Expanding Climate Services to Respond to Adaptation Challenges Insights from Managed Retreat Practice
Princeton University School of Public & International Affairs January 2022
This report is the final product of a 2021 Policy Workshop sponsored by the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) as part of its Master in Public Affairs degree program. All members of the project team participated in discussions, debate, and preparation of this report. Lead Professor Guy Nordenson Lead Report Authors Alex Swanson Bridget Kelly Amina Johari Christine Blackshaw Nadine Lombardo-Han Contributing Authors Chang-Boong Lee Jordan Stoltzfus Kantheera Tipkanjanarat Grace Lee Ajita Agarwala Michelle Deng Editor Melissa Tier Design Grace Lee Suggested Citation Princeton University. (2022). Expanding Climate Services to Respond to Adaptation Challenges: Insights from Managed Retreat Practice. Policy Workshop Report. Princeton School of Public & International Affairs. Disclaimer The report presented here does not reflect the views of Princeton University, any individual instructor, any individual student, or any person interviewed by this workshop.
Acknowledgments The authors would like to thank the following individuals and organizations for their contributions:
RISA Program Specialist, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
RISA Program Specialist, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
Former Executive Director, NY Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery
Executive Director, Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay
Senior Climate Policy Analyst, Oregon Department of Energy
Chelsea Combest-Friedman Jeanne DuPont Vondaris Gordon April Grayson
Program Director, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Executive Director, RISE Rockaway Executive Director, William Winter Institute/The Alluvial Collective
Director of Community & Capacity Building, William Winter Institute/The Alluvial Collective
Former Mississippi State Representative
Professor, Rutgers University
Jill Mastrototaro Jake McGraw Claudia Nierenberg Adam Parris A.R. Siders Caitlin Simpson Fannie Ware Lauren E. Wang Deborah Williams Alex Zablocki Ariela Zycherman
Mississippi Policy Director, Audubon Delta Policy and Civic Engagement Lead, William Winter Institute Division Chief, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Deputy Director, NYC Mayor’s Office of Climate Resiliency Assistant Professor, University of Delaware Program Manager, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration District Director, Office of Representative Bennie Thompson Senior Policy Advisor, NYC Mayor’s Office of Climate Resiliency Mississippi Delta resident, elder daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Dorothy and Percy Chocolate Executive Director, Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy Program Manager, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
Table of Contents
I. Background: Federal Funding of Disaster Response and Proactive Adaptation 6 II. Using Managed Retreat to Understand Local Adaptation Decisions
III. Barriers to Managed Retreat and Opportunities for Intervention
IV. Conclusion Part 2
I. Adaptation Planning Policy: Getting it Right
II. Strengthening Adaptation Planning Through Climate Services
III. Policy Levers to Expand Climate Services
Executive Summary This report uses insights from the history of managed retreat to inform strategies for how the federal government can improve adaptation planning practices to increase U.S. climate resiliency. We argue that federal investment in climate services programs is key to empowering all levels of government, as well as non-governmental stakeholders, to effectively plan and prepare for adaptation challenges. Current climate services programs do not fully incorporate end user priorities, preventing the inclusion of accurate climate data in adaptation and landuse decisions. Furthermore, even when climate services are available, a range of informational and non-informational barriers often prevent stakeholders from successfully incorporating the information into their decisions. To better understand the barriers preventing adaptation and climate services utilization, we examined experiences of managed retreat. Managed retreat occurs most often on a household level and can illustrate the barriers to individual action on a highly localized level. Our framework creates a structure for taking the lessons learned from community adaptation experiences and incorporating them into a multilevel and demand-driven climate service structure that can extend beyond the traditional information-focused climate services to meet the crosssectoral, psychological, financial, and institutional needs of stakeholders working towards local adaptation planning. To address the informational and non-informational barriers that keep individuals and communities from developing adaptation plans, we believe a federal strategy needs to: • Involve all levels of government, • Incorporate scientific research and expertise, • Increase coordination and collaboration across relevant government agencies, and • Engage directly with community members. In practice, this could be achieved by implementing the following complementary policy strategies: (1) Create a National Climate Service agency within NOAA tasked with coordinating climate services, facilitating collaboration across agencies, and helping stakeholders find relevant information and programming related to planning and adaptation. (2) Expand the NOAA Regional Integrated Science Assessment (RISA) program to cover the entire United States. An expanded NOAA RISA program would operate as a boundary organization, engaging and collaborating with relevant state, local, and community-based organizations and creating the institutional channels needed to develop demand driven climate services. (3) Provide proactive aid to state and local governments for adaptation planning and for the provision and facilitation of climate services. Together, these policy approaches can help enhance equity in adaptation support, ensuring that communities, especially the most vulnerable, do not fall through the cracks. 5
Part 1 This section reviews managed retreat - the planned relocation of residents away from natural hazards - to better understand adaptation needs and the barriers to effective adaptation planning. We begin with a discussion of the current federal government approach to climate change adaptation and disaster planning. We highlight the pressing need to understand how to effectively plan for managed retreat, given that the relocation of communities will become an increasingly unavoidable reality as sea levels rise and flooding intensifies. Managed retreat is an especially useful lens through which to understand local challenges to climate change adaptation initiatives. As an adaptation strategy that necessitates high degrees of collaboration, planning, and consensus building, as well as access to high-quality, locally relevant data and information, there is much to be learned from managed retreat that can be applied to climate change adaptation as a whole. This section examines the informational, psychological, financial, and institutional and political barriers that affect managed retreat and adaptation planning in general, in order to inform the adaptation planning solutions proposed in Part 2 of this report. Specifically, this section builds the case for high-quality climate services that will enhance all adaptation approaches and are a precondition for successful managed retreat policies.
I. Background: Federal Funding of Disaster Response and Proactive Adaptation Summary: Federal resilience funding in the U.S. has largely been directed toward postdisaster recovery, although this has begun to change with recent federal investment in proactive adaptation. Flooding is an expensive problem and an especially important area of focus for U.S. adaptation planning. Managed retreat will be one of the most costeffective ways for the U.S. to manage increased flood risks in the 21st century.
Proactive investment in climate change adaptation has proven to be cost-effective; for example, a 2017 report from FEMA and other federal agency partners reviewed the economic efficiency of pre-disaster adaptation and found that a one dollar federal investment in disaster mitigation saved six dollars over the long run.1 Despite this, the bulk of federal funding has historically
National Institute of Building Sciences. (2017). Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2017 Interim Report. FEMA. https://www. fema.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/fema_ms2_interim_report_2017.pdf 1
skewed toward recovery. 2 Furthermore, adaptation (also referred to as hazard mitigation) funding has mostly come after a disaster has already occurred.3 The federal government has begun to recognize the importance of preventative action and has created more funding opportunities for risk mitigation, rather than just disaster response. For example, FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant program funds a wide variety of mitigation activities, including community-wide public infrastructure projects.4 In addition, the Biden Administration committed a historic $3.46 billion in hazard mitigation funds to reduce the effects of climate change in August 2021.5 However, more proactive action is needed to meet the scale of the problem. Flooding is a particularly serious and worsening threat that the U.S. is not well equipped to handle. In 2020, there were a record-breaking 22 separate billion dollar weather and climate events, including seven tropical cyclones and thirteen severe storms, both of which tend to have large amounts of associated flood damage.6 Collectively, these cyclones, severe storms, plus a serious drought and a wildfire that occurred in 2020 cost the country $95 billion in damages.7 Additionally, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the primary nationwide program dedicated to flood protection and recovery, is financially unsustainable.8 By the end of the 21st century, nearly 2.5 million properties will be at risk of chronic flooding – and within the next 30 years, as many as 311,000 homes in U.S. coastal areas could be underwater.9 The most direct approach to lowering both the number of residents in danger and the economic damage of flooding events is to move residents away from high-risk areas in a process known as managed retreat.10 Managed retreat is a floodplain and coastal management strategy that allows or encourages shoreline residents to move inland, instead of attempting to remain on the coastline via structural engineering; it is considered the strategy that most effectively eliminates risk to human life.11 Managed retreat can occur at a small scale – such as only 1-2 homes – or can occur at the full community level, and it will very likely become an increasingly important tool in the coming decades due to increasing flood risk. Lessons learned from managed retreat in flooding scenarios can also be used to inform adaptation plans for other natural hazards where retreat is a viable strategy, including fires and desertification or long-term droughts. For example, the Stafford Act’s Pre-Disaster Hazard Mitigation (PDM) Program authorizes the President to distribute funds to state and local authorities to assist in pre-disaster hazard mitigation funding. The PDM program budget is extremely limited, however, receiving only $25 million annually in appropriated funds from 2013-2015. Source: Federal Emergency Management Authority. (2017). National Pre-Disaster Mitigation Fund: Fiscal Year 2017 Report to Congress. Homeland Security. 3 Pew Charitable Trusts. (2018). Natural Disaster Mitigation Spending Not Comprehensively Tracked. https://pew. org/2NVz859 4 FEMA. (2021). Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities. https://www.fema.gov/grants/mitigation/buildingresilient-infrastructure-communities 5 FEMA. (2021). Biden Administration Commits Historic $3.46 Billion in Hazard Mitigation Funds to Reduce Effects of Climate Change. https://www.fema.gov/press-release/20210805/biden-administration-commits-historic-346-billionhazard-mitigation-funds 6 Smith, A. (2021). U.S. billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in historical context. NOAA Climate. https://www.climate. gov/disasters2020 7 Smith, A. (2021). 8 Horn, D. P., & Brown, J. T. (2017). Introduction to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Congressional Research Service. https://sgp.fas.org/crs/homesec/R44593.pdf 9 Dahl, K., Cleetus, R., Spanger-Siegfried, E., Udvardy, S., Caldas, A., & Worth, P. (2018). Underwater: Rising seas, chronic floods, and the implications for US coastal real estate. Union of Concerned Scientists. www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/ attach/2018/06/underwater-analysis-full-report.pdf 10 Siders, A. R. (2019). Managed retreat in the United States. One Earth, 1(2), 216–225. 11 Freudenberg, R., Calvin, E., Tolkoff, L., & Brawley, D. (2016). Buy-in for buyouts: The case for managed retreat from flood zones. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. https://www.lincolninst.edu/sites/default/files/pubfiles/buy-in-for-buyouts-full.pdf 2
II. Using Managed Retreat to Understand Local Adaptation Decisions
Summary: Adaptation is a local, place-based decision. Managed retreat can be a lens to better understand local adaptation processes, such as how households and communities navigate both scientific and socioeconomic threats from climate change. Managed retreat is just one adaptation option among many and might be best suited for communities that are underserved by other physical solutions (such as large infrastructure or home elevation options).
Adaptation involves a host of place-based decisions about how to respond to the changing climate. Many of these decisions are, at their core, about land-use. These decisions are made by individual property owners, as well as local, state, tribal, and federal governments. Communities have unique needs and priorities for adaptation, and adequate adaptation planning should hold a range of options open. Managed retreat is one option on the menu of climate change adaptation - and a lens through which we can better understand adaptation policy in general. Other adaptation strategies include increasing the climate resiliency of buildings (e.g., elevating houses to avoid flooding), building community-level infrastructure (e.g., seawalls or flood gates), and implementing nature-based solutions (e.g., wetland restoration to buffer against sea level rise). However, some version of managed retreat will become increasingly necessary as more areas become unlivable due to sea level rise and more extreme weather events. Managed retreat is an effective adaptation option that might be best for communities that are underserved by other physical solutions, such as large infrastructure projects or raising homes. Structural solutions, such as building sea walls, remain prohibitively expensive in many areas – especially rural or under-resourced communities. Even where feasible, these engineering solutions suffer from other challenges: they tend to be reactive after disasters rather than forward-looking before future ones, they can take decades to fully implement, and they may not sufficiently protect communities against record-breaking flooding events. The Manhattan BigU project, explained further below, highlights some of these limitations in practice.
Limitations of Large Infrastructure Solutions: Manhattan Flood Defense in the Financial District and Seaport Climate Resilience Master Plan Seawall and raised shoreline projects were proposed in 2014 to cover the southern tip of Manhattan, originally through Rebuild By Design and now incorporated into the plan titled above, to provide some areas protection against storm surges up to 18 feet above sea level and improve lower Manhattan flood protection.12 NYCEDC & NYC Mayor’s Office of Climate Resilience. (2021). Financial District and Seaport Climate Resilience Master Plan. https://fidiseaportclimate.nyc/ 12
Since then, the proposal has faced numerous setbacks and is not projected to be completed until 2026.13 Even after completion, this flood defense project extending from Battery Park to the East Side would only protect one key area that was affected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 – but would not protect other vulnerable, low-lying areas outside of southern Manhattan.14 While the current plan prioritizes lower Manhattan for its centrality of economic and transportation systems, this approach fails to proactively account for how different storm characteristics could lead to different flood inundation along the coast of New York City. Strategies designed to resist the intensity of previous storms could be breached by more extreme storms, as seen by the impact in 2005 of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent historic flooding of the New Orleans levee system. These types of top-down infrastructure projects can also exacerbate future disasters by encouraging risky new coastal development and by creating a false sense of security for residents.15
Another popular strategy at a smaller scale is raising individual homes, but the financial burden of this technique is often placed on the residents themselves. According to some estimates, raising a house costs an average of $14 per square foot.16,17 However, elevation and construction company Arkitektura, which elevated several homes in Texas after Hurricane Harvey in 2017, reported the cost of elevating the typical house to be about $75 per square foot, or more than $112,000 for a 1,500-square-foot house.18 This does not include the additional costs of repairing any damage caused by flooding. Residents can apply for a FEMA grant to elevate their home, but face long waiting lists and are not accommodated in a timely manner. The financial burdens of home elevation, and the expense and timeline of structural solutions, are out of reach for many residents and communities. Even those who can afford to elevate may face issues with continued rising sea levels: they may be exposed to contamination and disease spread by flood waters, or could become isolated and unable to receive emergency support during storm surges.19 In 2018, the Fourth National Climate Assessment stated that “retreat will become an unavoidable option in some areas along the U.S. coastline.”20 When considering bottom up adaptation that local stakeholders can drive, managed retreat becomes an important option for many communities.
Kimmelman, M. (202). What does it mean to save a neighborhood? The New York Times. https://www.nytimes. com/2021/12/02/us/hurricane-sandy-lower-manhattan-nyc.html 14 Rebuild by Design. (2014). The BigU. http://www.rebuildbydesign.org/our-work/all-proposals/winning-projects/big-u 15 Siders. (2019). 16 Dawsons Foundation Repair. (n.d.). Cost of Elevating A House Above The Floodplain. https://www. dawsonfoundationrepair.com/cost-elevating-house/ 17 Perez, I. (2021). How Much Does It Cost to Raise a House? Fixr. https://www.fixr.com/costs/cost-to-raise-a-house 18 Cardenas, C. (2018). Six figures for six feet: Some Harvey victims in Houston spend huge sums to elevate their homes. Texas Tribune. https://www.texastribune.org/2018/03/14/harvey-elevate-homes-flood-houston-money-costs/ 19 Siders. (2019). 20 Reidmiller, D. R., Avery, C. W., Easterling, D. R., Kunkel, K. E., Lewis, K. L. M., Maycock, T., & Stewart, B. C. (2018). Fourth national climate assessment. Volume II: Impacts, risks, and adaptation in the United States. U.S. Global Change Research Program. https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/ 13
Managed Retreat in Practice: Hazard Mitigation Grant Program Since the 1993 floods in the Midwest, an important part of FEMA’s risk mitigation efforts has been voluntary property acquisition. The largest of these programs, the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, has purchased properties in 43 states between 2000 and 2016, costing around $779 million.21 Buyouts like those offered under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program are one of the most common tools to encourage managed retreat in the U.S. Buyout programs purchase properties that have suffered substantial damage and often target flood prone areas. Federal funds, often from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or FEMA, are distributed to local governments to reduce the size of the population facing repetitive flooding loss.22 These programs typically target repetitive loss properties, which are defined as insurable buildings that have had at least two $1,000 claims paid by the National Flood Insurance Program, made within a ten-year rolling period, per property. FEMA reports that there are over 122,000 such properties across the United States.23 One of the limitations of buyout programs is that they are only applicable to homeowners with properties that have experienced repeated and costly flood damage in the past. This is a strategy that is reactive to past flooding events and does not account for anticipated risk in the future due to changing climate. In 2018, more than 13% of the U.S. population resided in the 100-year flood plain, but that number could rise to 15.8% by 2050 and 16.8% by 2100.24 Serious equity issues are at stake as well given that relocation within those floodplains under existing buyout programs has historically been targeted at homeowners and has not made sufficient provisions to accommodate displaced renters or low-income families. Programs such as the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program for buyouts continue to be underfunded relative to the increasing scope of the problem, and few local initiatives successfully fill the gap. In total, FEMA has acquired less than 50,000 properties since 1989. This is a small fraction of the estimated 49 million housing units in coastal counties.25 Climate change will almost certainly require planning for managed retreat at much larger scales. Real estate worth $1.4 trillion is already located within 700 feet of the U.S. coast, and sea-level rise alone is projected to affect 4–13 million Americans.26
Robinson, C. S., Davidson, R. A., Trainor, J. E., Kruse, J. L., & Nozick, L. K. (2018). Homeowner acceptance of voluntary property acquisition offers. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 31, 234-242. 22 Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery. (2021). Buyout & Acquisition Programs. New York State. https://stormrecovery. ny.gov/housing/buyout-acquisition-programs 23 FEMA. (2021). National Flood Insurance Program: Frequently Asked Questions. https://www.fema.gov/txt/rebuild/repetitive_loss_faqs.txt#:~:text=A%3A%20A%20Repetitive%20Loss%2 24 Wing, O., Bates, P., Smith, A., Sampson, C., Johnson, K., Fargione, J., & Morefield, P. (2018). Estimates of present and future flood risk in the conterminous United States. Environmental Research Letters, 13(3), 034023. 25 Moriarty. (2017). 26 Siders. (2019). 21
III. Barriers to Managed Retreat and Opportunities for Intervention Summary: Barriers to managed retreat can be informational, psychological, financial, institutional, or political in nature. Climate services, however, have typically focused only on addressing informational barriers. While there are remaining information gaps, particularly with communication, a review of managed retreat shows a range of opportunities for interventions that address non-informational barriers as well as equity concerns. These approaches could meaningfully inform broader policy development for adaptation.
Addressing the barriers to managed retreat can inform better adaptation policy development. These barriers can be organized into informational barriers - where a lack of accurate climate information hinders action - and non-informational barriers, which can be subdivided into psychological, financial, and institutional and political barriers. Climate services have traditionally focused only on filling climate science information gaps, whereas less attention has been paid to non-informational barriers.
Informational Barriers to Managed Retreat For given threats and anticipated disasters, affected communities and decision makers must decide on a best course of action based on information related to the risk, protection, and response options available to them.27 Gaps in available information can limit communities’ ability to anticipate, prepare, and respond to climate risks like flooding. These informational barriers can be related to either knowledge production or dissemination gaps.
Is Increased Data Collection the Best Answer? Increasing the magnitude and resolution of data collection does not always translate to quicker adaption or more aid for community risk reduction.28 This gap requires additional analyses and applications adapted to specific groups at risk. Much of the knowledge gap literature focuses on increasing data production, whereas limited resources are committed to improving knowledge management structures and integrating knowledge systems at different spatial levels. However, due to rapidly increasing natural hazard threats such as flooding, many communities do not have enough time to wait for more robust local datasets to be developed.29 The most pressing issue is to remove these communities from the direct threat of flooding. van den Homberg, M. J. C., Monné, R., & Spruit, M. R. (2018). Chapter 18: Bridging the information gap: Mapping data sets on information needs in the preparedness and response phase. In Technologies for Development: From Innovation to Social Impact (Eds: S. Hostettler, S. N. Besson, & J. C. Bolay), pgs 213-225. 28 Williams, D., & Erikson, L. H. (2021). Knowledge gaps update to the 2019 IPCC special report on the ocean and cryosphere: Prospects to refine coastal flood hazard assessments and adaptation strategies with at-risk communities of Alaska. Frontiers in Climate, 3, 1-11. 29 Weichselgartner, J., Pigeon, P. (2015). The role of knowledge in disaster risk reduction. International Journal of Disaster Risk Science, 6, 107-116. 27
Knowledge Production Gaps: Knowledge production gaps deal with the limited availability of local information that would help communities select appropriate adaptation strategies. Dissemination Gaps: Information dissemination and decision making requires data availability, data literacy, and effective communication between the affected population and decision makers.30 Without proper dissemination, the information does not reach the end users. There are two buckets of information dissemination gaps of particular concern with adaptation planning: translation and data literacy. (1) Translation Gaps: Affected community members rely on decision makers to translate technical findings (e.g., flood maps) into tangible strategies that they can use to momentarily or permanently reduce their risk of flooding and other hazards. A gap may occur if this translation is not sufficiently occurring for any number of reasons. (2) Data Literacy Gaps: Both decision makers and affected residents will have different degrees of data literacy, which can have major impacts on the efficiency and effectiveness of adaptation strategies.31 Data literacy rates also interact with other risk outcomes based on economic, social, political, and technological inequities and vulnerability.32 Current data gaps have equity implications. For example, in many coastal areas, communities of extreme wealth and poverty exist within a few square miles of each other, yet have unequal protections against storms, flooding, and sea level rise.33 It is crucial that decision makers understand the demographic and socioeconomic implications of current natural hazard risk, as well as the equity repercussions of adaptation strategies, which requires the integration of social science and climate information. One solution to these information gaps is an expansion of open, publicly available databases. Additionally, agencies that currently provide open databases should continuously assess and enhance the usability of those resources.
van den Homberg, et al. (2018). Wolbers, J., & Boersma, K. (2013). The common operational picture as collective sensemaking. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 21(4), 186-199. 32 Wolbers & Boersma. (2013). 33 Snider, N. (2021). 4 ways to reduce disproportionate flood risk and build resilience for all communities. Environmental Defense Fund. http://blogs.edf.org/growingreturns/2021/01/22/flood-risk-gap/ 30 31
Knowledge Dissemination Gaps: Do People Know that They Live in Flood Zones? Flood risk disclosure is an important example of the information gap that significantly affects homebuyers’ and owners’ decisions and their ability to take protective measures. Flood risk disclosure is when a seller and/or real estate agent discloses to a prospective buyer that a home is in a flood hazard area. As there is no federal regulation for housing developers to disclose flood risk, such disclosure falls under the purview of highly variable state regulation. Based on an analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), there is no flood risk disclosure regulation in 21 states.34 Even where such regulation does exist in the other 29 states, the requirements may not be adequate (leading to insufficient supply of risk information from sellers to homebuyers). Recent research suggests that homebuyers and owners typically do not accurately gauge the flood risk of properties, and this could lead to overvaluation of at-risk properties. One study found that about 40% of 187 interviewed residents in flood zones in Rhode Island expressed that they were “not at all” worried about flood risk in the coming decade.35 While Rhode Island does have flood disclosure laws, they are labeled as “inadequate” by the NRDC. Rhode Island’s disclosure law only requires the sellers to share information about floodplain locations. This vague provision could be detrimental to buyers, as there is neither a specific requirement to disclose whether there have been any flood damages to structures on the property, nor a specific requirement to disclose whether a property is mandated to be covered by flood insurance.36 Further, the study estimated that coastal housing prices in Rhode Island were overvalued by 6-13%, which corresponded to about 40% of the benchmark household average annual income.37 Importantly, another study in California found that homebuyers and owners do respond to information about flood risk; after the introduction of a state-level disclosure law, houses in floodplains started to be priced on average less favorably than comparable houses not in floodplains.38 According to the NRDC, California has “adequate” flood disclosure laws. California requires a seller to divulge whether there have been any flooding problems or flood-related damage on a property. Although there is no mandate on flood insurance coverage, sellers must disclose whether a property is situated in a FEMA designated flood hazard area (e.g., the 100-year floodplain).39 Making information available is a necessary step in meaningfully supporting users’ decision-making but could be insufficient on its own. Other types of barriers that could prevent uptake of climate services can be psychological, financial, institutional, or political.
Scata, J. (2018). Home buyers face stacked deck to learn of past floods. NRDC. https://www.nrdc.org/experts/joel-scata/ home-buyers-face-stacked-decks-learn-past-floods 35 Bakkensen, L., & Barrage, L. (2021). Going underwater? Flood risk belief heterogeneity and coastal home price dynamics. The Review of Financial Studies. 36 Natural Resources Defense Council. (2021). Flood Map Disclosure. https://www.nrdc.org/flood-disclosure-map 37 Bakkensen, L. & Barrage, L. (2021). Going underwater - Flood risk belief heterogeneity and coastal home price dynamics. The Review of Financial Studies, 0, 1-44. 38 Troy, A., & Romm, J. (2004). Assessing the price effects of flood hazard disclosure under the California natural hazard disclosure law (AB 1195). Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 47(1), 137-162. 39 NRDC. (2021). 34
Non-Informational Barriers to Managed Retreat Psychological Barriers Psychology plays a significant role in community decisions around adaptation planning. Managed retreat, in particular, can be influenced by a large number of psychological barriers that prevent sufficient risk mitigation. Some of the most relevant barriers are summarized below. Negative Perceptions: When it comes to managed retreat, one barrier that prevents successful adaptation planning is negative perceptions of managed retreat and adaptation action more broadly. For example, people may view accepting a buyout offer as accepting defeat, associating it with cowardice and weakness. Negative perceptions of adaptation could be addressed through the use of trusted messengers and strong leaders, who are regarded by the community as credible sources of information. In general, the use of media, journalism, documentaries, and storytelling may help raise awareness and normalize the conversation around managed retreat, creating a more positive narrative around adaptation.40 Social Norms: Individuals do not make their decisions in a vacuum and are heavily influenced by the decisions of those around them. This has repercussions for initiating local-level adaptation action. Many studies have noted that social norms guide responses to hazards – which in the context of flooding, results in homeowners making decisions about how much to invest in flood risk mitigation based on what their neighbors have done.41 Strong local leadership and community engagement that build consensus around adaptation decisions like managed retreat could help mitigate this bias. Single Action Bias: The single action bias is the propensity to, in response to a perceived threat, take only a single action (because this single action sufficiently reduces people’s concerns about the threat).42,43 This tendency can skew households towards shorter-term, more easily accomplished tasks rather than longer-term, more effective changes that would be needed to sufficiently reduce risk.44 In the absence of sustained policy intervention and engagement, the single action bias may limit communities’ engagement with long-term planning and the development of adaptation plans. For example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, this bias was shown to be a very significant factor in household decision making. In Buchanan et al. (2019), New York City homeowners who had already taken a small protective measure like buying emergency supplies or sandbags were 66% less likely to purchase flood insurance and 80% less likely to relocate than those who had taken no action.45
Siders. (2019). Lo, A. Y. (2013). The role of social norms in climate adaptation: Mediating risk perception and flood insurance purchase. Global Environmental Change, 23(5), 1249-1257. 42 Center for Research on Environmental Decisions. (2009). The Psychology of Climate Change Communication. Columbia University. http://guide.cred.columbia.edu/guide/sec4.html 43 Weber, E. U. (2020). Seeing is believing: Understanding & aiding human responses to global climate change. Dædalus, 149(4), 139-150. 44 Gertner, J. (2009). Why isn’t the brain green? The New York Times Magazine. https://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/19/magazine/19Science-t.html 45 Buchanan, M. K., Oppenheimer, M., & Parris, A. (2019). Values, bias, and stressors affect intentions to adapt to coastal flood risk: A case study from New York City. Weather, Climate, and Society, 11(4), 809-821. 40 41
Myopia: Individuals often make decisions with time-horizons that are quite short. In the absence of a current disaster, individuals face certain immediate costs counterbalanced against uncertain future benefits. This produces a strong temptation to postpone investment in adaptation and risk mitigation.46 This heavy discounting of the future and “overweighting of upfront costs” is called myopia, and results in an under-consumption of interventions that have high up-front costs but long-term benefits.47 Myopia could be mitigated through proactive adaptation planning that engages community members, getting them to plan for future hazard events more intentionally. Place Attachment: Place attachment is defined broadly as positive bonds individuals and groups have with their socio-physical environment. Several studies have pointed to place attachment as playing a critical role in residents’ decisions to return and rebuild their communities after a disaster.48 Place attachment can thus lead to individuals returning to areas that are prone to chronic flooding or other disasters despite those places being dangerous or uninhabitable in the long term. In places where managed retreat has occurred, policy makers have tried to counter the effects of place attachment by creating opportunities for retreating communities to maintain connections with their former home or by ensuring that households and communities are relocated to areas with similar livelihoods.49 Status Quo Bias: The status quo bias refers to people’s general preference for the current state, which biases stakeholders against various types of change (e.g., relocating). Status quo bias could be addressed by framing climate adaptation policies (e.g., resiliency planning and improved climate services) as policies that will preserve some aspects of the status quo or group cultural norms.
Kunreuther, H., Meyer, R., & Michel-Kerjan, E. (2013). Overcoming decision biases to reduce losses from natural catastrophes. The Behavioral Foundations of Public Policy, 398-414. 47 Gneezy, U., & Potters, J. (1997). An experiment on risk taking and evaluation periods. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 112(2), 631-645. 48 Binder, S. B., Barile, J. P., Baker, C. K., & Kulp, B. (2019). Home buyouts and household recovery: Neighborhood differences three years after Hurricane Sandy. Environmental Hazards, 18(2), 127-145. 49 In relocation cases where individuals permanently returned to the site of natural hazards, they cited a lack of similar livelihood opportunities in their new location as a driver for that decision. Literature suggests that adaptation services will need to consider livelihoods and equity in the full adaptation lifecycle if services are to be more impactful long-term. Source: Bower, E., & Weerasinghe, S. (2021). Leaving Place, Restoring Home: Enhancing the Evidence Base on Planned Relocation Cases in the Context of Hazards, Disasters and Climate Change. Platform on Disaster Displacement. 46
Beyond Information Gaps: Behavioral Science Lessons from Hurricane Sandy The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy reveals many important psychological biases that highlight the role for social science to inform policy interventions. In Maya Buchanan’s 2019 survey of New York City neighborhoods impacted by Hurricane Sandy, 64% of homeowners and 83% of renters indicated a willingness to relocate.50 However, even with Governor Cuomo’s generous buyout program, officials estimated that only 10-15% of eligible New York households would participate, which suggests that these financial incentives alone were insufficient to encourage relocation.51 Psychological barriers may help explain the gap between stated willingness to move and uptake of the offered buyout program. Bukvik and Graham’s study in 2013 looked at willingness to consider buyouts in 46 households in New York and Jersey communities that sustained high damage in Sandy. When surveyed, residents who were not interested in buyouts stated that they “didn’t like change” (status quo bias), that they didn’t believe an event like Hurricane Sandy would happen again (myopia), and that “staying where you grow up is important” (place attachment).52 While a number of psychological barriers have been identified to be generally relevant to managed retreat, further research and policy learning will be instrumental to translate these insights into program design.
Financial Barriers Financial constraints could be a key bottleneck that prevents individuals or governments from undertaking adaptation strategies like managed retreat. These financial barriers can be personal (a low-income household may have limited resources for engagement with adaptation planning) or systemic (public financing can be limited or not deployed at scale because of disincentives to government spending). Multilevel policy planning is needed to address the different levels of financial barriers to adaptation planning. In one example after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, buyout programs in the Oakwood Beach neighborhood of NYC were limited by personal financial barriers. Some residents who had bought their homes before the 2007/08 financial crisis had mortgages so large that even with generous buyout offers above pre-storm home valuation, they would be unable to sell without retaining significant debt and risking homelessness. This left a few residents, who might have been willing to accept buyouts if not for their mortgage debt, remaining in an otherwise vacated neighborhood. To this day, the city still provides essential services to these homeowners, despite extremely low population density, and the properties remain at risk.53
Buchanan, et al. (2019). Kaplan, T. (2013, February 4). Cuomo Seeking Home Buyouts in Flood Zones. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes. com/2013/02/04/nyregion/cuomo-seeking-home-buyouts-in-flood-zones.html 52 Bukvic, Anamaria, and Graham Owen. (2017). Attitudes towards relocation following Hurricane Sandy: Should we stay or should we go? Disasters, 41(1), 101-123. 53 Szekely, P. (2017). New York lets neighborhood return to nature to guard against storms. Reuters. https://www.reuters. com/article/us-usa-storm-sandy/new-york-lets-neighborhood-return-to-nature-to-guard-against-storms-idUSKBN1CW19G 50 51
Federal funding for adaptation is often available after disasters, but not for planning. Adaptation strategies that require high levels of coordination, like a managed retreat project in which many households are involved, necessitates a large amount of proactive planning. This includes community engagement and consensus building, as well as an analysis of climate projections facing the community. Undertaking such a large and multifaceted project takes time and commensurate funding. When so much of federal adaptation and hazard mitigation funding is only unlocked post-disaster54 communities are financially constrained in the proactive adaptation actions that they can realistically pursue. Even when funding is available, adaptation planning for managed retreat is complicated by financial disincentives facing powerful interests. For example, a local government may lose its tax base, and therefore its revenue, by pursuing managed retreat if households relocate outside of their jurisdiction.55 In addition, property developers continue to profit from coastal development, whereas the buyers pay the long-term costs of flood damage.56 When the federal government largely responds to disasters through flood insurance payouts and disaster relief funding, moral hazard arises as key actors do not face long-term consequences and may even profit financially. Adaptation strategies that have local tax consequences will carry serious equity implications if they are left decentralized, and so will require a stronger federal role. An expanded and coordinated role for the federal and state governments is needed to ensure adaptation planning properly resources communities to plan and advocate for their adaptation needs, especially when it comes at a cost to local tax revenues. In the Oakwood Beach example, residents were initially refused their request to relocate outside of New York City, and their relocation was only possible after successfully mobilizing the state government to apply for funding on their behalf.57
Institutional and Political Barriers The structure and scope of institutions and political jurisdictions form an important part of the context for adaptation work. A major barrier to successful adaptation, and particularly to effective managed retreat, is coordination across different jurisdictions and organizations to align decision making. Institutional disconnect prevents action from being taken to reduce risk to local communities and can waste federal and local resources. For example, as of 2019, $615 million in funding had been secured by the Army Corps of Engineers to build a levee, buried seawall, and vertical floodwall reaching 20 feet above sea level along the East Shore of Staten Island.58 The area covered by this barrier, however, overlaps with some of the locations that participated in a 2015 buyout program, including Ocean Breeze and Graham Beach. In other words, resources and funding are being allocated to protect communities that no longer even reside on the coast. This demonstrates a lack of communication between government actors across the federal, state, and city levels, which prevents the efficient use of funds to appropriately address the adaptation needs of the affected communities.
For example, to be eligible for FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program as well as HUD’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Mitigation fund and CDBG Disaster Relief Fund, communities must have recently been impacted by a natural disaster. 55 Siders. (2019). 56 Siders. (2019). 57 Siders. (2019). 58 Whiteman, H. (2019). Staten Island seawall: Designing for climate change. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/style/article/ staten-island-seawall-climate-crisis-design/index.html 54
Another example of coordination across government institutions serving as a barrier to managed retreat is the Isle de Jean Charles relocation that occurred in 2016. In a 2020 report, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that an exceptionally prolonged twodecade effort to receive federal aid for managed retreat in Isle de Jean Charles was because no federal entity had the authority to coordinate assistance.59
Overcoming Inadequate Governmental Support with Strong Local Leadership: Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana Isle de Jean Charles, located on the southern bayou of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, is home to the Biloxi-Chitimachi Confederation of Muskogees, a state-recognized tribe. Isle de Jean Charles is considered the first federally funded managed retreat project in the United States, and the community’s relocation efforts are still ongoing.60 While the community has pursued relocation efforts for twenty years, they were only able to start the official relocation process within the last few years after receiving federal funding. In 2016, Louisiana’s Office of Community Development received funding from HUD for the resettlement of Isle de Jean Charles.61 In 2019, the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe published its own report which points to a lack of governmental support for indigenous tribes who are pursuing managed retreat, as well as the role that information gaps played, as major barriers to adaptation action.62 Throughout its long pursuit of relocation funding, the Isle de Jean Charles community prioritized its tribal and cultural cohesion. This emphasis is a point of departure from many managed retreat projects, whose “communities” are often spatially defined and only pertain to current residents. As a result of strong tribal leadership, the resettlement of Isle de Jean Charles was able to receive funding to relocate not only the current residents on the island, but also past residents of Isle de Jean Charles who were previously displaced (since August 28, 2012).63
In managed retreat projects, the lack of a clear institutional framework can hinder progress in all stages of the climate relocation effort – including identification of communities who need to enact managed retreat, support within the community as they undertake the process, and implementation of retreat once it is approved. Additionally, assistance from federal agencies can be limited after federal grant money is allocated to a state office because of the scope of the original federal mandate.64 GAO. (2020). A Climate Migration Pilot Program Could Enhance the Nation’s Resilience and Reduce Federal Fiscal Exposure. https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-20-488.pdf 60 Dundon, L. A., & Abkowitz, M. (2021). Climate-induced managed retreat in the U.S.: A review of current research. Climate Risk Management, 33. 61 HUD. (2016). Isle de Jean Charles Report on Data Gathering and Engagement Phase. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Louisiana Office of Community Development, Disaster Recovery Unit. https://isledejeancharles. la.gov/sites/default/files/public/IDJC-Final-Report-Update.pdf 62 Isle de Jean Charles Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe. (2019). Preserving Our Place: A Community Field Guide to Engagement, Resilience, and Resettlement. Lowlander Center. https://www.lowlandercenter.org/news-andupdates/2019/11/19/a-community-field-guide-to-engagement-resilience-and-resettlement-community-regeneration-in-theface-of-environmental-and-developmental-pressures 63 Louisiana Office of Community Development. (2020). Resettlement of Isle de Jean Charles: Background & Overview. https://isledejeancharles.la.gov/sites/default/files/public/IDJC-Background-and-Overview-6-20_web.pdf 64 USGAO. (2020). 59
Another significant barrier to adaptation is lack of institutional capacity to initiate and plan large scale adaptation actions. Strong local leadership within communities is required to initiate climate adaptation discussions, conduct outreach to obtain climate services, and apply for state or federal funding. In a comparison of post-Sandy resilience, pre-existing community activist networks in the Lower East Side were credited with improving mobilization and resilience, compared to communities in the Rockaways.65 There has been growth in community activism in the Rockaways Post-Sandy, particularly through RISE Rockaway, and programs that proactively build and support these civic structures could help operationalize resilience and improve outcomes in future flood scenarios. The capacity of the government and other stakeholders strategically contributes to the success of managed retreat. Historically, areas selected for buyout rely on the cooperation of the homeowners and decisions are made in consultation with direct appeals from the community – as seen in the example below with communities in Staten Island.
Community-Driven Adaptation: Staten Island A little over one year after Hurricane Sandy, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo pledged more than $200 million in funding and financial incentives to relocate families in high flood risk areas from places like Oakwood Beach in Staten Island. 99% of eligible homeowners in Oakwood Beach applied to the program and by 2015, 180 of those homeowners were accepted as participants in the state’s voluntary buyout program.66 These efforts were spearheaded by several individuals who lived in the community and had taken the initiative to lead and petition for a buyout program/acquisition plan in the area.67 For other similarly affected Staten Island neighborhoods like Ocean Breeze, state and city governments were conflicted over whether to employ state buyouts or to follow Bloomberg’s “Build it Back” program, which focused on distributing funds to restore and redevelop damaged properties.68 While residents called for buyouts, the “Build it Back” initiative was put into place in 2013 due to the city holding jurisdiction over the area. Several months after the program launched, residents still had not received any assistance from the city and they continued to petition for state buyouts. Eventually, resident persistence led to control of acquisition being given back to the state, and Cuomo announced that Ocean Breeze would be the next neighborhood after Oakwood Beach to be bought out.69
Graham, L., Debucquoy, W., & Anguelovski, I. (2016, August 6). The influence of Urban Development Dynamics on Community Resilience Practice in New York City after superstorm sandy: Experiences from the Lower East Side and the Rockaways. Global Environmental Change. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/ S0959378016301017. 66 The Adaptation Clearinghouse. (2020). Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — Staten Island, New York: Oakwood Beach Buyout Committee and Program. Georgetown Climate Center. https://www.adaptationclearinghouse.org/ resources/managing-the-retreat-from-rising-seas-eo-staten-island-new-york-oakwood-beach-buyout-committee-and-program.html 67 Zablocki, A. & Bova-Hiatt, L. (2021). Managed Retreat [Lecture]. Princeton University. 68 Koslov, L. (2014). Fighting for Retreat after Sandy: The Ocean Breeze Buyout Tent on Staten Island. Metropolitics. https:// metropolitics.org/Fighting-for-Retreat-after-Sandy.html 69 Koslov. (2014). 65
Another institutional barrier that prevents successful managed retreat is lack of trust in government institutions. Voluntary managed retreat, and adaptation in general, requires high levels of trust developed between community members and government agencies. When communities see the government as ineffective or inconsistent, it can be more difficult to achieve successful adaptation. In fact, research has shown that flood victims engage in less risk mitigation when there is a lack of trust between local flood management officials and flood victims, and when flood victims perceive local flood management officials to be unhelpful during the recovery after a flood event.70
Equity Considerations in Managed Retreat Managed retreat practices that do not build in long-term equity considerations in the planning stages can exacerbate existing inequities. Due to historical redlining, flood-prone areas are more likely to house low-income individuals.71 In particular, in areas prone to inland flooding, lowincome communities and communities of color are likely to experience higher flood risk due to lower-lying elevations and/or underinvestment in flood mitigation infrastructure.72 These same communities, which are disproportionately impacted by flooding, are also less likely to be able to afford to even wait for a buyout opportunity.73 In addition, limitations due to lack of adequate information circulation or restrictions made by states to maintain local tax bases may prevent buyout participants from relocating to areas that maintain or improve their quality of life. For example, during the Staten Island East Shore buyout, 20% of participants relocated to a census tract as equally exposed to flood risk as the buyout areas they had just moved from.74 In addition, 99% of participants moved to an area with a higher social vulnerability score, which includes factors such as increased poverty and a higher proportion of elderly residents.75 In some coastal regions, redlining has also historically shut out low-income and communities of color from “more desirable” waterfront residential areas. Many of these places are now experiencing climate gentrification, an emerging trend by which low-income and communities of color are being displaced from the inland and high elevation neighborhoods they were segregated into.76 Many of the individuals that contributed to the neighborhoods, businesses, and cultural hallmarks in the face of past discrimination now face housing vulnerability as real estate values and rents increase in areas that are being valued for their resiliency.77 In Miami, for example, developers and wealthy homeowners are buying land in Liberty City, Little Haiti, and West Coconut Grove neighborhoods to shift development away from the coast.78 Residents in these Miami “less climate vulnerable” communities are being pushed out to accommodate this Kick, E. L., Fraser, J. C., Fulkerson, G. M., McKinney, L. A., & De Vries, D. H. (2011). Repetitive flood victims and acceptance of FEMA mitigation offers: An analysis with community–system policy implications. Disasters, 35(3), 510-539. 71 Jan, T. (2018, March 28). Redlining was banned 50 years ago. It’s still hurting minorities today. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/03/28/redlining-was-banned-50-years-ago-its-still-hurting-minorities-today/. 72 Montgomery, M. C., & Chakraborty, J. (2015). Assessing the environmental justice consequences of flood risk: a case study in Miami, Florida. Environmental Research Letters, 10(9), 095010. 73 Siders, A. R. (2019). Social justice implications of US managed retreat buyout programs. Climatic change, 152(2), 239-257. 74 McGhee, D. J., Binder, S. B., & Albright, E. A. (2020). First, do no harm: Evaluating the vulnerability reduction of post-disaster home buyout programs. Natural Hazards Review, 21(1). 75 McGhee, D. (2020). Quantifying the Success of Buyout Programs: A Staten Island Case Study. Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange. https://www.cakex.org/case-studies/quantifying-success-buyout-programs-staten-island-case-study 76 Georgetown Climate Center. (2020). Social/Equity: Community Engagement and Equity. Georgetown Law, https://www. georgetownclimate.org/adaptation/toolkits/managed-retreat-toolkit/social-equity-community-engagement-and-equity. html. 77 Georgetown Climate Center. (2020). 78 Raim, L. (2020, June 9). Florida’s Flooded Future: ‘Retreat While There’s Still Time. The Nation. https://www.thenation. com/article/activism/statues-down/ 70
new development intensity.79 Such displacement threatens to repeat the same past land-use injustices that initially isolated these more socially vulnerable communities. With these fundamental equity concerns, it is therefore necessary to holistically account for equity pitfalls prior to adaptation implementation. If managed retreat is conducted proactively, it could help minimize the economic, environmental, and social costs of sudden displacements.80 The complexities of maintaining equity during managed retreat implementation create opportunities for policymakers to better support people who choose to move from riskier coastal areas to safer receiving communities.
Evaluation of Managed Retreat Practices While more than 1,000 U.S. communities and 43,000 properties have gone through federally funded managed retreat programs, there is limited consensus on measures of success or best practices.81 Reviews of managed retreat to date have focused on individual communities and buyout programs.82 Without improved transparency and policy guidance, the subjective decisions involved in managed retreat policy run the risk of being shaped by personal bias and political ambition, resulting in unjust outcomes for communities.83 Proper evaluation, reporting, and dissemination of policy best practices is crucial to effective and equitable managed retreat policies.84
Raim. (2020). Varano, S. P., Schafer, J. A., Cancino, J. M., Decker, S. H., & Greene, J. R. (2010). A tale of three cities: Crime and displacement after Hurricane Katrina. Journal of Criminal Justice, 38(1), 42-50. 81 Siders. (2019). 82 Siders. (2019). 83 Siders. (2019). 84 Siders. (2019). 79
IV. Conclusion Information and non-information barriers can interact and reinforce one another, making obstacles to managed retreat and adaptation even more intractable.85 These barriers to managed retreat, and more generally to adaptation, must be addressed by a comprehensive adaptation plan that operates on multiple levels of government cross-sectorally to meet the physical and socioeconomic needs of communities. Without proactive, transparent action by policy makers that centers equity in adaptation planning, the impacts of climate change will disproportionately affect marginalized communities.
Beachfront on The Rockaways, Queens, New York Credit: Christine Blackshaw
Part 2 Climate adaptation is an issue that is fundamentally about land-use in vulnerable areas, necessitating an understanding of local context, beliefs, values, and history. Adaptation policy needs to be able to engage with and respond to local level stakeholders and the place-specific climate issues they face. Managed retreat, and adaptation more broadly, is most successful when there is sustained community engagement, strong local leadership, and community organization to facilitate a bottom-up planning process, and sufficient government capacity to support the adaptation planning process. These ingredients can lead to the creation of proactive adaptation strategies that will foster equitable climate resiliency for communities in the U.S. Policy related to adaptation can be broken into two parts: planning and implementation. The planning process is critically important to the success of climate change adaptation, especially when aiming for a proactive adaptation strategy rather than a reactive, post-hoc one. In this section, we explore how we can translate best practices and lessons from the study of managed retreat barriers in Part 1 of this report into tangible policy solutions for proactive adaptation planning.
I. Adaptation Planning Policy: Getting it Right Summary: Robust adaptation planning should consider information gaps as well as psychological, financial, and institutional barriers. Equity considerations and community needs should be incorporated into early stages of adaptation planning through demand-driven research, so that adaptation decisions use the best available science and address barriers that prevent communities from taking action. Adaptation planning policy will need to be designed in a way that allows for evaluation and dissemination of learning so that adaptation remains responsive to the needs of communities.
Building on the key take-aways from our study of managed retreat, we have identified the importance of adaptation planning policy that can do the following: Address information gaps by providing communities with demand-driven research that they need in order to make decisions informed by the best available science. Information gaps can exist when communities lack the data needed to inform adaptation decisions. To be of value, climate data must be available and accessible to all communities (including those that are lowresourced), accurate and consistent, and address the needs of the community (as opposed to being based on researchers’ assumptions). Access to the specific information needed to understand place-based climate change risk is critical to successful adaptation planning. Address non-informational barriers that are preventing communities from taking action on climate adaptation. (1) Psychological barriers. The uncertainties and complexities of climate science result in a variety of psychological barriers that plague decision making and limit proactive adaptation action among both residents and policymakers.86 Shaping positive perspectives on adaptation and realistic expectations of climate change impacts is crucial to successful adaptation planning and implementation. However, it requires that a variety of psychological barriers be overcome, including social norms and status quo bias, as well as negative perceptions of adaptation that prevent appropriate action. (2) Financial barriers. Very few municipalities and states have dedicated funding for adaptation efforts or staff that specifically work on this issue.87 Limited community resources and available funding often translates to limited capacity for adaptation planning. This challenge is even more relevant for economically disadvantaged communities, particularly historically overburdened and rural communities. Equitable adaptation planning is thus an integral part of facilitating a just transition for these communities. (3) Institutional and political barriers. The structure and scope of institutions and political jurisdictions form an important part of the context for adaptation work. Lack of coordination and fragmented decision-making across different jurisdictions, institutions, and sectors can be a barrier to adaptation planning. The limited capacity of institutions to produce or utilize the climate information necessary for adaptation decision making is another barrier. For example, sectors such as public health, engineering, and natural resource management face an increasing need to incorporate climate information into their processes and decision-making – but professionals may lack training or capacity to do so, especially if climate adaptation was historically out of scope for the organization. Finally, lack of trust in government, science, and academic institutions can hinder adaptation planning.
Pasquini, L., Steynor, A., & Waagsaether, K. (2019). The Psychology of Decision-Making Under Uncertainty a Literature Review. United States Agency for International Development. 87 Bierbaum et al. (2013). A comprehensive review of climate adaptation in the United States: More than before, but less than needed. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, 18, 361-406. 86
Incorporate equity considerations. Adaptation programs that do not build in long-term equity considerations in the planning stages can exacerbate existing inequities. The impacts of climate change will disproportionately affect the poor and marginalized communities who have the least access to the financial and social resources needed to prepare and respond to climate hazards.88 Local governments have increasingly included social equity language in climate action plans, yet policies tend to be superficial and rhetorical, rather than actionable.89 Adaptation planning must treat equity commitments seriously and engage diverse local stakeholders in a sustained and meaningful way, elevating the most marginalized voices, to achieve climate adaptation plans that serve to decrease, rather than exacerbate, existing social inequities.90 Be designed in a way that allows for evaluation and dissemination of policy best practices (and failures). Evaluating adaptation programs that work across different jurisdictions and respond to local needs is a challenge that will need to be considered in any national adaptation programming. Adaptation policy must encourage innovation and treat acquired knowledge and social learning as public goods. Proper evaluation, reporting, and sharing of information is crucial to improved adaptation policies,91 and this will require greater amounts of time and expense than the design and evaluation of top-down programming.92
Kaswan, A. (2012). Domestic Climate Change Adaptation and Equity. Envtl. L. Rep. News & Analysis, 42, 11125. Pearsall, H., & Pierce, J. (2010). Urban sustainability and environmental justice: Evaluating the linkages in public planning/ policy discourse. Local Environment, 15(6), 569–580. https://doi.org/10.1080/13549839.2010.487528 90 Petersen, B., & Ducros, H. B. (Eds.). (2022). Justice in Climate Action Planning. Springer International Publishing. https:// doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-73939-3 91 Siders. (2019). 92 McNie, E. C. (2008). Co-Producing Useful Climate Science for Policy: Lessons from the RISA Program. ResearchGate. Retrieved January 13, 2022, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/36710749_Co-producing_useful_climate_science_for_policy_Lessons_from_the_RISA_program 88 89
II. Strengthening Adaptation Planning through Climate Services Summary: Federal policy could strengthen climate adaptation planning through a robust climate services program that combines climate and social science with stakeholder engagement and capacity building. Current federal climate services are focused on data production and are not aligned with, nor clearly address, user needs. A federal climate services model that meets community adaptation needs should be cross-sectoral in focus, with information production focused on relevant data that is communicated in a usable format to communities. The private sector has begun to fill some of these gaps, but large-scale privatization will lead to under-provision of climate services and an inequitable distribution based on who can pay for adaptation planning. Effective climate services will need to bring together stakeholders that operate within distinct institutional boundaries. This coordination will be most effective through a boundary organization, which mediates interactions between different institutional and administrative mechanisms, projects, and financial resources.
We see climate services as a promising way forward for a federal policy solution to climate change adaptation planning, if expanded to encompass social science and stakeholder engagement. Climate services are defined by the American Meteorological Society as “scientifically based information and products that enhance users’ knowledge and understanding about the impacts of climate on their decisions and actions.”93 Climate services to date have focused on providing and delivering high-quality environmental data and forecasting. While this core function of climate services is crucial, it is only one component of what is required to overcome the variety of barriers preventing successful adaptation planning and implementation; other barriers include communication, accessibility, relevance, usability, and capacity.94,95 Reducing these barriers would result in a highly valuable mechanism for the sort of long-term adaptation and resilience planning that is needed in response to climate change. In this section, we will discuss: (1) the state of climate services in the U.S.; (2) the value of demand-driven, userinspired climate services; (3) the importance of public-sector provisioning of climate services; and (4) the role of boundary organizations in climate services.
The State of Climate Services in the U.S. To fill local-level gaps in climate expertise, several governmental bodies have previously been established to provide climate information, including NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and the Climate Prediction Center, USDA’s Climate Hubs, and USGS’s Climate Adaptation Science Centers. Their collective contributions have been supplemented by the private sector, research institutions, and academia. In addition, an October 2021 White House report, Opportunities for Expanding and Improving Climate Information and Services for American Meteorological Society. (2012). Climate Services: A Policy Statement of the American Meteorological Society. https://www.ametsoc.org/index.cfm/ams/about-ams/ams-statements/archive-statements-of-the-ams/climate-services/ 94 Alexander, M., & Dessai, S. (2019). What can climate services learn from the broader services literature? Climatic Change, 157(1), 133-149. 95 Lemos, M. C., Kirchhoff, C. J., & Ramprasad, V. (2012). Narrowing the climate information usability gap. Nature Climate Change, 2(11), 789-794. 93
the Public, was released by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), NOAA, and FEMA. The report outlined a plan to improve federal climate services offerings via better agency coordination and more robust science and technology initiatives.
Demand-Driven Climate Services While the multitude of climate products currently available may lead to the perception that users’ needs are being met, the plethora actually proves to be an obstacle to their use: potential users are confused and overwhelmed by the diverse array of institutions and products available and are uncertain of their trustworthiness. Others have acknowledged the disconnect between the supply of information and demand needs/subsequent action. Sarewitz and Pielke, for example, have conceptualized ‘‘supply’’ as the provision of knowledge and information while “demand” represents societal outcomes that apply knowledge and information to achieve specific societal goals.96 Given the complexities and uncertainties around climate science and modeling, climate services must be driven by users’ demands, as opposed to the traditional scientific focus of climate products developed solely based on quality and technical sophistication. In addition, climate services must be process-focused rather than purely being oriented around a final data product. This necessitates prioritizing an end goal of improved organizational decisionmaking capacity, rather than only conducting a more traditional economic valuation of a project.97 Science communication, engagement, and evaluation through dialogue with users must also be prioritized. Instead of operating on broad assumptions, engagement must be rigorous and penetrate down to the community. Otherwise, sophisticated users and large institutions who are more likely to have the capacity to engage with providers will dominate the process.
Demand-Driven Climate Services: Alaska Indigenous Communities A recent study from 2021 shows that most science deliverables and hazard assessment trainings do not adequately address the needs of community planning among tribal participants in Alaska.98 Results demonstrate a need for detailed and locally specific climate science information that is presented in a more understandable format.99 Participants in the study were unsure of what practices should be adopted that both optimally limit their flood risk while still preserving their cultural network. Of particular concern in the tribal context is the need to balance “contradictions between indigenous knowledge and science.”100
Sarewitz, D. & Pielke, R. (2007). The neglected heart of science policy: reconciling supply of and demand for science. Environmental Science & Policy, 10(1), 5-16. 97 Findlater, K., Webber, S., Kandlikar, M. et al. (2021). Climate services promise better decisions but mainly focus on better data. Nature Climate Change, 11, 731-737. 98 Kettle, N. M., Chase, O., O’domin, D., Roehl, and Cozzetto, K. (2019). Building Capacity for Tribal Climate Adaptation Planning in Alaska: A Post-Training Needs Assessment. University of Alaska Fairbanks. 99 Williams & Erikson. (2021). 100 Williams & Erikson. (2021). 96
In addition, to truly meet the country’s growing adaptation needs, climate services must be able to bridge climate science and social science. Expanding climate services to encompass predictions of how climate change will affect local economies, job opportunities, transportation, schools, and access to healthcare will leave decision makers better equipped to make holistic climate resilience plans. In addition, climate services can be combined with demographic and socioeconomic information to better visualize equity impacts caused by climate change.
Limitations of Privatization The October 2021 White House report suggests that public-private partnerships can stand in for limited national capacity in the provision of climate services,101 and there is certainly some role for private sector collaboration in the development of more sophisticated climate services.102 That said, climate services focused on climate change adaptation planning is a relatively new field, with significant opportunity for learning and innovation.103 Learning and innovation can be considered positive externalities of climate services because they have broad societal benefits, but these benefits cannot be fully captured by individual firms as profit. As a result, economic theory predicts that the private sector will underproduce climate services. Thus, government intervention in the climate services market will likely be necessary. There are also equity issues inherent in private provision of climate services. When climate services are priced as consultant services, local governments with smaller tax bases, such as those with significant low-income populations, will face financial barriers to accessing services. It is especially important to consider the effect that privatizing climate services might have on environmental justice communities who tend to both face financial constraints and are already bearing a disproportionate burden of environmental hazards. In addition, privatization creates issues of politicization of climate services. This can occur when private stakeholders influence the production and dissemination of scientific information for personal gain, thereby compromising the legitimacy of climate science as a whole. When services are contracted from a firm, rather than a federal agency or public research institution, the incentives for the climate service provider can be skewed toward profit. For example, after severe flooding in 2014 in Voss, Norway, a hydroelectric company hired a firm to construct an animation of predicted flooding in an effort to convince the community to support the construction of a dam. The final product was mired in controversy and seen as a scare tactic that misrepresented the data in an attempt to convince the community that a dam was necessary so that the hydroelectric company could profit from dam construction.104 Leaving the provision of climate services to the private sector runs the risk that climate science will be seen as biased, uncredible, and illegitimate. Office of Science and Technology Policy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Federal Emergency Management Agency. (2021). Opportunities for Expanding and Improving Climate Information and Services for the Public—A Report to the National Climate Task Force. https://downloads.globalchange.gov/reports/eo-14008-211-dreport. pdf. 102 A good example of a successful public-private partnership that has created a useful climate service tool is the National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS). NIHHIS is a collaboration between NOAA and private consulting firm CAPA Strategies. NIHHIS utilizes citizen science to map urban heat islands, overlaying environmental data with socioeconomic information to better understand community vulnerability. All NIHHIS reports, tools, and data are free and publically available. 103 For example, NCEI was founded in 2015, USDA Climate Hubs was founded in 2014, and USGS’s Climate Adaptation Science Center was founded in 2008. 104 Bremer, S., Wardekker, A., Dessai, S., Sobolowski, S., Slaattelid, R., & van der Sluijs, J. (2019). Toward a multi-faceted conception of co-production of climate services. Climate Services, 13, 42-50. 101
Levee in Mississippi Credit: Amina Johari
Competing Interests Limiting Community Outcomes: Yazoo-Mississippi Delta User engagement is key to the demand driven ideal of climate services, but difficult to scale within national or state agencies that have traditionally focused on data provision. One assumption of the demand-driven climate decisions model is that communities have the power to make climate decisions and lobby for what is useful to them. A climate services model that attempts to address information asymmetry without recognizing power asymmetry is likely to disproportionately benefit and respond to the needs of institutional and heavily resourced users, and not the communities most vulnerable to climate change. Mississippi’s experience with the Yazoo Pumps Project is an example of how structural adaptation plans have been biased towards organized interests. The pumps were first authorized in 1941, before most of the current residents were born. Congressional action to stall or move the project forward, have been driven by organized agricultural and environmental interests. With these two primary players the conversation for residents has been reduced to a choice of flooding without the pumps, or no flooding with the pumps – although evidence has suggested the pumps will not reduce as much flooding as promised.
The range of adaptation options open to communities has not been explored and the binary choice the area faces in responding to flooding remains the same as it was in the 1940s. Despite the limitations of the pumps, attempts to explore other complementary options have become politicized. Following a 2019 public meeting where Representative Bennie Thompson – who represents the Yazoo Backwater Area (YBWA) – vocalized support for the pumps project but said buyouts and updated building codes might be necessary, the Vicksburg Post ran an article accusing the Representative of appearing too “lukewarm” in his support for the project.105 According to the National Audubon Society, a non-profit environmental organization that has been fighting the pumps, had the proposed pumps been operating during the 2019 flood, 83% of the lands that flooded would still have been underwater, and it would have taken more than two months for the pumps to drain the water from the remaining acres.106 There have been claims that installing the pumps would be a way to fight environmental injustice because the pumps would help low-income (33% of residents in the South Mississippi Delta live below the poverty line) and minority residents (62% of the South Delta) who live in flood zones.107 However, In the lead up to the 2008 EPA veto the Corps admitted that 80% of the Yazoo Pumps Project’s benefits would be for agriculture and this fact has been confirmed in recent years. The farmers in the YBWA are largely white (87% in Issaquena and 92% in Sharkey County).108 The vast majority of benefits will not reach communities of color, despite claims to the contrary. The land that will be protected is a small portion of the YBWA, which borders large farms in the north and supports the claim that the pumps are not primarily about reducing flooding. If the issue was flooding, conservation groups argue the map shows that the pumps are clearly not the solution. Instead, money for the project would be better spent on buying out residents who are willing to relocate, paying farmers to return their fieldsto wetlands, and raising roads and buildings that frequently experience flooding. Audubon has put together a Resilience Alternative document which outlines various nature-based and non-structural flood measures that can reduce flood risks for vulnerable communities in the YBWA. There are services and programs already in place, with funding, which could be used to help vulnerable communities in the Delta. The challenge is making these solutions accessible to community members. Not only do communities need technical assistance to help navigate the complex grant application processes, the history of the Yazoo Pumps underscores a greater need for community involvement and climate services. “Thompson’s Leadership Lacking in Push for Corps’ Plan to Ease Backwater Flooding.” 10 Apr. 2019, https://www.vicksburgpost.com/2019/04/10/thompsons-leadership-lacking-in-push-for-corps-plan-to-ease-backwater-flooding/. Accessed 19 Oct. 2021. 106 “Corps’ Data Shows Yazoo Pumps Will Not Protect Backwater Communities.” https://ms.audubon.org/press-release/ corps%E2%80%99-data-shows-yazoo-pumps-will-not-protect-backwater-communities. Accessed 19 Oct. 2021. 107 Pettus, Emily Wagster. “Analysis: Wicker Says Yazoo Pumps Would Alleviate Injustice.” AP News, 25 July 2021, https:// apnews.com/article/technology-7cb95eb13e48526db3a00b7018e90c39. Accessed 19 Oct. 2021. Statistics from: “Letter to the Editor: Pumps Provided for Ida, but Yazoo Backwater Still Stalled.” The Vicksburg Post, 29 Sept. 2021, https://www. vicksburgpost.com/2021/09/29/letter-to-the-editor-pumps-provided-for-ida-but-yazoo-backwater-still-stalled/. Accessed 19 Oct. 2021. 108 “United States Department of Agriculture.” USDA, https://www.nass.usda.gov/AgCensus/index.php. 105
Value of Boundary Organizations in Climate Services Effective climate services will need to bring together stakeholders that operate within distinct institutional boundaries. Each of these stakeholders brings unique strengths to addressing adaptation needs. Research institutions are capable of producing high-quality, transdisciplinary climate science; the government is particularly skilled at planning and implementing policy as well as large-scale data collection and modeling; and community-based organizations excel at local engagement. Different actors can fill different needs for addressing information and noninformation barriers that otherwise limit climate change adaptation. A boundary organization can be created to facilitate collaboration between different sectors, while respecting the different strengths and scope of work that each brings to the table. Boundary organizations that bring together science and political communities allow for information to effectively flow to and from researchers and policy makers. These types of institutions can mediate interactions between different institutional and administrative mechanisms, projects, and financial resources – and so are integral to climate services.109
A Boundary Organization: Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay The Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay (SRIJB) was founded in 2012 to develop a new model of collaboration in addressing critical environmental challenges. The institute brings together policymakers and staff from the National Park Service and the City of New York, along with scientists from a consortium of eight research institutions led by Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.110 With these partnerships, SRIJB not only conducts technical research to better understand ecosystem and flooding resiliency, but also provides technical assistance and guidance to the Institute’s governmental partners. In addition, SRIJB serves as a center for education and for the dissemination of knowledge about processes that affect resilience and that contribute to the changes in the urban ecosystem by hosting programs like the “Community Flood Watch Project” and “Cycles of Resiliency.”111 This has enabled both academics and agencies to prioritize coordination with affected communities to incorporate local knowledge and needs into policy decisions and products.112
Vaughan, C., Dessai, S., & Hewitt, C. (2018). Surveying climate services: What can we learn from a bird’s-eye view? Weather, Climate, and Society, 10(2), 373-395. 110 The Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay. (2021). About the Institute. https://www.srijb.org/home/what-is-thescience-and-resilience-institute-at-jamaica-bay/ 111 Brooklyn College. (2021). Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay. https://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/web/academics/centers/sri.php 112 Small, C. (2019). How this Brooklyn community is taking matters into their own hand to fight against climate change. Blavity News. https://blavity.com/blavity-original/how-this-brooklyn-community-is-taking-matters-into-their-own-hand-to-fightagainst-climate-change?category1=politics 109
III. Policy Levers to Expand Climate Services The following section analyzes three policy levers that could be used to create an expansive climate services model in the U.S. as a crucial step towards climate resilience. The policy options considered here are (1) a National Climate Services Agency housed in NOAA, (2) an expansion of the NOAA Regional Integrated Science Assessment (RISA) program, and (3) aid to states and local governments to increase capacity for producing and utilizing climate services in adaptation planning.
Policy Lever 1: A National Climate Service Summary: The current fragmented provisioning of climate services across various federal agencies fails to provide comprehensive and coherent climate related information to decision makers. A National Climate Service (NCS) housed in NOAA would help coordinate and facilitate adaptation planning, particularly at the regional and national levels. An NCS would also serve as a centralized source for climate service information, making it easier for stakeholders to access information needed to make informed decisions. Finally, an NCS would also be able to address equity issues that the current decentralized system cannot by incorporating socioeconomic data and by promoting the inclusion of these data when considering the impacts of climate change. An NCS alone, however, cannot meet all the nation’s needs for climate information and services. Other strategies are needed to create partnerships between local level actors, the academic community, and the private sector that can collectively address critical information and non-information gaps.
While varying capabilities for providing climate information exist across federal agencies, it is difficult for decision makers to know exactly where to turn for reliable information. One solution to this problem is to create a National Climate Service (NCS) within NOAA. This new agency would be tasked with identifying, producing, and delivering authoritative and timely information about climate change variations and trends, and their impact on built and natural systems and communities at the regional, national, and global scales. Critics of creating a new national climate service agency have argued that the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) already effectively acts as a centralized climate information hub. Established in 1989, USGCRP coordinates and integrates research from 13 agencies and departments across the federal government on changes in the global environment and their implications for society. Proponents of creating a new NCS agency, however, argue that USGCRP is not focused on operationalizing the research it produces. For climate services to be successful, they need to be usable and used by constituents. An NCS would do more to make climate information decision-oriented so that stakeholders with sensitivities to and needs for climate-related information could make use of data and products from various federal agencies.
A History of Past Efforts to Create a National Climate Service Informal discussions within NOAA about creating an NCS began in the 1980s, but it was not until 2008 that Conrad Lautenbacher, then head of NOAA, formally proposed creating a centralized NCS. At the time, the interagency U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) was integrating climate research from 13 federal agencies. Lautenbacher argued that it made more sense to have a dedicated agency that could combine data and organize all of the government’s climate information in one place. Around the same time, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) introduced legislation that included a provision to establish a National Climate Service at NOAA, but the bill never received a floor vote. Momentum around the National Climate Service concept returned in 2009 when House Science Committee Chair Bart Gordon (D-TN) sponsored a bill that would have created a “Climate Service Program” at NOAA, as well as an interagency research and operational program for climate information.113 This bill eventually stalled in the Senate after it was attached to separate climate legislation that became mired in political debate.114 By then, the concept for an NCS had evolved from its original conception as simply a centralized information hub to include the possibility of long-range climate forecasting, an idea that Jane Lubchenco furthered when she served as NOAA Administrator during the Obama Administration.115 In 2011, Lubchenco proposed legislation to reorganize NOAA’s offices and budget structure to establish a “Climate Service Line Office.” The move was a cost-free step to coordinate relevant climate services programs, but it failed to gain bipartisan support. There have been no concerted efforts to create an NCS since 2011, partly due to the politicization of the idea. Recently, however, lawmakers have revived the idea in response to President Biden’s government-wide focus on climate change. In April 2021, members of the House Science Committee held a hearing to examine the case for a federal climate service and to discuss how it would be structured. Discussions are still ongoing.
American Institute of Physics. (2021). Congress Revisits Case for a Federal Climate Service. https://www.aip.org/ fyi/2021/congress-revisits-case-federal-climate-service 114 This legislation was the American Clean Energy and Security Act, also known as the Waxman-Markey Bill, and it proposed a national cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Source: Reilly, A. & Bogardus, K. (2016). 7 years later, failed Waxman-Markey bill still makes waves. E&E Daily. https://www.eenews.net/articles/7-years-later-failed-waxman-markey-bill-still-makes-waves/ 115 Harvey, C. (2021). A national climate service? Interest builds under Biden. E&E News. https://www.eenews.net/articles/a-national-climate-service-interest-builds-under-biden/ 113
Why a National Climate Service Should Be Housed in NOAA Efforts to create a National Climate Service have historically proposed housing the agency in NOAA as a parallel to the National Weather Service (NWS), which also sits under the agency. Housing an NCS under NOAA makes sense for a number of reasons: (1) Breadth of existing mandate. NOAA is the only federal agency with capabilities spanning atmospheric and ocean sciences, and it is the lead federal agency responsible for delivering national weather, ocean, fishery, coastal, satellite, and environmental data products and services for informing decisions.116 An NCS would be a natural extension of the NWS, which already provides some climate forecasting. (2) Maintenance of the nation’s existing climate observing networks. These include a patchwork of operational satellites and networks for integrated atmospheric and oceanic observations, including measurements of greenhouse gases, aerosols, and ozone. (3) Extensive coordination experience. NOAA has experience coordinating with other agencies and partners across the federal government and world. (4) Trusted source. NOAA has a long-standing reputation as an honest broker in science, assessment, and services. Any National Climate Service agency needs to provide balanced and credible scientific and technical information, and NOAA would be a trustworthy authority. (5) Logistical and political feasibility. It is easier to put a new agency in an existing one than to try and get approval to form an entirely new agency. Rather than establishing a new NCS agency some have suggested creating a consortium similar to the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) or a direct collaboration between NOAA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) instead. Neither option goes far enough, however, to ensure that the entity providing federal climate services has the authority and clout to effectively coordinate between agencies and departments across the federal government. A new agency, on the same rank as the NWS, will not only signal the government’s commitment to providing climate services but will also have the needed authority to work effectively across the federal government. To What Extent Can a National Climate Service Address Information Gaps? Climate science has made major advancements in the last two decades, yet climate information is still not routinely used in planning.117 A major reason for the disconnect is the fact that climate services are currently spread across too many agencies, making it difficult for stakeholders and decision makers to know where to turn to.
Solomon, S. & Dole, R. (2009). A Vision for Climate Services in NOAA. NOAA. d32ogoqmya1dw8.cloudfront.net. Miles, E. L., Snover, A. K., Binder, L. W., Sarachik, E., Mote, P., & Mantua, N. (2006). An approach to designing a national climate service. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(52), 19616-19623. 116 117
An NCS would act as a centralized information hub for climate services information. Centralizing, organizing, and streamlining the work of different agencies will help address an information gap by making information more easily accessible to individuals and organizations. An NCS would not replace or set up a single source of all information but instead would combine scientific observation, research, and modeling activities from the multiple agencies currently providing climate services – including NOAA, FEMA, USDA, and USGCRP. An NCS would be a first point of contact for stakeholders looking for information. The current haphazard nature of federal climate services means there is no centralized point of contact and the onus of directing inquiries to the right sources is on individual agencies and offices. An NCS would act as a first point of contact and would direct stakeholders to the relevant and appropriate data and initiatives. An NCS would facilitate both top down and lateral information sharing across regions and across federal agencies. Agencies from various levels of government that currently provide climate services are not mandated to coordinate and share information. An NCS could help bridge this gap by actively working to facilitate both top down and lateral information sharing. Not only will this improve government capabilities in providing relevant and useful climate-related information to stakeholders, but it will also help promote better collaboration across agencies and limit duplication of products and programs. An NCS would increase equity by filling in information gaps and prioritizing support for areas of historic underinvestment. The Fourth National Climate Assessment states that climate change will disproportionately harm low-income communities. Considering these vulnerabilities in adaptation planning would require a change in national adaptation prioritization methods, shifting from cost benefit analyses that currently center property values to a prioritization of base levels of capacity that all communities should have to assess and respond to climate change. Leaving climate services decentralized and uncoordinated, with gaps filled by non-state actors, will exacerbate inequity in areas of historic underinvestment unless the federal government establishes pathways to achieve capacity building and focused investment. On the other hand, there are several limitations to an NCS: An NCS would be unable to effectively engage and collaborate with relevant state, local, and community-based organizations. Engaging local actors is key to providing the customized end-products that users need to make effective decisions, yet this topdown approach to climate services does little to actively engage stakeholders. An NCS would be unable to address demand-side information gaps. Even if an NCS centralizes all climate services being provided by agencies working across the federal government, there still may be information barriers that prevent stakeholders from engaging with that information. The only way to address these information gaps is to be familiar with local conditions, contexts, and stakeholders. An NCS that primarily specializes in aggregating climate information would be limited in its ability to understand and address barriers at this localized level.
To What Extent Can a National Climate Service Agency Address Non-Informational Barriers? Psychological Barriers Psychological barriers are intensely specific to places, communities, and individuals, and as such an NCS would be ill-positioned to support work that addresses psychological barriers facing stakeholders. While an NCS would centralize climate information, making it easier for stakeholders to access relevant data, effectively addressing the range of psychological barriers that prevent proper adaptation planning requires localized knowledge of specific communities and would be beyond the scope of an NCS. Financial Barriers An NCS can help minimize financial pressures faced by institutions and stakeholders in adaptation planning by ensuring climate service information is organized and accessible. Given the capacity constraints that local and state governments and other organizations engaged in adaptation planning might face, there is value in making climate information easily accessible and available. While a limitation to the NCS approach is that it would not provide direct support to these organizations, it would help eliminate barriers to accessing the right information – making it more accessible for low-resourced organizations. Institutional and Political Barriers Agencies currently providing climate services are siloed, and the nation requires a more coordinated approach to providing information to support adaptation, management, and mitigation of climate change and its impacts. One of the NCS mandates would be to facilitate coordination across agencies and between regional partners. This would help remove institutional barriers that exist between entities currently providing climate services, streamlining information and making it more accessible to constituents.
Policy Level 2: NOAA RISA Expansion Summary: NOAA RISA teams operate through grants from NOAA’s Climate Program Office (CPO). Eleven decentralized RISA teams focus on regional priorities to make climate information usable and useful to their specific end users. Expanding NOAA RISA would be a valuable first step in improving climate services in areas not currently covered, but it would not be a sufficient solution for national community adaptation planning. The current RISA model has limited cross-regional support and knowledgesharing, which could be improved through expanded national level coordination. RISAs also have limitations at the community level and would need to be complemented by robust support for programming from states and community-based organizations in order to build stakeholder engagement and overcome political and communication challenges.
NOAA RISAs (Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments) fill a unique role within the existing U.S. climate services landscape by focusing on making climate information usable and useful to end users.118 Formally established in 2001, early RISA teams developed in response to major natural hazard crises in specific regions and the subsequent need to develop better climate information that was more usable by communities.119 Collectively, the eleven active RISA teams provide scientific expertise, foster user-inspired research, and strengthen science-communitygovernment networks in their respective regions. A central tradeoff in climate services is developing localized solutions while mitigating the equity challenges that arise from decentralization, and NOAA RISA is one of the strongest standalone solutions to this problem. RISAs operate nationally, with oversight from the NOAA Climate Program Office, but also function as a decentralized group of teams tailored to the climate demands of their regions. This approach allows them to capture some of the benefits of both a national approach and localization, although the structure leaves information and non-information gaps on both sides that need to be filled by complementary organizations or services. RISAs can be considered boundary organizations that are structured around universityled projects to engage and collaborate with relevant state, local, and community-based organizations. NOAA’s Climate Program Office provides competitive grants to university-based teams specializing in research on the regional impacts of climate variability and the application of this information in decision making. Most of these teams have advisory committees, which include state, local, regional, and non-government entities, but the details of these structures are left to the regional level of coordination. While this decentralization allows regions to develop localized solutions, it can raise equity challenges with varying services possible between and within RISA regions. To What Extent Can a NOAA RISA Expansion Address Information Gaps? Proactive development of climate services can address a broader range of information gaps that are not prioritized by reactive services. Many existing climate services agencies, like NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information and other divisions of NOAA’s Climate Program Office, specialize in high-level research and early-stage data collection that are invaluable components of climate modeling and forecasting. However, a limitation of these types of climate services is that they lack the ability to effectively serve the local-scale needs of diverse stakeholders. The top-down, centralized nature of these programs means that user input is not heavily solicited and these programs skew data production towards existing stakeholders and highly resourced individuals and groups. The expansion of NOAA RISA, and its model to incorporate policy and community stakeholders, could shift the focus more to the usability of that data. RISA grants are based on regional priorities and include space for research goals to shift over time, enabling demand-driven programs. The five-year cooperative agreement grants build in some flexibility to change course, to refine projects and objectives, and to address new questions over the years of implementation. This gives RISA teams space within the granting structure to provide timely information that stakeholders need. Meadow, A. M. (2017). An Ethnohistory of the NOAA Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) Program. NOAA. https://cpo.noaa.gov/Portals/0/Docs/RISA/Meadow_2017_RISA_History.pdf?ver=2017-07-05-142106-183 119 Meadow. (2017). 118
RISA teams can produce the right information and services to fit community needs because of the breadth of the NOAA agency mandate. There is an institutional advantage to RISA being housed within NOAA. NOAA’s climate mandate creates flexibility for RISA to be responsive to community needs across sectors. As opposed to other agencies that are more mission focused, the climate mandate enables cross-sectoral work. The specialized focus of each regional RISA team allows proposal development that can build off stakeholder conversations and ensure that proposals are focused on addressing end user needs. This collaborative identification of focus problems lets RISA teams identify and target problems that higher level agencies might not be aware of or might not be prioritizing.120 RISA teams, and their associated universities, can provide climate services that bridge climate science and social science. Universities have a transdisciplinary advantage over more specialized national labs or agencies in the types of information they produce. The multiple university model used by RISA is more amenable to creating a consortium or collaborative, which can draw off of a wider array of expertise and is less vulnerable to the biases of any one institution. Strong ties with a broad network of local stakeholders allow RISA teams to produce climate information that is understood and actionable, and builds capacity for its users. Close collaboration with end users throughout the process of research development ensures two-way, iterative communication so that practitioners' needs are reflected in the research undertaken by RISA teams.121 In addition to guaranteeing more relevant and useful outputs, the convening of scientists and practitioners builds common understanding across groups that may differ in their norms, language or expectations of climate information,122 facilitating consensus-building and fostering greater understanding of climate information and its potential uses.123 Some RISA teams have expanded the reach of these networks by partnering with existing extension services (e.g. Sea Grant or Cooperative Extension Service) which support education and outreach activities such as stakeholder workshops, trainings, and panel discussions.124 Granting to universities can build interdisciplinary climate research capacity at those universities, and consequently in the next generation of researchers. RISA team members are primarily based in universities, and the research focus of RISA teams allows them to build capacity to do science in a different way that better responds to end users’ needs.125 This has lasting impacts over the course of academics’ careers, influencing their full body of research, and developing pathways to this work. For example, multiple scientists that started in entry level positions within RISA have since become principal investigators.126 Pulwarty, R., Simpson, C., & Nierenberg, C. R. (2009). The Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) Program: Crafting effective assessments for the long haul. In Integrated Regional Assessment of Global Climate Change (Eds: C. G. Knight & J. Jäger), pgs 367-393. Cambridge University Press. 121 Dilling, L., & Lemos, M. C. (2011). Creating usable science: Opportunities and constraints for climate knowledge use and their implications for science policy. Global Environmental Change, 21(2), 680–689. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2010.11.006 122 Stevenson, J., Crimmins, M., Whitehead, J., Brugger, J., & Fraisse, C. (2016). Connecting climate information with practical uses: Extension and the NOAA RISA program. In Climate in Context (pp. 75–98). John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. https://doi. org/10.1002/9781118474785.ch4 123 Dilling & Lemos. (2011). 124 Stevenson et al. (2016). 125 Meadow. (2017). 126 Meadow. (2017). 120
However, there are also limitations to the ability of a RISA expansion to address informational barriers: The academic focus of the grant program can bias the types of information that are prioritized. Within the existing structure, a financial expansion would not change the staffing structure, which is primarily researchers in universities. A stronger governance structure would move away from such a reliance on universities to better incorporate government and non-government stakeholders that act as end users. A stronger focus on the research component can limit the institution’s ability to fully understand user implementation and needs. This is a universal tension between academic research and the needs of end users.127 To What Extent Can a NOAA RISA Expansion Address Non-Informational Barriers? Psychological Barriers Psychological barriers are specific to places, communities, and individuals. RISA’s regional structure enables the localization of climate services, which is crucial to address the psychological barriers facing communities. One fourth of the listed RISA projects explicitly focus on one local area (city or county). For instance, the Spokane Community Adaptation Project (a project of the Pacific Northwest Climate Impacts Research Consortium [CIRC] RISA team) focuses on Spokane community members as the key stakeholders and end users – while also partnering with Gonzaga University, the City and County of Spokane, Eastern Washington University, and Spokane Riverkeeper as non-federal partners, and NOAA and the NWS as federal research partners. By focusing on the human impact near term and seasonal variability instead of longer-term climate trends, RISA can address issues that are tangibly impacting stakeholders. This program structure can overcome the issues that proactive adaptation plans face when engaging stakeholders in long term planning, by letting them drive the focus of the program toward issues that are highly relevant to their interests in the near term. The Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Center (GLISA) team’s work with Macalester College in Minnesota is an example of how RISA teams can tailor program focus and can engage with communities to overcome barriers to community adaptation. Macalester academics worked with GLISA to translate and contextualize downscaled climate data into locally relevant information for the city of St. Paul. They then worked with community partners to incorporate scenarios and visualizations that would make the issue more tangible to residents whose primary concerns often did not include climate change, including hosting a workshop to explore the implications and opportunities of adaptation.128 However, there are also limitations to the ability of a RISA expansion to address psychological barriers: Community engagement in climate services initiatives can be limited by unfavorable stakeholder perceptions of scientists and the federal government as outsiders whose interests are not aligned with the community’s - an issue that RISA is not immune Meadow. (2017). Phadke, R., Manning, C., & Burlager, S. (2015). Making it personal: Diversity and deliberation in climate adaptation planning. Climate Risk Management, 9, 62-76. 127
from. This lack of trust between scientists, government, and local stakeholders is a barrier to collaboration and can be particularly strong in communities where there is a historic lack of trust in government, or where information provided by a RISA is perceived as economically unfavorable to livelihoods.129 This pre-existing gap in trust can undermine the co-development of programs, but the prioritization of relationship building within RISA programs can address these limitations and lead to strong collaboration. Financial Barriers RISA’s competitive grant process allows for the entry of new stakeholders, thereby encouraging broader engagement, but has less funding stability for existing stakeholders than a more permanent federal funding structure. For example, Sea Grant, dedicates base funding to established Sea Grant Institutions, which form a network of federal university partnerships that was established to improve coastal resource management in coastal and Great Lakes states.130 Sea Grant distributes research grants through the 34 existing Sea Grant institutions nationwide and received $87 million from the federal government in 2020, through indefinite ‘base’ funding, as well as merit funding.131,132 RISA operates on a smaller funding scale through competitive grants, but is able to incorporate new stakeholders and work outside of the geographic confines of the coastal and Great Lakes based Sea Grant program. Although RISAs excel at coordinating stakeholders within their regions, coordination across regions is limited by funding and the prioritization of other competing objectives, like geographic expansion. In its current form, RISA operates through a decentralized model that is active in eleven different regions. Twenty percent of projects on the public RISA database included a partnership with a federal stakeholder, but direct federal oversight and coordination is limited.133 While some national coordination of the regional RISAs is done by the Climate Program Office (CPO), most of this work is done informally and funding for cross-RISA work is limited. However, there is value to crossregional work – and there are existing administrative mechanisms that could fill this function if funding were increased. The NOAA RISA Sustained Assessment Specialist Network connects regional priorities to the National Climate Assessment,134 and the CPO Adaptation Sciences program has also been used for sectoral coordination across regions.135 Institutional and Political Barriers RISA teams have leveraged subcontracting to enhance engagement and capacity building in regions. Through partnerships, boundary organizations such as RISA can contract out the function of engagement with a given group of users to another boundary RISA. (2019). About. Sea Grant. (n.d.). Retrieved January 3, 2022, from https://seagrant.noaa.gov/About 131 Sea Grant by the Numbers 2021. (2021, Fall). NOAA Sea Grant. https://seagrant.noaa.gov/Portals/0/Documents/Handouts/Seagrant-MainFactsheet-Oct2021-508.pdf 132 NOAA. (2014, September 23). National Sea Grant College Program Policy for the Allocation of Funds, FY 2014 and Beyond. SeaGrantAllocationPolicy_FY2014andBeyond. Retrieved January 3, 2022, from https://seagrant.noaa.gov/Portals/0/Documents/About/SeaGrantAllocationPolicy_FY2014andBeyond_9232014.pdf 133 About the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments Program. Climate Program Office. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2022, from https://cpo.noaa.gov/Meet-the-Divisions/Climate-and-Societal-Interactions/RISA/About-RISA 134 Pacific RISA. (2021). The RISA Sustained Assessment Specialist Network. https://www.pacificrisa.org/2021/10/27/5337/ 135 The Adaptation Sciences (AdSci) program. Climate Program Office. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2022, from https://cpo. noaa.gov/Meet-the-Divisions/Climate-and-Societal-Interactions/The-Adaptation-Sciences-Program 129
organization which already has established trust with said group. The RISA team structure is amenable to this subcontracting model to increase engagement and capacity building, since RISA teams are primarily based in universities with existing financial departments to manage the contracting process. An early case of this subcontracting within the RISA program was the GLISA RISA team. GLISA organized its first small grants competition in 2011 (up to $50,000), which succeeded in broadening stakeholder engagement.136 This model is being replicated across RISAs with the small grants initiative, but scaling the program will be constrained by existing funding resources and the administrative burden of small grants, which typically require proportionately more staff time and capacity. As a federal program, RISA adheres to the federal grantmaking process, which tends to have short proposal development periods, limiting community engagement and participation from non-traditional partners in the program.137 Without a more intentional and inclusive proposal development process, stakeholders involved in new applications will to some degree be based on pre-existing relationships with the universities that are organizing the applications. While RISA has made some effort to counter these limitations through relationship building, the natural biases within proposal development and stakeholder relationships are exacerbated by the short federal proposal development process. As a NOAA program, RISA cannot exceed grant timelines of five years, and this relatively short grant period may constrain the program’s ability to create meaningful change. The RISA program could be improved by lengthening NOAA grant timelines to allow for deeper relationship building. Continuity and stability of funding is necessary to develop relationships and build trust with communities. Currently, NOAA can only fund grants that have a maximum timeline of five years, but relationship and trust building could be more effective with a ten year program period. While most RISA teams repeatedly receive these competitive grants, the program likely has less perceived continuity for stakeholders, and valuable time and energy is spent reapplying for grants instead of delivering usable climate information to stakeholders. There are seventeen states without an active RISA team but expanding RISA to include new regional teams would not necessarily cover all communities in those states, due to the university-centered nature of RISA teams.138 RISA teams do not provide even programming throughout each state. Their structural reliance on research institutions and projects inherently limits their engagement with state communities that are not strongly connected to the project subject and/or are geographically far from the research center base. Even with expansion, RISAs will likely have limited staff and capacity in each state. NOAA RISA staff have pointed out that they could better leverage the staff and budgeting resources of state and local government through improved coordination.139
Lemos, M. C., Kirchhoff, C. J., Kalafatis, S. E., Scavia, D., & Rood, R. B. (2014). Moving climate information off the shelf: Boundary chains and the role of RISAs as adaptive organizations. Weather, Climate, and Society, 6(2), 273-285. 137 Bahnke, M., Korthuis, V., Philemonoff, A., & Johnson, M. (2020, March 19). Navigating the New Arctic Program. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from https://www.arctictoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/2020-03-19-NNA-Letter-Final-1.pdf 138 Climate Program Office. (2021). About the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments Program. https://cpo.noaa. gov/Meet-the-Divisions/Climate-and-Societal-Interactions/RISA/About-RISA 139 RISA. (2019). 136
Alternative Proposal: Climate Grant Universities An idea related to the expansion of NOAA RISA is the creation of a Climate Grant University program. This proposal is based on the success of the land-grant college program, and similar programs that have also sought to emulate the model (e.g., the Sea Grant program at NOAA). Land-grant colleges were established following the Morrill Act of 1862. Their original instructional mission was soon expanded to include research and extension, with the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 providing states with federal grant funds for the establishment of cooperative extension services.140 Extension agents, who are now present in almost every county of the U.S.,141 are trusted community members who engage with local citizens and groups to solve problems, disseminate information, and bring grassroots input back to university campuses so that local needs can inform usable research.142 Using the land-grant model of funding through capacity grants provides universities with sustained guaranteed resources, which is critical for climate service provision since collaborative, cross-disciplinary research conducted with stakeholder engagement requires a longer timeline. State climate grant universities would also increase equity by ensuring that every state would have access to an institution dedicated to their local issues and priorities. No state would be underserved due to federal prioritization, a local lack of resources, or intra-state competition for limited resources. Additionally, having in-state universities as the center of climate service provision would increase the uptake and use of information by state and local governments.143 However, funding also includes requirements for multistate research – ensuring that capacity and knowledge crosses state boundaries, particularly for regionally-salient issues.
Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. (2021). Land-Grant University FAQ. https://www.aplu.org/about-us/ history-of-aplu/what-is-a-land-grant-university/ 141 Kopp, R. E. (2021). Land-grant lessons for Anthropocene universities. Climatic Change, 165(1), 1-12. 142 Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. (2021). Cooperative Extension Section (CES). https://www.aplu.org/ members/commissions/food-environment-and-renewable-resources/board-on-agriculture-assembly/cooperative-extension-section/ 143 Goggin, M., Gerber, B., & Larson, S. (2014). U.S. local governments and climate change: Examining the acquisition and use of research-based knowledge in policy development. Risk, Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy, 5(2), 156-177. 140
Currently, 49 out of 50 states have State Climate Offices (SCOs) that mainly operate out of local universities. However, their focus is on developing top-down climate products rather than demand-driven, bottom-up climate services. To provide effective climate services, funding must clearly be dedicated to creating extension networks, lest research remain driven by academic interests or respond only to the needs of larger agencies that have the capacity to engage with SCOs. Instead, extension networks serve to build community capacity to identify useful existing climate information that might improve decision-making, understand the uncertainties and limitations of climate data, and consider how it might best be integrated with other information. Federal grants can encompass provisions that ensure this focus on community extension. For example, the Hatch Act ensures that a minimum amount of funding is allocated towards these efforts, obliging states to expend “25% or twice the level spent in FY1997 (whichever is less) on activities that integrate cooperative research and extension”.144
Policy Lever 3: Expanded State and Local Government Aid Summary: When it comes to adaptation planning, it is especially important to engage local and state governments given that the bulk of land-use decisions fall within the purview of these governmental bodies. As key conduits between the federal government, community-based organizations, research institutions, and other relevant stakeholders, states and municipalities can help deliver climate services by facilitating collaboration and providing technical support for adaptation planning. Empowering states and local municipalities with increased funding, however, is not a complete solution as it would fail to incentivize knowledge sharing and collaboration across state boundaries. This is problematic as many issues transcend state boundaries and require coordinated interventions.
An important role of the federal government is to enhance the adaptive capacity of local decision makers, particularly in state and local government. Local government is an important partner in effective formation and delivery of climate services, and federal investment in state capacity will translate to more effective and equitable provision of useful, usable climate services. State government has the power to coordinate adaptation and resilience policy frameworks within state borders and to engage different stakeholders (schools, industry, local government officials, nonprofits, universities, etc.). However, most states do not have formal climate adaptation and resilience plans, either formalized or in development. Currently, only 19 states have formal adaptation plans, although many have not been updated in the past decade, and five states have adaptation planning efforts underway but not finalized.145 Some local governments have also developed their own adaptation plans. Croft, G. (2019). The US Land-Grant University System: An Overview. Congressional Research Service. https://sgp.fas. org/crs/misc/R45897.pdf 145 Georgetown Climate Center. (2021). State Adaptation Progress Tracker. https://www.georgetownclimate.org/adaptation/ plans.html 144
The role of local government in adaptation planning cannot be understated. State constitutions grant powers to local governments, so there is variation throughout the U.S., but generally the power to influence land-use through zoning, permitting, and property taxation sits largely with county and municipal governments.146 In addition, the smaller jurisdictions of municipal and county governments generally mean that they have more local insight into the needs and preferences of community members, compared to the more high-level perspective of state governments. The combination of land-use authority and local insight that municipal and county governments bring to the table makes them important actors in adaptation planning. Climate change pressures mean that both states and localities will increasingly need to rely on good climate science to inform adaptation decisions. States can play an important role in providing technical and financial support to localities to conduct adaptation planning at the local level, especially for municipalities that do not have the resources to conduct rigorous analysis without extra support. States and municipalities are well positioned to be co-designers and codevelopers of climate services, in coordination with research institutions and federal agencies that can deliver scientific expertise. To What Extent Can Expanded State & Local Aid Address Information Gaps? Climate services notoriously suffer from a disconnect between scientists and decision makers, creating an information gap in which climate information is not well understood or usable for decision makers. However, research shows that more interaction between climate service producers (e.g., scientists) and users (e.g., state and local government officials) increases the rate of use of this information.147 Building state and local capacity can facilitate co-production of research, thereby closing the information gap. States can use federal funding to create a network between research institutions, local and federal government, and other stakeholders. By convening decision makers, community members, and climate services producers, states can facilitate the coproduction of usable, actionable climate tools. States may be especially suited to act as a nexus for climate service collaboration because they can bring various government, nonprofit, industry, and scientific partners to the table to work on cross cutting issues. For example, California has a Technical Advisory Council (TAC) that brings together local governments, scientists, and community leaders to develop plans for adaptation projects. Created by law in 2015, the TAC informs state planning processes “to better reflect the goals, efforts and challenges faced by local and regional entities pursuing adaptation, preparedness and resilience.”148 Dedicated funding could also be used to increase state (and local) government capacity by hiring staff who specialize in climate science and scientific communication and who can support local-level adaptation planning. Quality technical and financial support from state governments can help facilitate sustainable, community-driven adaptation planning on the local level. Increasing the capacity of governments to receive and distribute climate services requires capable employees. With more funding, states could invest more in the American Association of State Climatologists Recognized Note that some state governments levy property taxes as well – but property taxes are primarily the domain of local governments, who collect the vast majority of property tax revenue. Source: Harris, B. H., & Moore, B. D. (2013). Residential Property Taxes in the United States. Tax Policy Center. 147 Lemos, M. C., Kirchhoff, C. J., & Ramprasad, V. (2012). Narrowing the climate information usability gap. Nature Climate Change, 2(11), 789-794. 148 CA Office of Planning and Research. (2021). Technical Advisory Council. https://opr.ca.gov/planning/icarp/tac/ 146
Climate Offices, which already exist in 47 states, generally within public universities. This could also take the form of high-quality training made available to government decision makers. Increased capacity is needed to help translate climate science into actionable information for both government and non-government stakeholders. In the coastal town of Hampton, NH, for example, a local conservation non-profit – the Seabrook-Hamptons Estuary Alliance (SHEA) – took the lead on addressing the impacts of sea level rise and coastal flooding, with support from the State of New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Coastal Program and town officials. The Department of Environmental Services helped to carry out a survey and interview process to better understand the community’s perceptions of different adaptation strategies. 71% of residents agreed or strongly agreed that managed retreat should be a component of the town’s adaptation strategy, and the Department of Environmental Services and SHEA helped the town to establish a Coastal Hazards Adaptation Team to inform local adaptation planning moving forward, including a local buyout program.149
Are Current Climate Services Closing the Information Gap? A Review of New York Climate Services and Information Gaps Post-Sandy Equity, accessibility, consistency, and accuracy are key to closing information gaps. These principles are demonstrated by several prominent, post-Sandy programs developed by New York City and New York State (and funded by federal and emergency grants). First, the NYC Emergency Management developed the “Know Your Zone” program to inform community members of new hurricane evacuation zones and of neighborhood vulnerability to storm surges.150 The Know Your Zone program demonstrates the importance of equity and accessibility in closing information gaps. Know Your Zone has a robust interface with more than ten language and audio options, enabling equal information distribution to different community groups, particularly non-English speaking immigrants. Regularly mailed updates for upcoming hurricane seasons ensure that residents are consistently engaged with flooding information and appropriate preparedness strategies.
Spidalieri, K., Smith, I., & Grannis, J. (2020). Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas. Georgetown Climate Center, 12. Know Your Zone. (n.d.). NYC Emergency Management, https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/em/html/know-your-zone/knowyourzone.html 149
However, a key issue with the Know Your Zone program is that updates are only sent to homeowners, not renters – who account for 63% of housing occupants in NYC.151 In particular, illegal basement apartments are often occupied by immigrants and lowincome renters, placing them at much higher risk for flooding. During Hurricane Ida in 2021, 11 out of the 13 people who died in NYC drowned in their basement apartments.152 The lack of engagement with these high-risk residents highlights the need for more targeted information sharing for residents excluded from existing communication channels. It should also be noted that this program is for surge-induced flooding, not rainfall-induced flooding. This could present major issues moving forward as other forms of extreme flooding become more prominent (as was the case with Hurricane Ida). Second, the NY Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery (GOSR) “Go to High Ground” (GTHG) program aims to increase accessibility and effectiveness of hazard signage, automobile evacuation routes and areas, and educational programs.153 The Go to High Ground program demonstrates the importance of consistency in closing information gaps. For example, the Staten Island GTHG program did not build a sustained media presence. The last flood preparedness-related post on either of the program’s social media accounts dates back to 2016, with no activity for more recent storms like Hurricane Ida.154 The social media accounts remained inactive even after Hurricane Ida made landfall. If sustained, these accounts could supplement traditional alert systems, reaching a larger audience more quickly and keeping them consistently informed about changes in practices. Despite allocating billions of dollars to both structural and community-based recovery and adaptation after Hurricane Sandy, New York’s response and developed programs still highlight the gaps in keeping residents informed of their flood risk and of appropriate actions that they could take. This is particularly critical as local community-based organizations that provide social services often play the role of first responders in disaster situations. New York City’s failure to maintain consistent and robust communication from the federal, state, city governments to community members is indicative of a national shortcoming that requires attention by multiple levels of government. Future strategies and climate services optimally designed for residents must fulfill the principles of equity, consistency, and accessibility in order to inform people both of their flood risk and of adaptation options. Climate services, furthermore, need to ensure not only that residents are knowledgeable about the natural hazards that affect them, but also that they are given the tools and knowledge to adequately adapt for their specific needs.
Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants. (2017). Fast Facts about NYC Housing. NYC.gov, https://www1.nyc.gov/content/tenantprotection/pages/fast-facts-about-housing-in-nyc 152 Zaveri, M., Haag, M., Playford, A. and Schweber, N. (2021). How the storm turned basement apartments into death traps. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/02/nyregion/basement-apartment-floods-deaths.html 153 College of Staten Island. (2013). Go to High Ground Initiative. NY Rising. https://www.csi.cuny.edu/about-csi/president-leadership/administration/office-vp-economic-development-continuing-studies-and-government-relations/reporting-units-and-initiatives/go-high-ground-initiative 154 College of Staten Island [@GotoHighGround]. (2021). SI Go to High Ground. Twitter. https://twitter.com/GotoHighGround 151
To What Extent Can State and Local Aid Address Non-Informational Barriers? Psychological Barriers States and municipalities may be particularly poised to carry out climate science communication campaigns designed to overcome negative perceptions of climate resiliency efforts by using trusted messengers. States and municipalities can utilize existing channels, like those that are already in use by local public health, education, and natural resource departments. With additional funding, local governments may also be able to lean on networks of community-based organizations, for example, by compensating nonprofit leaders from environmental justice or community development organizations for their time on an adaptation and resilience commission. The inclusion of community members who are thought of as trusted messengers in the delivery of climate information can help to increase acceptance and use of climate information, while also increasing community engagement and equity. These local leaders can provide feedback on the types of services or data needed. Financial Barriers States and municipalities are often quite financially constrained, which hinders their ability to utilize climate services effectively; federal aid is an important solution to help overcome these financial constraints and incentivize capacity building. Federal funding for states and municipalities could be used to hire more dedicated staff to work on adaptation planning and provide technical assistance to municipalities. It could also be used to increase local capacity to deploy more basic climate services. For example, GIS specialists in government can utilize climate service information to assist in hazard mapping, using spatial data or analysis techniques created by research institutions. In addition, federal funding could be used to establish partnerships with universities, federal agencies, and regional organizations to coordinate the provisioning and use of climate services. A particularly useful funding tool might be block grants for states specifically for planning and capacity building. These could complement large spending bills like the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or future bills that provide funds specifically for climate resiliency and adaptation work. Institutional and Political Barriers States may be uniquely situated to facilitate the connection between layers of government, research institutions, community organizations, and industry stakeholders. Federal funding can be used to increase state capacity to coordinate climate services across these sectors. Engaging state government in climate services is important to coordinated resiliency action. One example of a state facilitating climate services from the federal government to local government is the Alaska Risk Mapping, Assessment and Planning (Risk MAP) Program. Risk MAP, a collaboration between the State of Alaska and FEMA, works with local governments to analyze the natural hazards affecting local communities and to identify the actions and resources available to reduce risk.155 In addition, the program recently started a new initiative focused specifically on Alaska Native communities.156 Risk MAP, Planning & Land Management, Division of Community and Regional Affairs. https://www.commerce.alaska. gov/web/dcra/PlanningLandManagement/RiskMAP.aspx 156 Risk MAP, Planning & Land Management, Division of Community and Regional Affairs. https://www.commerce.alaska. gov/web/dcra/PlanningLandManagement/RiskMAP.aspx 155
Providing aid to states allows for greater flexibility, which tends to increase political acceptance. Some lawmakers may prefer to see decentralized government action that allows individual states to tailor responses to the unique needs of their constituencies. In addition, flexibility can increase innovation, especially if paired with proper evaluation and reporting processes that facilitate the sharing of information. A limitation to a state and local government-centric approach to climate services is the ability to coordinate laterally across regions. While various regional collaboratives already exist to share climate information and coordinate adaptation action (like RISAs), aid to states and localities does not necessarily incentivize knowledge sharing or collaboration across state lines, which is problematic when it comes to issues that cut across political boundaries.
IV. Recommendations A robust, demand-driven climate services model should offer solutions to information gaps and non-information barriers that prevent the proactive climate adaptation planning that is needed across levels of government and sectors of the economy. Coordination between the science and policy communities is a must, as is community engagement and effective science communication. Trade-offs exist between federal and state/local government provisioning of programs and services. Federal government involvement in climate services can provide a climate science database that is expansive and available to the whole country, creating a level of equity. In addition, the federal government can ensure consistency across climate data and guidance that improves the usability of climate services (e.g., cost-benefit analyses). However, the ability to tailor a federally managed program to the local scale of many adaptation problems proves difficult; this is a role better filled by state and municipal governments who better understand local contexts and issues. Decentralization also enables states and municipalities to focus on the adaptation issues that are most salient to their constituents. However, not all states will choose to provide the same degree of climate services, which still leaves gaps in climate resilience across the country. Ultimately, the best solution engages all levels of government, increasing coordination and collaboration to deliver user-inspired climate services to everyone. In addition, it incorporates the scientific expertise of research institutions, and puts community engagement and bottomup problem definition at the forefront. We recommend ALL of the following strategies: Recommendation #1 - Creating a National Climate Service (NCS) agency. Housed in NOAA, this agency will compile climate service information produced by various agencies and facilitate coordination across the federal family. Despite decentralized climate service efforts currently underway across federal agencies, a centralized hub of climate service data and tools is important to ensure equitable access to climate information on a national level. Building on the National Weather Service model, the NCS would provide accessible, accurate, and consistent data to the public. The NCS would also play a crucial role in highlighting socioeconomic data and promoting the inclusion of these data when considering the impacts of climate change. In addition, the NCS can help identify where information gaps exist in the federal repository of climate service data and tools, and then can help to coordinate across the federal family to direct new research. Communication between the NCS and federal agencies will be key; information on research gaps can filter up from RISAs, agency regional offices, and agency headquarters to the NCS. Finally, as the hub for climate services, NCS can engage directly with stakeholders to understand where additional climate services support is needed. Agencies would be required to provide relevant information to the NCS, and the NCS would in turn submit annual recommendations to Congressional committees on how agencies can strengthen demand-driven climate services.
Recommendation #2 - Expansion of NOAA RISA. Expanding NOAA RISA into the 17 states and two territories that are not covered by the existing program would be an important first step in establishing a network of stakeholders that can advocate for and create demand-driven climate services in their regions. Housed in NOAA as well, the RISA model would offer the new NCS a mechanism for incorporating user needs into national climate services. RISA offers a pathway for the federal government to better support institutions that can foster community engagement. Housing RISA within the same parent agency (NOAA) as the NCS allows feedback mechanisms from on-the-ground RISA teams to the new federal-level NCS. A RISA and NCS connection would support demand-driven climate service delivery, connecting community and user feedback to the national actors producing climate services. The expansion of RISA into additional states and U.S. territories could be accomplished with the existing institutional structure but would require additional funding and staffing. Expanding NOAA RISA’s reach within existing and future regions will be necessary to make sure all communities within the RISA regions receive adequate support. This can be accomplished through an expansion of the number of full RISA teams, increased hiring of interdisciplinary researchers within RISA teams, an expansion of the engagement specialist program and an expansion of the small grants program. RISAs’ structural reliance on research institutions and projects will lead to gaps remaining in which communities they are working with at any one point in time, but engagement specialists could be distributed throughout the regions to elevate communities and community needs that are not being addressed under the current project portfolio that should be prioritized for future proposals. Within existing project areas, a more robust team of engagement specialists can strengthen community engagement when non-financial capacity building is needed. An expansion of the RISA small grants program, with proper staff resourcing, would also expand RISA’s reach by removing financial barriers to participation for stakeholders who do not have the ability to work for free on early-stage proposals and project planning. An expanded engagement role, with more RISA team members working with communities, could improve the production of user-inspired climate services within the existing RISA structure. Additionally, an expanded inter-regional role for RISA could partially fill the existing gap in national coordination, by scaling up knowledge sharing and testing of tools and connecting networks of researchers and practitioners. As a first step toward filling this national coordination gap, there should be a Sustained Assessment Specialist within each RISA. Inter-RISA collaboration has been piloted within the current Sustained Assessment Specialist Network, where specialists coordinate across RISA networks and facilitate knowledge sharing while also conducting assessment and evaluation in collaboration with the National Climate Assessment process. An expanded focus on interRISA collaboration and knowledge sharing, evaluation, and reporting will be necessary to create upwards sharing of best practices and local level needs that can be incorporated into national level climate services provision.
Recommendation #3 - Grants to Increase State and Local Capacity. State and local governments have substantial authority to make decisions about land-use in this country, yet many lack the capacity to carry out adequate adaptation and resilience planning ahead of disasters because they do not have the capacity to provide and/or utilize climate services without federal relief funds. Federal grant money could be used by states and municipalities to: integrate climate services into their resilience planning, increase their ability to provide climate services for their own adaptation planning, and foster collaboration among stakeholders to facilitate the creation of targeted and userinspired climate services. State and local adaptation planning funding is important for equity because states and localities are best suited to provide and facilitate the use of climate services across all communities, including those areas that are low-resourced and are not a part of a RISA project (e.g., outside of a given watershed). If using a competitive grant structure to award adaptation planning funding to states, preference could be given to state and municipal governments who do not yet have formal adaptation plans in place or have not updated their plans in the last 15 years.
V. Conclusion Climate services that properly respond to community adaptation demands will need to operate on multiple administrative levels and across sectors and will need to build capacity for local stakeholders to effectively utilize these services. The creation of a National Climate Service, expansion of NOAA RISA, and grants to increase state and local capacity will fill complementary roles in addressing the informational and non-informational barriers to adaptation planning in the United States. In addition, they can help enhance equity and inclusion in that adaptation support that is provided, ensuring that communities, especially the most vulnerable, do not fall through the cracks. Updates to government adaptation services are needed in the near term as climate risks like flooding increase, especially given that not all communities have the capacity to respond independently. This multilevel governance proposal for climate services is an opportunity to better coordinate existing information and resources so that public institutions can better respond to adaptation challenges in the near term. Although this report has largely emphasized the severity of flood risk as justification for increased government support for adaptation planning, the same arguments apply to other effects of climate change like drought, extreme heat, and wildfires. Adaptation planning investment via improved and expanded climate services mechanisms is a cost-effective mechanism to prevent loss of life and property, as well as to ensure equity in the face of a changing climate. Adaptation planning is the crucial first step to achieving climate resiliency as a nation. Investment that supports planning now is more likely to lead to successful, equitable, proactive, and cost-effective implementation in the future.
Our Team Lead Professor Guy Nordenson is a structural engineer and professor of architecture. He was the engineer for the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, the International African American Museum, and Emmanuel Nine Memorial, in Charleston SC and oversaw the design of David Hammons’ Day’s End sculpture in the Hudson River. Nordenson is the author of books on climate adaptation and engineering design. He was Commissioner of the NYC Public Design Commission from 2006 to 2015 and a member of the NYC Panel on Climate Change. He is fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Student Researchers Ajita Agarwala is an MPA candidate at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. She is an Indian Civil Servant with five years of experience in operational planning and execution of movement of freight and passenger trains; modernization of freight terminals; redevelopment of railway stations through PPP models; expansion of railway projects, improving safety and preparedness for disaster management. She has also worked on improving revenue generation through capacity addition of passenger and freight trains; upgradation of passenger amenities in railway stations; new revenue models for commercial contracts and advertising; redressal of public grievances; streamlining CSR funds for railway projects; coordination with Members of Parliament (MPs) in India for policy/ legislative initiatives addressing public demands. Ajita is passionate about infrastructure financing as a means to boost local economies and its long term impact on growth redistribution and poverty reduction. During the summer of 2021, she worked at the World Bank’s Infrastructure financing, PPP and Guarantees unit. After Princeton, she hopes to work at a multilateral institution to support the appetite of developing countries for equitable growth as they strive hard to catch up with the developed world. Christine Blackshaw is from Baltimore, MD and is currently pursuing a PhD in civil and environmental engineering. She obtained her BS in civil engineering at Columbia University. For her undergraduate projects, Christine has researched flood inundation in New York City for above and below-ground infrastructure under both Hurricane Sandy conditions and future sea level rise projections. She also developed a model to represent street trees for realistic air flow simulations over urban canopies to assess the impact of these trees on city temperature and air quality levels. For her doctoral research, Christine will focus on understanding joint hurricaneheatwave hazards and the risk they pose to people in urban environments.
Michelle Deng is a Master of Architecture student at the Princeton SoA. She has worked at architecture firms Reiser + Umemoto, IwamotoScott, and NEMESTUDIO. She received her B.A. in Architecture with honors from University of California, Berkeley. She has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 20 years. She wants to shape the popular imagination of what a sustainable, healthy, and equitable future may look like. Amina Johari was born in Mombasa, Kenya, but spent the majority of her childhood in Boston, Massachusetts. In 2016 she graduated from the George Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs and concentrations in international development and conflict resolution. Following graduation, she stayed in Washington, D.C. and worked for the Department of State at the Foreign Service Training Institute. After almost two years at the State Department she accepted a position with the Peace Corps in Tanzania as an education volunteer. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Amina worked with her Tanzanian counterparts to organize conferences for students at her school and neighboring schools focusing on life skills. While completing her Master of Public Affairs degree at Princeton, she interned with Abt Associates, supporting business development in their Eastern, Southern, and Central Africa offices. Amina has focused her academic and professional career on issues related to sub-Saharan Africa, and is particularly interested in issues concerning water and sanitation, education, and climate adaptation. Bridget Kelly grew up in New York, where she worked on water management issues through local government while studying geography. After graduating with her B.A., she interned with the International Water Management Institute and then joined charity: water, where she spent five years on a water, sanitation and hygiene grant-making team. After completing the Princeton MPA program, Bridget plans to work on environmental and climate policy and spent the last summer as a Climate Corps Fellow with the Environmental Defense Fund. Chang-Boong Lee was born and raised in Sungai Siput, Malaysia. He was a policy analyst at Securities Commission Malaysia for three years, working on bond market development and regulation. Further, he helped promote sustainable finance in Malaysia and Southeast Asia through initiatives including the development of Malaysia’s five-year sustainable finance blueprint and the ASEAN Green Bond Standards. After his graduation in 2022, Chang-Boong will be a consultant with CPCS, a global infrastructure consulting firm specializing in power, transport, and public-private partnerships (PPP). He hopes to make a positive impact by working on sustainable finance and infrastructure development in developing countries. Grace Lee is originally from Chicago, IL by way of Beijing, China and Princeton, NJ. She graduated from The University of Chicago in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in Art History and Public Policy. While in college, she interned at the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and TerreformUR, two non-profits focused on architectural research. She is interested in the intersection of architecture and urban policy, and recently worked at LTL Architects and MPdL Studio. She is currently pursuing a Master of Architecture at Princeton SoA, and is designing a thesis project which explores Asian American foodways – production, distribution, and consumption – in central New Jersey.
Born and raised in Toronto, Nadine Lombardo-Han studied environmental sciences at McGill University before joining the UN World Food Programme in Rome. She conducted geospatial analyses for WFP before moving on to support cash-based transfer programmes, particularly in Ethiopia and Mozambique. Having worked to bring food to people whose livelihoods are suffering the effects of climate change, Nadine is focused on integrating environmental sustainability into development work, and recently completed a summer internship with the World Resources Institute in D.C. Jordan Stoltzfus is passionate about making the world a better place for our natural environments and those who most depend on them. Hailing from a small agricultural town in Southern Iowa, Jordan holds an undergraduate degree in Environment and Natural Resources from The Ohio State University. He first became interested in international development when he lived in Zambia, Morocco, and Nepal serving a faith-based volunteer organization. He has since volunteered with a refugee resettlement agency and a nonprofit serving inner-city children and youth. Before coming to Princeton, he worked in a low-income housing company and at Princeton has interned with Catholic Relief Services on a project to enhance African small-holder farmers' access to quality seeds. Jordan loves his wife and three kids, woodworking, cycling, and making folks laugh with witty quips. Alex Swanson was born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. She moved to Providence, RI to attend Brown University, where she graduated in 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Ecology. After graduating, she worked for the Providence (RI) City Council as a Policy Analyst. She then served two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama, working on environmental education and conservation efforts in a rural community, before serving a third year as National Coordinator for the Environmental Sector of Peace Corps Panama. While pursuing her Master of Public Affairs degree at Princeton, she interned for the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s Land & Water Conservation team. She is passionate about the environment and the role of public policy in shaping our relationship with it, and she hopes to work in environmental policy upon completing her Masters degree in 2022. Kantheera Tipkanjanarat is from Nonthaburi, Thailand. She graduated with a Bachelor of Economics from Thammasat University, Thailand in 2016. After graduating, she worked for the Bank of Thailand as an economist focusing on monetary policy and industrial sector analysis. She then joined Bangkok Bank as an economic analyst and worked on macroeconomic forecasts and policy analysis. While pursuing her Master of Public Affairs at Princeton, she interned with Climate Finance Advisors, supporting climate adaptation policy research and financial modeling. She is a recipient of the 2020 Fulbright Thai Graduate Scholarship and is interested in working at the intersection of climate policy and finance.
Special thanks to Melissa Tier Front cover photo credit: Amina Johari Back cover photo credit: Guy Nordenson