What New Yorkers Can Do: Mitigation, Adaptation, And Resilience
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Greenhouse Gas Mitigation
High concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHG) such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated GHGs such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in the Earth's atmosphere are accelerating global warming and intensifying the impacts of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that observed increases in GHG concentrations over the last two centuries are unequivocally caused by human activities.
Rapidly and drastically reducing GHG emissions produced by human activity is essential to mitigating, or reducing, future physical effects and impacts of climate change. The New York Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) (leaves DEC website) mandates a 40 percent reduction of 1990 GHG emissions by 2030, 85 percent reduction of 1990 GHG emissions by 2050, and ultimately a goal of net zero emissions. Beginning in 2021, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released a Statewide GHG Emissions Report as required by the Climate Act, which has identified the use of fossil fuels for energy sectors like buildings and transportation to be the largest source of emissions in New York. In addition to fossil fuel use, several other significant sources contribute to total GHG emissions. These include agriculture, solid waste landfills and combustors, wastewater, industrial processes and product use. Product use is the fastest-growing emission source and is primarily related to the use and leakage of refrigerants (HFCs).
Limiting global warming to under 2°C (3.6°F) and mitigating the worst impacts of climate change will also require the removal of GHGs already trapped in the atmosphere through carbon sequestration (removal) and storage by forests, wetlands, soils, grasslands, and other natural ecosystems. Natural lands in many parts of the state are under pressure from development, which is reducing the amount of carbon these ecosystems are able to remove from the atmosphere. When forests, wetlands, agricultural soils, and grasslands are converted for development, their destruction releases already stored carbon. Conserving and restoring these natural ecosystems will not only help climate mitigation by reducing atmospheric carbon, but will also help ecosystem-based adaptation by providing protection to shorelines and inland areas from sea level rise and flooding.
New York is already taking action to mitigate climate change by implementing programs and initiatives to reduce GHG emissions, advance the electrification of sectors historically dependent upon fossil fuels such as transportation and heating, and expand the State's capacity for electricity production from renewable sources. New York State has also adopted several statutes, regulations, and policies to reduce GHG emissions. The Climate Act created the Climate Action Council, which was tasked with developing a Scoping Plan that serves as a framework for how the State will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve net-zero emissions, increase renewable energy usage, and ensure climate justice. The Scoping Plan outlines recommended policies and actions to help the State meet the GHG emission reduction directives of the Climate Act.
New York's Scoping Plan (leaves DEC website) was released on December 19, 2022, following the 2021 release of a draft Scoping Plan by the Climate Action Council, and a public comment period that included 11 public hearings across the state and more than 35,000 written comments. As required under the Climate Act, the Climate Action Council will update the Scoping Plan every five years to ensure that the plan continues to meet the State's climate directives.
New York State has developed programs to help local governments take action within their communities to reduce GHG emissions, improve energy efficiency and advance renewable energy:
- Climate Smart Communities program (leaves DEC website)
- Guidance and technical assistance through the State's designated Climate Smart Communities Coordinators (leaves DEC's website)
- Climate Smart Communities Grant funding for mitigation planning and implementation
- NYSERDA Clean Energy Communities program (leaves DEC website)
Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience
Reducing and eliminating GHG emissions is an essential part of mitigating future climate change. However, the results of mitigation take time, and GHGs emitted today can remain in the atmosphere for centuries. Some physical effects of climate change are already "locked in" because of past GHG emissions and slow global and national response to addressing climate change. Current or future mitigation efforts will not stop or even reduce these locked-in climate change impacts on communities and ecosystems. The extent of sea level rise, for instance, is a result of global warming caused by GHG emissions that were generated beginning many decades ago. Even if all GHG emissions were stopped today, sea level rise will continue for a period of time. The climate change impacts we are already experiencing are expected to intensify with continued global warming and GHG emissions, but vulnerability and risks can be reduced if communities take action to adapt and build resilience to changing conditions.
Climate Change Adaptation
Adapting to intensifying floods, heatwaves, heavy precipitation, and more frequent storms can reduce the risks and vulnerabilities of communities and ecosystems to climate change. Adaptation involves identifying risks and vulnerabilities to climate change and adjusting behavior, (e.g., deciding where homes can be built and where to live) and adapting infrastructure (e.g., rebuilding roads and buildings outside of flood zones) in response to changing climate conditions. While some adaptation measures are low-cost and relatively simple adjustments to existing practices, some adaptation to climate change will require complete transformations, like moving development out of the inundated coastal area due to sea level rise and reforming farming practices and agricultural commodities to accommodate the "new normal" growing zones, length of seasons, heat extremes, migration of pest species and heavy precipitation events. The importance of adaptation is gaining more attention worldwide because of the increasingly damaging and costly impacts of climate change. Investing in effective and adequate levels of adaptation now can avoid the larger costs of recovering from climate impacts after they have happened.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s Sixth Assessment Report (leaves DEC website) states that adaptation is essential to reduce harm, but if it is to be effective, it must go hand-in-hand with ambitious reductions in GHG emissions because, with increased warming, the effectiveness of many adaptation options will decline.
Climate Change resilience is closely related to adaptation, but is usually used to refer to a community's ability to manage immediate and near-term climate hazard risks, respond effectively to reduce damages from climate hazards, and recover from extreme climate hazard events quickly. Climate adaptation includes not only imminent hazards, but also long-term non-hazard changes and transformations, like human and species migrations, changes in growing seasons and zones, and transition of snow-dependent recreation economies. Implementing mitigation and adaptation best practices and measures can make a community more resilient to climate change.
Climate resilience is an issue for natural and built environments. Conserving and enhancing ecosystems, such as forests, flood plains, and wetlands can greatly improve the climate resilience of a community. These natural systems provide protection from flooding and storm surge, hold water from precipitation events which can replenish water supplies during droughts, improve water quality through filtration, and are critical habitats for many different species.
Resilience also applies to the built environment and essential resources that serve the community. For instance, ensuring that a community's buildings and roadways, energy and water supply, and communications infrastructure are resilient to the hazardous impacts of a changing climate is important to minimize the recovery time and cost to that community as much as possible.
There are many resources available to help communities get started on or improve their current resilience planning and practice, such as:
- Community Risk and Resiliency Act (CRRA)
- CRRA Implementation Guidance Documents
- Department of State Model Local Laws to Increase Resilience (leaves DEC website)
- Hudson River Estuary Program Assistance for Climate Resilience
- U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit (leaves DEC website)
Adaptation Gaps and Limits
Implementation of climate change adaptation measures is not yet happening at the pace needed to protect communities and ecosystems from intensifying climate impacts, and this is creating gaps between current levels of adaptation and levels needed to respond to impacts and reduce climate risks. Adaptation gaps are often largest for the most vulnerable populations, such as low-income and Disadvantaged Communities, historically marginalized communities and indigenous peoples, and communities whose livelihoods have depended on historical, stable climate conditions, including small rural farming and fishing communities. The adaptation gap will continue to grow, increasing climate change risks and vulnerabilities, unless long-term adaptation planning and immediate implementation of effective adaptation measures become a priority over the next decade.
There are also limits to adaptation for both humans and ecosystems. Human adaptation limits include financial limitations due to inadequate funding to complete adaptation planning and implementation, and political or policy limitations due to a lack of knowledge about the urgency and immediacy for adapting to climate change. Inequity and poverty create adaptation limits that result in disproportionate exposure to climate change impacts for more vulnerable groups. Ecosystems are also experiencing limits to their ability to adapt to climate change. Some ecosystems like coastal wetlands, pine barrens, and forested mountain ecosystems will not be able to adapt past a certain point as global temperatures increase and climate impacts intensify, even with help from human intervention.
Some efforts to adapt to climate change may actually increase or create new vulnerabilities and risks, and this is known as maladaptation. Maladaptation refers to any adaptation measures that inadvertently increase exposure to risks, increase GHG emissions, or worsen inequalities by transferring risk. For instance, a community may build a sea wall to adapt to rising sea levels and protect coastal communities from flooding. This adaptation measure, while effective in the short term, can have negative long-term effects by increasing shoreline erosion or preventing wetlands from retreating inland as sea levels rise, reducing the ability of these ecosystems to absorb inundating floodwater or storm surge. A sea wall in one community can also push flood waters to adjacent communities that do not have the resources to build a sea wall and can actually increase the intensity of flooding in these adjacent communities. This maladaptation outcome can result in a disproportionate impact on residents who cannot afford to move to a safer location and exacerbates inequity issues of climate justice.
Avoiding maladaptation involves using a different assessment approach during the planning process to anticipate how adaptation strategies could possibly result in negative outcomes on the entire system of human communities and adjacent ecosystems. Adaptation planning should include a maladaptation assessment that considers how different human populations and ecosystems may suffer from inadvertent maladaptation measures and accounts for long-term climate impacts and the time it takes to implement adaptation actions.
Adaptation Tools and Best Practices
Adaptation Planning and Capacity Building
Planning successful adaptation measures that will improve a community's resilience and adaptive capacity to climate change begins with identifying current and future climate impacts, and then assessing the social, economic, and physical infrastructure vulnerabilities to those impacts. Building resilience and adapting to climate change impacts requires developing strategies and adopting best practices that are effective and adequate in scale. Monitoring and measuring the successful impact of adopted climate adaptation measures requires developing indicators and metrics (leaves DEC website) and calls attention to where improvements are needed.
Leaders and policymakers can build capacity within their communities by involving residents, business owners, non-profit agencies, and other community members in identifying vulnerabilities to climate impacts, prioritizing where adaptation is most needed, and determining what actions will improve resilience and adaptive capacity. Engaging with the public early in the planning and decision-making process builds adaptive capacity and can avoid maladaptation for certain groups with greater vulnerabilities to current climate impacts, or that may suffer from future, worsening impacts.
Guidance and technical assistance are available for climate adaptation planning through the Climate Smart Communities (leaves DEC website) program and by the state's designated Climate Smart Communities Coordinators (leaves DEC's website). Funding for adaptation planning and implementation is also available through the Climate Smart Communities grant program.
Ecosystem-Based Adaptation (EbA) is the use of natural or nature-based solutions specifically designed to provide increased resilience and protection to communities in the face of climate change impacts. EbA involves the conservation, sustainable management, and restoration of ecosystems to help people adapt to the impacts of climate change. EbA approaches may include coastal wetland and sea grass habitat restoration, agroforestry, and sustainable forest management interventions that use nature to reduce vulnerability to climate change. Improving and protecting the health of ecosystems and the ecosystem services they provide to adjacent communities can be key in improving climate change adaptation and resilience of a community. The ecosystem services provided by wetlands, for example, include shoreline stabilization, erosion control, and absorption of inundating floodwaters, in addition to climate change mitigation by absorbing and storing carbon from the atmosphere. EbA through wetland restoration, such as installing living shorelines (PDF), can help communities adapt to climate impacts by protecting homes and infrastructure from rising sea levels, intensifying storm surges, and more frequent heavy precipitation events. Nature-based solutions to coastal flooding are often more resilient and cost-effective than engineered or "hard" shoreline solutions, like sea walls and bulkheads, require less long-term maintenance and have less of an adverse impact on the surrounding environment.
Ecosystem-based Adaptation - Adaptation Community (leaves DEC website)
Green Buildings and Infrastructure
Green buildings and infrastructure use nature-based solutions to adapt the natural and built environment to impacts of climate change, such as extreme heat and precipitation, sea level rise and storm surge. Green buildings commonly use a layer of vegetation installed on a roof or on exterior walls of the building, which can help cool interior temperatures reducing the need for air conditioning and resulting in reduced GHG emissions. The reduced need for air conditioning can result in lower energy costs, which can benefit low-income residents. Green buildings in urban areas can also improve air quality and mitigate the "heat island effect", by minimizing the amount of solar energy absorbed by buildings, roads, and sidewalks that ends up re-emitted as heat. In New York City, GrowNYC (leaves DEC website) is turning buildings into green buildings by installing rooftop gardens where residents can grow food and flowers for the community.
Green infrastructure similarly uses elements and designs that mimic natural processes to store and filter stormwater and reduce shoreline erosion and flooding. Examples of green infrastructure that communities in New York State are using include rain gardens, bioswales, porous pavement, urban creek daylighting, and restoring natural stream buffers by planting trees and shrubs along shorelines.
Additional Information: Hudson River Estuary Program - Green and Natural Infrastructure to Manage Stormwater
New York Communities in Action - Case Studies
With assistance from the DEC Hudson River Estuary Program several communities along the Hudson River formed task forces to study climate and flood projections analyze local risks and vulnerabilities to climate change impacts. Each task force compiled a final report of proposed recommendations for adaptation implementation and improving resilience.