zeppie detailed the Port Authority's plans and current activities and reiterated a need for regularly updated climate data, projections and models, and spoke also of a need for collaboration between stakeholders.

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