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eBriefing

Climate Science: Decision-Making in a Warmer World

Climate Science: Decision-Making in a Warmer World
Reported by
Ashlea Morgan

Posted May 23, 2019

Presented By

The New York Academy of Sciences

Overview

Climate change is a growing threat with global impact. Shifts in the climate present special challenges for urban areas where more than half of the world’s population lives. New York City residents, for example, are already feeling the effects through recurrent flooding in coastal communities, warmer temperatures across all five boroughs, and strains in the city’s infrastructure during heavy downpours and extreme weather events. As a result, cities like New York require the best-available climate science to develop tangible policies for resilience, mitigation, and adaptation.

On March 15, 2019, climate scientists, city planners, and community and industry stakeholders attended the Science for Decision-Making in a Warmer World summit at the New York Academy of Sciences to discuss how cities are responding to the effects of climate change. The event marked the 10th anniversary of a successful partnership between the New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC), the City of New York, and the New York Academy of Sciences. Established in 2008, the NPCC has opened new frontiers of urban climate science to build the foundation for resiliency actions in the New York metropolitan region.

Learn about the NPCC’s latest research findings and their implications for New York City and other cities seeking to identify and mitigate the effects of climate change in this summary.

Photo Credit: The Day After Yesterday by [mementosis]available under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Meeting Highlights

  • NPCC research provides tools to inform and shape climate change resilience in New York City and other cities around the globe. 
  • Shifts in mean and extreme climate conditions significantly impact cities and communities worldwide. 
  • Cities can move forward by adopting flexible adaptation pathways, an overall approach to developing effective climate change adaptation strategies for a region under conditions of increasing risk.
  • There is a growing recognition that resilience strategies need to be inclusive of community perspectives.

Speakers

Daniel Zarrilli, PE

New York City Office of the Mayor

Alexander Durst

The Durst Organization

Susanne DesRoches

New York City Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency

Michael Marrella

New York City Department of City Planning

Alan Cohn

New York City Department of Environmental Protection

Sheila Foster

Georgetown, New York City Panel on Climate Change

Vivien Gornitz

Columbia University, New York City Panel on Climate Change

Klaus Jacob

Columbia University, New York City Panel on Climate Change

Dan Bader

Columbia University, New York City Panel on Climate Change

Mandy Ikert

C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group

Richard Moss

American Meteorological Society

Kathy Robb

Sive, Paget, and Riesel

Sam Carter

Rockefeller Foundation

Jainey Bavishi

New York City Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency

Kerry Constabile

Executive Office of the UN Secretary General

Seth Schultz

Urban Breakthroughs

Climate Change, Science, and New York City

Keynote Speaker and Panelists

Alexander Durst

The Durst Organization

Susanne DesRoches

New York City Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency

Michael Marrella

New York City Department of City Planning

Alan Cohn

New York City Department of Environmental Protection

Keynote: Preparing for Climate Change — NPCC and Its Role in New York City

Daniel Zarrilli, of the New York City Office of the Mayor, gave the first keynote presentation. In addition to outlining NPCC history, he emphasized the meaning of NPCC to the city. NPCC has provided the tools to inform policy since before Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Because of NPCC, Zarrilli stated, people now know that the waters around New York City are rising “twice as quickly as the global average” and that climate change will affect communities disproportionately. The city can and will take on the responsibility to protect those who are most vulnerable.  Zarrilli highlighted steps the Mayor’s Office is taking: fossil fuel divestment, bringing a lawsuit against big oil for causing climate change, and launching a new OneNYC strategic plan to confront our climate crisis, achieve equity, and strengthen our democracy. He concluded by saying that with “8.6 million New Yorkers and all major cities watching,” NPCC is providing the best possible climate science to drive New York City policy.

Preparing for Climate Change: NPCC and Its Role in New York City


Daniel Zarrilli (New York City Office of the Mayor)

Panel 1: NPCC and Its Role in New York City

How are NPCC findings used in developing resiliency in New York City?

The first panel was moderated by William Solecki of Hunter College Institute for Sustainable Cities – City University of New York, and featured three city representatives, Susanne DesRoches, of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency; Michael Marrella, of the New York City Department of City Planning; Alan Cohn, of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection; and one industry stakeholder, Alexander Durst, of the Durst Organization.

DesRoches noted that the NPCC research has made possible a proliferation of guidelines regulating building design in the city. In fact, the New York City Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines, released the same day that the panel took place, provide instruction on how to use climate projections in the design of city buildings. The Department of City Planning also uses NPCC data in its Coastal Zone Management Program to require that coastal site developers to disclose and address current and future flood risks. Marrella added that NPCC research tools allow public and private stakeholders to make informed decisions on how to shape policy. NPCC methods and approaches are also being used climate data is also being used for New York State and national projections.

Panelists also addressed how New York City’s mitigation goals enable resilience in the face of climate change challenges. DesRoches pointed to the city’s aggressive climate targets, including an “80% [emissions] reduction by 2050,” and a goal to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C, as targeted by the Paris Agreement (UN Climate Change 2015). She gave two examples of adaptations that align with the City’s mitigation goals: adapting high “passive house” and green building standards for a reduced carbon footprint; and diversifying how the city receives energy, including the development of a renewable energy grid. Cohn added that the Department of Environmental Protection aims to free up capacity in water conservation and implement the use of methane as an energy source. With resilience in mind, Durst stressed that energy models should be uniform and based on the future, not just today.

Panel: NPCC and its Role in New York City


Moderator: James Gennaro (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation)

Further Readings

Zarrilli

Wallace-Wells D.

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life after Warming

New York: Tim Duggan Books; 2019

Panel 1

UN Climate Change. The Paris Agreement.

Dec (2015)

NYC Mayor's Office of Recovery and Resiliency.

March (2019)

Wuebbles DJ, Fahey DW, Hibbard KA, Dokken DJ, et al.

U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, 2017;1-477.

Rosenzweig C, Solecki W, DeGaetano A, O’Grady M, et al.

Final report, NYSERDA. 2011;1-149

Findings from the New York City Panel on Climate Change

Panelists

Sheila Foster

Georgetown, New York City Panel on Climate Change

Vivien Gornitz

Columbia University, New York City Panel on Climate Change

Klaus Jacob

Columbia University, New York City Panel on Climate Change

Dan Bader

Columbia University, New York City Panel on Climate Change

Panel 2: Latest Findings from the New York City Panel on Climate Change

What types of information are the most useful?

The second panel was moderated by Julie Pullen of Jupiter Intelligence, and featured four NPCC members who presented the latest NPCC3 report findings: Vivien Gornitz, Klaus Jacob, and Daniel Bader of Columbia University; and Sheila Foster, of Georgetown Law.

The latest NPCC3 findings confirmed climate projections from the 2015 report as the projections of record for New York City planning and decision-making. For example, by the end of the century, “ocean levels will be higher than they are now due to thermal expansion; changes in ocean heights; loss of ice from Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets; land-water storage; vertical land movements; and gravitational, rotational, and elastic ‘fingerprints’ of ice loss,” said Gornitz. Under the NPCC's new Antarctic Rapid Ice melt (ARIM) scenario, there could be up to a 9.5 ft. increase in sea level rise by 2100 at the high end of the projections. The new report advises that levies or raised streets might reduce the effects that sea level rise will have on New York City’s coastline.

Vulnerability to climate change varies by neighborhood and socioeconomic status. Foster presented a new three-dimensional approach to community-based adaptation through the lens of equity: distributional, contextual, and procedural. Distributional equity emphasizes disparities across social groups, neighborhoods, and communities in vulnerability, adaptive capacity, and the outcomes of adaptation actions. Contextual equity emphasizes social, economic, and political factors and processes that contribute to uneven vulnerability and shape adaptive capacity. Procedural equity emphasizes the extent and robustness of public and community participation in adaptation planning and decision-making.

Echoing Mayor Bloomberg’s sentiment that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” Jacob presented the proposed NPCC New York City Climate Change Resilience Indicators and Monitoring system (NYCLIM). Through the new proposed NYCLIM system, NPCC recommends climate, impact, vulnerability, and resilience indicators for the City’s decision-making processes.

Panel: Latest Findings from the New York City Panel on Climate Change


Moderator: Julie Pullen (Jupiter Intelligence)

Further Readings

Cities as Solutions for Climate Change and Closing Remarks

Keynote Speaker and Panelists

Sam Carter

Rockefeller Foundation

Jainey Bavishi

New York City Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency

Kerry Constabile

Executive Office of the UN Secretary General

Seth Schultz

Urban Breakthroughs

Keynote: Role of Cities in Achieving Progress

Mandy Ikert, of C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, gave the second keynote presentationThe Future We Don’t Want, a study recently released by C40, the Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN), and Acclimatise found that billions of urban citizens are at risk of climate-related heat waves, droughts, floods, food shortages, and blackouts by 2050 (UCCRN 2018). Cities are situated at the forefront of these effects and urgently need to respond. Ikert stated that “we live in an urbanizing world,” where 68% of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050, up from approximately 54% today." Ikert stressed that “mayors and city agencies are directly accountable to their constituency” in order to protect and preserve their lives and livelihood. She also urged cities to reach out to researchers to obtain accurate modeling for extreme events. Cities have the potential to account for 40% of the emissions reductions required to align with the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C (UN Climate Change 2015). Therefore, the way a city responds to climate change, Ikert said, determines how livable and competitive it will be in the future.

The Role of Cities in Achieving Progress


Mandy Ikert (C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group)

Panel 3: City Stakeholders and Beyond

How can knowledge networks and city networks improve interactions to achieve climate change solutions?

The final panel was moderated by Richard Moss of the American Meteorological Society, and featured Corinne LeTourneau, of the North America Region, 100 Resilient Cities; Kerry Constabile, of the Executive Office of the UN Secretary General; Jainey Bavishi, of the New York City Mayor's Office of Recovery and Resiliency; and Seth Schultz, of Urban Breakthroughs, spoke about the enormous value and knowledge of stakeholders.

In this session, all of the participants highlighted that many cities are playing a critical role in meeting the challenge of climate change, both through efforts to reduce their own greenhouse gas footprints, and to update infrastructure and programs to meet the needs of their citizens as climate change impacts occur.

Panelists discussed how finances are a major challenge to addressing climate change. For example, Constabile noted that a small percentage of megacities in developing countries have credit ratings. This lack of “creditworthiness” hinders cities from raising their own bonds and attracting private investment, both of which are significant sources of funding for climate-related projects. Schultz suggested that private money may jumpstart some climate resiliency and adaptation efforts, and stated that eight of ten of the world’s largest countries are funding research on climate change. LeTourneau and Schultz identified that without the climate data to assess risks, money will not be directed to the areas of greatest need. LeTourneau highlighted the importance of describing how climate change affects risks and "the bottom line" in a way that decision makers and citizens find compelling and relatable.

Panelists also highlighted that climate does not have boundaries, but government bodies do. As Bavishi pointed out, New York City is lucky that climate change adaptation has been codified into law. Chief resilience officers are retained even after city funding is spent, so continuity is in place. City governments around the country and the globe are following suit, but as the panelists pointed out, these ideas should spread more widely.

Closing Remarks

NPCC member Michael Oppenheimer remarked that the NPCC offers a “local picture at granular level with the best possible science.” Hurricane Sandy taught the City about its vulnerability and drove research on flood tides and rising coastal tides. With the 2010 NPCC report, he said, a firm research agenda was drafted that shifted the City’s view of climate change to resiliency. Oppenheimer stressed that NPCC science is useful for policy and praised New York City for utilizing NPCC data in policy decisions. In closing, Oppenheimer said that dissemination assures that communities worldwide are able to use NPCC data.

Panel: City Stakeholders and Beyond


Moderator: Richard Moss (American Meteorological Society)

Further Readings

Ikert

Rosenzweig CSolecki WRomero-Lankao PMehrtotra Set al.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Eds; 2018

United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs

Population Division (2018)

Moss RH, Avery S, Baja K, Burkett M, et al.

Wea., Clim., Soc. 2019 Apr 4(2019)

The New York City Mayor’s Proclamation

Whereas: Global issues are often felt most deeply at the local level, and in the face of worldwide threats to our environment, infrastructure, and economy, cities have the power and responsibility to lead our planet in the right direction.  After Hurricane Sandy, when the devastating effects of climate change hit home for far too many of our residents, New York City reaffirmed our commitment to building a sustainable path forward.  On the 10th anniversary of its founding, it is a great pleasure to recognize the New York City Panel on Climate Change for its exceptional leadership in this work.

Whereas: Since 2008, the NPCC’s innovations in urban climate science have propelled New York to the forefront of the global fight against climate change.  Its recommendations have informed ambitious policies that have helped the five boroughs recover from past damage and emerge stronger, and its successful partnership with the City of New York and the New York Academy of Sciences demonstrates the power of collaboration between the public sector, industry and local leaders, and the scientific community.  With the NPCC’s guidance, we are better prepared to anticipate and conquer the climate challenges that lie ahead.

Whereas: New Yorkers have always been known for their resiliency and boldness, and our city must meet concerns of this scale with solutions that our worthy of its residents.  From increasing our coastal resiliency to pioneering a global protocol for cities to attain carbon neutrality by 2050, my administration remains steadfast in our efforts to protect people of all backgrounds from the impacts of climate change.  As we continue to grapple with the grave risks that global warming poses, we are grateful to the NPCC for providing our city with the rigorous science needed to thrive in our rapidly changing world.  Today’s Summit offers a wonderful opportunity to applaud this organization for a decade of service to New York City, and I look forward to the progress its members will continue to inspire in the years ahead.

Now therefore, I, Bill De Blasio, Mayor of the City of New York, do hereby proclaim Friday, March 15th, 2019 in the City of New York as:

 “NEW YORK CITY PANEL ON CLIMATE CHANGE DAY”