Implementation of Climate Change Adaptation Solutions in U.S. Cities
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This policy paper explores Seattle, Portland, Philadelphia, and New York City’s approach to climate change adaptation and the methods adopted and strategies implemented to mitigate its effect. While each city’s approach is different, nevertheless there exists surprising commonality between the methods and strategies adopted to address the effects of climate change. Differences and similarities in approaches are tied to each city’s governance structure, resources and financing capacity, and the geographical happenstance for where a city is located. This paper will therefore explore how governance, financing, and location impact each city’s response to climate change.
Still, at a macro level, there exists tension between whether cities should mitigate or whether they should adapt to the effects of climate change. Cities struggle with the perception that adopting adaption strategies is an affront (or outright capitulation) to mitigation of climate change. By peeling back the layers of complexity that cities face when addressing climate change, this paper argues that in a city’s quest to manage climate change, one approach cannot necessarily take place at the expense of the other. Indeed, perhaps the most realistic strategy moving forward is to think of ways to adapt while mitigating.
The City of Copenhagen is in the process of developing a climate adaption plan in response to climate change. The response measures developed by the city administration are based on climate projections at the regional level and the potential impact these changes will have on the City of Copenhagen.
Adaptation, as opposed to climate change mitigation, addresses a city’s need to prepare and fortify itself against the impact of climate change. In contrast to climate change mitigation, which focuses on actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation explores ways for a city to physically adapt to climate change, such as fortifying a city against rising sea levels or putting in place systems that manage increasingly large amounts of rainfall. Moreover, adaption also addresses the issue of resilience that includes designing solutions to improve emergency services in cases when climate-related disasters hit. Perhaps not unsurprisingly tension exists between the two policy areas — adaption and mitigation. The work to reduce carbon emissions in cities focuses on working toward a future in which the global temperature remains at a reasonable level to ensure that future generations can still thrive on this planet. In contrast, adaptation work has always had a much more local focus: instead of working to mitigate climate change, adaption addresses the effects of climate change by working to keep the local city safe, attractive, and competitive for local residents and businesses given expected changes to the climate. Some adaptation is necessary given that scientific evidence demonstrates the impact climate change has already had on cities, and which will be more severe in the coming years.
"In contrast to climate change mitigation, adaptation explores ways for a city to physically adapt to climate change.”
From a climate change position, Copenhagen is in a much better position than many cities around the world. Copenhagen is relatively protected due to its location on the Baltic Sea where there is very little tidal impact. Thus far, the city has not been affected by rising see levels; indeed, the climate has remained generally stable. Nonetheless, in recent years the city has faced weather-related challenges that have made clear the need for Copenhagen to take action. Here adaptation has played a key role. The city of Copenhagen had developed a climate change adaptation plan in 2010, but in light of the sever cloudbursts that hit the city in 2011 — causing over $1 billion in damages and demonstrating the vulnerability of Copenhagen to extreme weather events — the city decided to focus on developing a cloudburst management plan.
In an effort to learn how other cities are managing the twin issues of storm water management in the case of extreme weather events and coastal protection in the case of storm surges, this paper will present the findings of a case study of four U.S. cities that explore the management of these issues: Philadelphia, New York City, Seattle, and Portland. Increasingly, city-to-city networks have been created to assist in policy and knowledge transfer in the field of climate change. Drawing on the findings from this case study, this paper will explore how and under what conditions cities address the challenges of climate mitigation and adaption. Specifically, under what conditions do successful and unsuccessful climate change adaptation strategies transfer between U.S. cities? How can the lessons learned in the United States be transferred to a European — or more specifically — a Danish context.
The four cities studied have to some extent started working with adaptation measures. They have done so for varying reasons and with varying degrees of intensity — all at different stages in their implementation processes. In addition, the cities differ in the degree to which they have experienced the effects of climate change through increasingly erratic weather patterns and behavior. The four cities therefore provide invaluable insight, not only to affect the methods applied into the impact of current methods used to address these problems, but also into the process of developing solutions and how cities learn from each other.
This paper explores four main policy areas:
- Program and project management, including the financing, implementation, and maintenance of climate change adaptation measures.
- Capturing co-benefits from adaptation, including social impacts, the use of green infrastructure, ecosystem services, and synergies between mitigation and adaptation.
- Citizen involvement, including communication and the active participation of local communities in decisions made to address climate change.
- Local zoning and building regulations governing both adaptation and mitigation.
An analysis of the research suggests that two additional points prove to be especially salient in the U.S. context:
- Communicating climate change to both the political level and citizens.
- The conflict between mitigating climate change and climate change adaptation policies.
This paper therefore begins with a discussion of the drivers of climate change adaptation in the United States, and in particular, the Federal Government’s stormwater management mandates. The paper then focuses on the climate change adaptation strategies each of the four U.S. cities have implemented or are in the process of implementing. This research concludes with a description of the lessons learned from the United States and subsequent policy recommendations for the City of Copenhagen.
 A cloudburst is generally defined as an extreme amount of precipitation in a short period of time. When it occurs in an urban area, it can quickly overwhelm typical storm water management systems.
 Other recent weather events have further demonstrated the vulnerability of the city, including in 2013, when the city also very close to a large flooding event following a storm surge from a storm in the North Sea.
 For example, ICLEI Cities for Climate Protection, the C40 Climate Cities, UN HABITAT Cities and Climate Change, and the Urban Sustainability Directors Network.