Jul 1 2015
City’s Climate Scientists Broaden Research to Include both Neighborhood & Regional Risks
Flooding in Broad Channel, Queens as Superstorm Sandy began to enter the New York City area.
Photo credit: Koan Collective  via Koan Collective
July 1, 2015
City’s Climate Scientists Broaden Research to Include both Neighborhood & Regional Risks

Category

Climate

It’s an obvious point, but one worth stressing- climate change will not impact all 8 million-plus New York City residents in the same way. Depending on where exactly you live, your socio-economic status, age and general health, and so many other factors, the impacts of climate change could affect you somewhat differently than even your immediate neighbors.

And New York City doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Our local economy, transportation networks, and coastline and waterways intersect with those across the region. This is also important to consider when preparing for a global phenomenon like climate change.

Think of the flooded New Jersey oil refineries around New York Harbor that caused gas shortages in the days after Sandy.

In light of these enormous complexities, the de Blasio administration says it will be examining the risks posed by climate change using a broader set of measures, including social equity and the vulnerabilities of the entire New York City metro area.

Volunteers help unload food from a truck for distribution to the residents of the Lower East Side who remain without power due to Superstorm Sandy, Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, in New York.  In Manhattan, where 226,000 buildings, homes and business remain without power, Consolidated Edison says they should have service restored by Saturday.  (AP Photo/ John Minchillo)

Volunteers unloading food from a truck for distribution to Lower East Side residents without power due to Superstorm Sandy. (AP Photo/ John Minchillo)

Mayor de Blasio announced the new metrics yesterday at the launch of the third New York City Panel on Climate Change [NPCC], an independent body that advises the City on climate risks and resiliency.

Created during the Bloomberg administration, the Panel’s goal is to ensure that the best available climate science continues to inform the City’s resiliency planning. The NPCC works in partnership with entities such as the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency and the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability.

There are currently 19 scientists on the Panel. The NPCC is led by William Solecki, Director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities, and Cynthia Rosenzweig, Senior Research Scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The third NPCC will build on previous research, the Mayor’s office said, but will also look at “climate risks through the lens of inequality at a neighborhood scale, as well as focus on ways to enhance coordination of mitigation and resiliency across the entire New York metropolitan region.”

Climate change- at the human scale

New York City’s need to plan for the impacts of climate change at the human scale was raised as an issue before Superstorm Sandy. In its first years, the NPCC’s research helped the Bloomberg administration to ascertain how climate change would impact the critical infrastructure that serves millions of New Yorkers, such as the electrical grid, the subway system, and power and sewage treatment plants.

In the summer of 2012 -weeks before Sandy struck- the New York City Council voted in favor of a bill that enlarged the scope of the NPCC to focus on populations that are especially vulnerable to extreme weather events — such as the elderly, children and the poor. The legislation also made the panel, and a related task force comprised of government agencies, utilities and other private companies, permanent.

emergency shelter

Woman receiving assistance at a New York City emergency shelter during Superstorm Sandy. Photo credit: People’s Daily Online.

“The panel’s work to date has shaped so much of our sustainability and resiliency efforts,” said Mayor de Blasio in a statement yesterday.

The Mayor referenced the City’s push to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, and the April, 2015 release of One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City, which seeks to integrate four massive goals- economic growth, climate resiliency, environmental sustainability, and social equity.

“Now, NPCC3 will build on that strong foundation, ensuring that – as we adapt to climate risks – we are doing so in a way that serves all New Yorkers and reflects the regional collaboration we need,” the Mayor added.

[For a deeper look at how the City is preparing for climate change, take a look at our analysis published in April, together with the Gotham Gazette and AdaptNY.]

A warning to all New Yorkers

The NPCC’s most recent report – Building the Knowledge Base for Climate Resiliency – was released in February 2015.

Crowds wait for free gas November 3, 2012 at the Brooklyn Armory in New York City. With the death toll currently over 90 and millions of homes and businesses without power, the US east coast is attempting to recover from the effects of floods, fires and power outages brought on by Superstorm Sandy.

Waiting for free gas at the Brooklyn Armory days after Superstorm Sandy. Photo credit: Koan Collective

The authors lead off the report with the following statement:

“The climate of the New York metropolitan region is changing—annual temperatures are hotter, heavy downpours are increasingly frequent, and the sea is rising.

These trends, which are also occurring in many parts of the world, are projected to continue and even worsen in the coming decades due to higher concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere caused by burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests for agriculture.

These changing climate hazards increase the risks for the people, economy, and infrastructure of New York City. As was demonstrated by Hurricane Sandy, populations living in coastal and low-lying areas, the elderly and very young, and lower-income neighborhoods are highly vulnerable.”

According to the report, area sea levels could increase 11-21 inches by the 2050s, and 18-39 inches by the 2080s. By 2100, they could rise by as much as six feet.

The report suggests that the 12 inches of local sea level rise that have already occurred since 1900 may have expanded Superstorm Sandy’s flood area by approximately 25 square miles.

What are the City’s scientists recommending?

The authors of the 2015 report present a series of recommendations for climate resiliency. You can read through them in the report’s executive summary.

The NPCC states that New York City should both prepare for the inevitable impacts of climate change (adaptation); but it can also take steps to reduce the severity of what is coming (mitigation). Here are just two of the NPCC’s recommendations.

1.) New York City needs “an integrated approach that includes engineering, ecosystems, and social strategies.”

In more straightforward terms, this means that the city will need hard infrastructure (like sea walls) and natural solutions (like healthy wetlands) to protect neighborhoods from dangerous storm surges.

But we will also need strong social networks (possibly supported by well organized and funded neighborhood groups) in order to adequately protect vulnerable residents during extreme weather events.

Such an approach “is vital to ensuring climate resiliency in the coming decades. Land use planning for sustainable infrastructure systems, particularly in coastal zones and low-lying areas, is especially important,” the NPCC adds.

2.) At the same time, New York City should develop and support programs and policies (such as the de Blasio administration’s One City: Built to Last plan) that “work to reduce GHG emissions in order to limit the rate of future climate change and the magnitude of the associated risks.”

New climate risk assessment coming in 2016

A new NPCC report will be released in 2016. The report will tackle additional subject areas, such as:

  • Regional climate projections focusing on extreme events
  • Critical infrastructure systems at the regional level: with a focus on interdependent transportation and energy systems
  • Community-based assessment of adaptation and equity: with a focus on the neighborhood scale
  • How to establish a “New York City climate resiliency indicators and monitoring system”
  • How to develop maps that more effectively show NYC area vulnerabilities and climate resiliency, as well as geographic interdependencies

Who are the scientists carrying out climate research on behalf of New York City?

solecki

The co-chairs of the NYC Panel on Climate Change: William Solecki, Director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities, and Cynthia Rosenzweig, Senior Research Scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Photo credit: Roosevelt House, Hunter College

Thirteen members of the NPCC have been re-appointed by the Mayor. 

  • CYNTHIA ROSENZWEIG: Co-Chair, Senior Research Scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
  • WILLIAM SOLECKI: Co-Chair, Director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities and Professor of Geography at Hunter College-CUNY
  • REGINALD BLAKE: Member, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Cooperative Remote Sensing Science and Technology Center
  • VIVIEN GORNITZ: Senior Research Scientist, Center for Climate Systems Research, Columbia University and NASA Goddard Institute for Space studies
  • KLAUS JACOB: Special Research Scientist, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory; Adjunct Professor, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University
  • PATRICK KINNEY: Director, Program on Climate and Health, Mailman School at Columbia University
  • HOWARD KUNREUTHER: James G. Dinan Professor; Professor of Decision Sciences and Business and Public Policy at the Wharton School
  • YOCHANAN KUSHNIR: Director of the Cooperative Institute for Climate Applications and Research (CICAR)
  • ROBIN LEICHENKO: Associate Professor, Department of Geography at Rutgers University
  • NING LIN: NOAA Climate and Global Change post-doctoral fellow
  • GUY NORDENSON: Structural Engineer and Professor of Architecture and Structural Engineering, Princeton University
  • MICHAEL OPPENHEIMER: Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and the Department of Geosciences at Princeton University
  • GARY YOHE: Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics at Wesleyan University.

The NPCC also has six new members.

  • ALAN F. BLUMBERG: George Meade Bond Professor & Director of the Center for Maritime Systems, Stevens Institute of Technology; Founder of the New York Harbor Observing and Prediction System (NYHOPS)
  • BRIAN A. COLLE: Full Professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and Faculty Director of the University Scholars Program at Stony Brook
  • SHEILA FOSTER: Vice Dean, Albert A. Walsh Professor of Real Estate, Land Use & Property Law; Co-Director, Stein Center for Law and Ethics, Fordham University
  • DR. JORGE GONZALEZ CRUZ: Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Director, ESES & the Alliance for Continuous Learning Environments for STEM at CUNY
  • DR. IRWIN REDLENER: Professor of Health Policy and Management (The Earth Institute), Columbia University; Special Advisor, NYC OEM
  • RAE ZIMMERMAN: Professor of Planning and Public Administration, NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service
Flooding in Broad Channel, Queens as Superstorm Sandy began to enter the New York City area.
Photo credit: Koan Collective  via Koan Collective