State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Report Forecasts Worsening Climate Hazards for Region

Map Figure 3.3Map Figure 3.3

NPCC's updated flood risk map
NPCC’s new flood risk map

A new report released by the city today gives a worrisome picture of climate-related problems the New York metropolitan region will likely face this century. Temperatures are projected to rise, extreme precipitation and heat waves will be more frequent, and sea level, which will exacerbate coastal flooding, could reach 6 feet under the worst-case scenario. New York City has already experienced the effects of climate change, says the report, and the impacts are expected to worsen due to the continued burning of fossil fuels.

The 2015 report, by the New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC) presents projections for the entire metropolitan region through 2100 for the first time, with new maps for flood risk and updated coastal flood forecasts based on dynamic models that take sea level rise into consideration. The report was released at a news conference given by New York’s Mayor Bill DiBlasio.

DiBlasio said, “NPCC’s findings underscore the urgency of not only mitigating our contributions to climate change, but adapting our city to its risks.”

The NPCC was launched in 2008 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It is chaired by Cynthia Rosenzweig, a senior research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and William Solecki, director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities, and includes other scientists from Columbia University. The panel released its first report in 2010; a second came out in 2013 after Hurricane Sandy.

From 1900 to 2013, in each decade, the mean average temperature in the region has gone up .3˚ F; precipitation has increased .8 inches, with precipitation events becoming more variable, especially since the 1970s; and sea levels have risen 1.2 inches each decade, a rate almost double the global rate of sea level rise. The rate of change is expected to speed up this century.

Photo: GuianBolisay
More heat waves. Photo: GuianBolisay

By the 2050s, the NPCC projects mean average temperatures to increase 4.1 to 5.7˚F; New Yorkers could experience 46 days a year that are 90˚ F or above by this time. In the 2080s, temperatures may rise 5.3 to 8.8˚F, which could bring a tripling of heat waves (defined as three or more consecutive days over 90˚F).

Precipitation is projected to increase 4 to 11 percent by the 2050s, and 5 to 13 percent by the 2080s, and it’s likely that the number of intense hurricanes in the North Atlantic will multiply.

The sea level around New York City is expected to rise 11 to 21 inches by the 2050s, 18 to 39 inches by the 2080s, and in the worst-case scenario, 6 feet by 2100. Even without accompanying storms, sea level rise could cause more frequent and intense coastal flooding. In the 2080s, what is now considered a 100-year flood (meaning it has a 1 percent chance of occurring in a given year) could become a one-in-eight year event. The report includes new maps that show fast-increasing flood risks for 100- and 500-year floods in the 2020s, 2050s, 2080s and 2100.

Flooding in Jamaica, Queens. Photo: MicaelleS
Flooding in Jamaica, Queens. Photo: MicaelleS

Queens has the most land at risk of flooding due to sea level rise, followed by Brooklyn, Staten Island, the Bronx and Manhattan. Moreover, the region’s aging infrastructure will be increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, says the report. Most recently, Hurricane Sandy exposed the problems created by the interdependency among energy, water, food, transportation and communication systems.

Sandy also demonstrated that not all New Yorkers have been or will be equally affected by the climate, says the report. Low-income communities, disadvantaged racial or ethnic groups, the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions or mental or substance abuse issues and the very young are most vulnerable. The report warns of increased health risks, resulting in more deaths, heat stroke, cardiovascular and respiratory disease, vector and water-borne disease, and mental health issues. The after effects of coastal storms, such as mold and trauma, have serious impacts as well.

Rosenzweig said that the science behind the new projections is broader and deeper than in previous reports. The projections were calculated using more global climate models. And for the first time, coastal flooding projections were determined using modeling that took into consideration the combination of wind, the movement of water, bathymetry of the harbor, the elevation of the land and sea level projections.

The NPCC calls for measures it terms “flexible adaptation pathways” which recognize that, because the climate will be changing, responses need to evolve over time as well.

Critical to this approach is a system to track how the global and regional climate is changing. The city has various monitoring programs, but these need to be expanded, coordinated with local, state and national efforts, and regularly evaluated, says the report.

“We need to monitor, track and evaluate what is happening with climate change,” said Rosenzweig. “Is it following projections? Are impacts happening as expected? What adaptations have been implemented and which are effective? As things go along, because there are uncertainties, we need mechanisms in place that allow everything to be evaluated.”

The report also calls for additional research, including economic studies of the cost of potential damage and adaptation, assessments of flood hazards, studies of neighborhood-specific risks, and the health impacts of climate change,

“New York City is one of the cities in the world that is taking increasing climate risks into consideration in planning,” said Rosenzweig. The NPCC projections for 2050 are already being used in all sustainability and resiliency planning for New York City.

Greenstreet. Photo: ChrisHamby
Greenstreet. Photo: ChrisHamby

In 2013, Mayor Bloomberg put forth a comprehensive $20 billion plan based on the recommendations of the NPCC to protect New York City from the future impacts of climate change. “A Stronger, More Resilient New York “ included over 250 initiatives, such as programs to restore dunes and wetlands, create green streets and rooftops to absorb water, and build levees, flood walls and bulkheads to protect against sea level rise. The plan also included strategies to make buildings, utilities, fuel and food supplies, healthcare, transportation and telecommunications more resilient.

Mayor DiBlasio released a progress report in 2014, which stated that carbon emissions have decreased by 19 percent, over 800,000 trees have been planted, building codes are being greened and air quality has improved.

Wetlands restoration. Photo: NYDistACE
Wetlands restoration. Photo: NYDistACE

Beaches have been fortified, wetlands restored, flood insurance is being reformed and new laws strengthening residential and commercial building resilience have been instituted. Green infrastructure is being enhanced throughout the city to help retain storm water, and Con Edison, the city’s electric utility, is investing $1 billion to strengthen substations and switches. As part of the Clean Fleet Transition Plan, the city is increasing its use of electric vehicles and encouraging residents’ use of electric vehicles. The mayor also established the Office of Recovery and Resiliency to continue efforts.

The mayor announced new progress, including the start of design work on a Lower East Side flood protection system (part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild by Design competition), the launch of a comprehensive regional analysis of New York City’s food network, strategies to combat the urban heat island effect, and a $100 million shoreline study to protect the most vulnerable waterfront communities.

“When you have a science panel like ours creating very detailed tailored projections for the region, we recommend that the projections for the region be used in all studies, projects and designs,” said Rosenzweig. “And there should be coordination across the municipal, local, regional, state and federal [levels] in all resiliency planning.”

Green roof. Photo: Jwilly77
Green roof. Photo: Jwilly77

The mayor announced the launch of NPCC3, the next phase of study, which will build on the 2015 report and examine climate risks and inequality at a neighborhood scale. NPCC3 will also explore ways to enhance coordination of mitigation and resiliency across the New York metropolitan region.  By law, the panel is required to meet regularly to review the latest scientific data and advise the city on climate risks and resiliency every three years.

“I’m grateful to the NPCC for their tireless work on this critical report, and look forward to partnering with NPCC3 as we continue to drive the science forward and ensure an even stronger, more sustainable, and more resilient New York City,” said DiBlasio.

“What’s important,” said Rosenzweig, “Is that the city and region will have the best information available as this incredibly challenging set of changing climate conditions evolve.”

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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