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Eight ways New York City is preparing for climate change

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New York City seeks to take the lead on preparing an urban area for climate change, which it says will "disproportionately" feel the impacts.

Are you ready for climate change?

New York City says it is.

In a new report, the city outlined its plans to adapt, discuss, monitor, involve and review in an attempt to surge ahead on the global stage and become a proactive leader in climate change preparation.

According to the first report of the New York City Panel on Climate Change, the city plans to target low-hanging fruit and form strategies for both short-term economic and long-term environmental wins.

"Cities are at the forefront of the battle against climate change," said New York mayor Michael Bloomberg in a statement. "We are the source of approximately 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

"And as the climate changes, densely populated urban areas—particularly coastal cities—will disproportionately feel the impacts."

Here are the eight recommendations by the NPCC:

1. Adopt a risk-based approach to develop "Flexible Adaptation Pathways," including regular reviews of the city's adaptation program.

2. Create a mandate for an ongoing body of experts to provide advice and prepare tools related to climate change in the city, such as climate change projections, improved mapping and geographic data, and periodic assessments of impacts.

3. Establish a climate change monitoring program to track and analyze key climate change factors, impacts, and adaptation indicators in New York City, as well as to study relevant advances in research on related topics. This involves creating a network of monitoring systems and organizations and a region-wide indicator database for analysis.

4. Include multiple layers of government as well as public and private stakeholder experts to build buy-in and partnerships for coordinated strategies.

5. Conduct a review of standards and codes to meet climate challenges, and develop prospective design standards, specifications, and regulations that take climate change into account. Involve FEMA and NOAA.

6. Work with the insurance industry to accommodate for climate change.

7. Focus on strategies for responding to near- and mid-term incremental changes (e.g. temperature, precipitation changes) and "long-term, low-probability, high-impact" events (e.g. storm surges exacerbated by sea level rise).

8. Pay attention to early win–win strategies, such as greenhouse gas mitigation and emergency planning.

Putting it into a business perspective, the authors write:

Given the impacts of climate change and the high costs and long-term planning needed to adapt effectively, investment can be considered today to begin the adaptation process. Taking action now will limit damages and costs through the coming decades and, in many cases, can provide near-term benefits and operational cost savings.

The authors also put the threat into perspective for city planners and urban designers:

Cities face a specific set of challenges that require a set of adaptation strategies due to their concentration of people, inability to shift locales easily, overlapping regulatory jurisdictions, and especially the variety and complexity of infrastructure and the population's dependence on it. In part because of these special challenges, urban decision makers already feel the pressure of a limited pool of resources to address a wide range of needs. Climate change and associated adaptations are likely to place further strain on these tight resources.

Climate change complicates urban planning by adding another dimension to uncertainty about future conditions. Although urban decision makers are used to managing uncertainty in economic growth and population dynamics, climate change brings further uncertainties due to the evolving nature of the climate system, its potential impacts on many aspects of urban life, and the untested effectiveness of adaptation strategies.

In short, the recommendations outline a framework to deploy risk management tools that address threats to the city's energy, transportation, water and communication systems -- basically everything that makes a city tick.

The report also dovetails with the city's established sustainability plan, PlaNYC.

The NPCC is a committee comprised of scientists and experts and led by Cynthia Rosenzweig (NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies; and Columbia University Earth Institute, Center for Climate Systems Research) and William Solecki (City University of New York, CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities).

You can read the full report here in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, as well as related reports on climate risk (.pdf), greening New York, electric vehicle adoption, citywide greenhouse gas emissions, greener buildings (.pdf), a green economy and stormwater management.

Image: Times Square, New York City. Josh Hallett/Flickr

Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure