Published On: Thu, Nov 8th, 2018

Index Ranks U.S. Cities Based on Climate Risk and Readiness

Measured by geography, economy and cultural norms, Killeen, Texas, and Ann Arbor, Mich., are about as different as two cities can be.

They’re also opposites when it comes to balancing climate risk and climate readiness, according to a new University of Notre Dame index ranking 270 U.S. cities on more than 40 climate metrics.

About 150 miles south of Dallas and home to the Army’s sprawling Fort Hood, Killeen has the nation’s highest overall risk from climate change, measured by exposure to flood, drought, extreme temperatures and sea-level rise. It also has one of the nation’s lowest overall readiness scores for such events.

Ann Arbor, a Midwestern research and technology hub whose economy is tightly bound to the University of Michigan, is the inverse. It has the second-lowest overall climate risk in the United States and is among the nation’s most prepared cities, according to the new index developed by the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative, or ND-GAIN.

That does not mean Killeen is destined to suffer from heat, drought or flood, or that Ann Arbor is a climate paradise. In fact, both cities face some risk from weather and temperature extremes, and neither has any risk profile for sea-level rise.

But Ann Arbor has a strong advantage over Killeen in terms of its readiness to address climate change because it has much higher levels of civic engagement, climate awareness, educational attainment and innovation capabilities, the researchers found.

This isn’t about calling out cities as good or bad actors on climate change, said Patrick Regan, ND-GAIN’s director and the principal investigator behind the index, known as the Urban Adaptation Assessment (UAA).

“The platform is to help citizens and their elected leaders make informed choices about local-level adaptation and planning strategies,” Regan said.

The index—derived from two years of data collection from sources such as NOAA, the Census Bureau, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Nature Conservancy—attempts to present “a relatively optimistic evaluation of climate vulnerability” based on IPCC models of greenhouse gas scenarios and high thresholds for what constitutes a “hazard event,” such as a flood, drought or temperature spike.

“We simply didn’t want to present a doom and gloom environment but rather one that could provide insight into city-level vulnerability under short term conditions that hold out hope for adaptation policies,” the authors said.

The UAA provides detailed risk and readiness measures for all U.S. cities of 100,000 or greater population, including the projected costs and probabilities of a city experiencing a particular hazard event before 2040. Each of the cities falls into one of four categories: “High Risk, High Readiness”; “High Risk, Low Readiness”; “Low Risk, High Readinesss”; and “Low Risk, Low Readiness.”

The index also provides web-based tools for analyzing census tracts so users can explore “potential inequities within each city and [provide] a picture of how city and sustainability officials can implement more inclusive adaptation options for all residents.”

Jessica Hellmann, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota and former research director at ND-GAIN, said the UAA also allows cities to share information about the opportunities and challenges around climate adaptation and “reveal patterns across the entire country about urban populations and climate change.”

“Every city will have to adjust to its own changing conditions, in its own way, but cities also have the opportunity to learn from each other,” she said.

In some cases, the findings run counter to conventional wisdom about climate risk. For example, not all coastal zone cities are at high risk for sea-level rise, and not all riverine cities are at high risk for flooding. Researchers also found that eight of the top 10 cities facing the highest likelihood of extreme heat in 2040 are located in the Midwest, not the South.

Lois DeBacker, managing director of the Kresge Foundation’s Environment Program, which funded the work, said researchers hope the UAA will “ignite necessary conversations and dialogue around climate change adaptation,” particularly among city leaders and community organizers who are dealing with the effects of climate change.

But its usefulness could extend beyond the public sector to the corporate world.

“In an ideal world, Amazon should be using it,” Regan said. “They’re going to be picking a city for a second headquarters, and they’ve probably thrown more money at this process than we can imagine. At the end of the day, they’re going to put their capital at risk to some degree or another based on climate vulnerability.”

The Urban Adaptation Assessment builds upon an earlier global index created by ND-GAIN that ranks 181 countries by their climate change vulnerability and resilience capabilities. Information from the that index has been used by organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, which has used it to help prioritize the organization’s funding and work plans in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.

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Index Ranks U.S. Cities Based on Climate Risk and Readiness