If You Can Make Climate Resilience Here, You Can Make It Anywhere!

The 10th International Conference on Urban Climate and 14th Symposium on the Urban Environment, co-hosted by AMS at City College of New York, kicked off Monday with a number of comments not only about recent extreme weather events but also the appropriateness of meeting in the Big Apple. From the opening sessions, here are remarks from Daniel Zarrilli, the city’s senior director of climate policy and programs and chief resiliency officer. You can find them at about one hour and four minutes into the archived live web stream:

On behalf of Mayor Bill de Blasio I just want to welcome everyone to New York City. A number of speakers have already indicated how perfect a location this is for this conference and I just want to echo that….There is no better place. New York City: we are an embodiment of those global trends that you’ve already heard a little about. Our population continues to grow, our economy continues to evolve, and of course climate change is putting stress on this city like no other and continues to exacerbate those other challenges as well.
We also saw, first hand, the impacts of climate change here in New York City when Hurricane Sandy roared ashore in October 2012: 44 lives lost, 19 billion dollars in damage and lost economic activities. The future had arrived and had arrived with force. It was the worst natural disaster we had ever faced.
But of course it’s not just in New York City that we’re seeing these threats.  All across the globe it’s been a horror show watching the news lately with last year’s hurricane season, the wildfires across the West and in Greece, the rains in Japan. This is a global phenomenon; it’s not always necessarily called out that way in the media, but we know what’s happening. It is a global phenomenon and we need to do all that we can to make sure we’re highlighting what was the underlying cause of many of these events.
So, what are we doing here in New York City about it?….After Hurricane Sandy it became readily apparent to us that we could not simply do what maybe was in human nature or what we had done in the past of responding to the last thing that just happened and making sure that Sandy doesn’t happen again. That wasn’t going to be enough for us. It was important to open our eyes and take a step back and think about what the growing risks of climate change were going to do to a city like New York with 520 miles of coastline, with 8.6 million residents—the largest city in the U.S.
Working with our colleagues and friends on the New York City Panel on Climate Change…everything that we needed to do started with the science, started with understanding what’s coming, what is the science telling us, what are the assessments, so that we can begin to develop the appropriate plans to look toward the future. And because of that work we were able to lay out a plan that not only dealt with coastal storms of the type that we saw with Hurricane Sandy but to really understand what sea level rise will do to a city like New York with such a vast coastline. We know we have risks on the coasts, but also that heat kills more New Yorkers than any other natural hazard. We’re doing work to deal with urban heat island effect—planting more trees and that work—as well as the increased risks of rain and sea level rise in the city.
So we laid out a plan, $20 billion was really the first kick-off of that., doing some of that with federal dollars and some of that with city dollars, to do a number of things: To upgrade our coastline with better flood protection, better land use policies, better building codes, to be better prepared for the types of flood events that are becoming more frequent, more intense across the five boroughs. But we’re also doing things to look deeply at land use decisions, and zoning codes to make sure we’re making smart decisions about the future. We’re working with the federal government …to make sure we’re incorporating climate change into our flood maps going forward.
And we’re continuing to invest in civic infrastructure—all the public housing, the public hospitals, precincts, fire departments—all of those things, all those vital services to make sure in the event of future disasters they can continue to serve New Yorkers when they need to …and they’re being better prepared and they’re thinking long term about the new types of impacts that we’re going to see.
That’s really phase 1 of what we’re doing on the adaptation end. We’re spending $20 billion yes, but more importantly we’re working to institutionalize the thinking of resilience and climate adaptation to everything we do as a city. We’ve recently released climate design guidelines to deal with climate resilience issues to really bake in the thinking, the thought process, into the engineering codes when we’re dealing with uncertainty in the projections, into how you get to arrive at a number in order to build a new facility, in order to design a drainage system, for instance.  So institutionalizing this becomes incredibly important to scale up our action in order to get greater impact for the dollars that we spend and not necessarily rely on  the federal government or others….
All of this [is] based on the best available science that we know continues to evolve. We’re already working with Cynthia Rosenzweig (of NASA/GISS at Columbia University) and her team on continuing updates to the New York City Panel on Climate Change projections looking out to 2100. All of that informs what we’re doing.    So I think it’s incredibly important that we’re here having these conversations this week, that New York City can really be a model for how science is informing the practice of climate adaptation. I would encourage all of you, as you’re thinking through this week about what can be done to further action on climate change, to find ways to communicate what you’re doing to local practitioners. Find ways to develop partnerships so that your science can integrate with what’s happening locally. It’s been incredibly effective and important to what’s happening here in New York City and I would encourage all of you to bring that home across the globe.