The panel, which provides guidance on climate change to communities, was reconstituted by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo
A climate science advisory panel disbanded by the Trump administration released a report today outlining the steps communities can take to prepare for climate change.
In 2017, the Trump administration dissolved the federal Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment. Its purpose was to translate climate science in the National Climate Assessment into usable guidance for local governments and private companies.
The panel was reconstituted by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and includes members from academia, corporations and the government. Twelve of the original 15 members, along with eight additional experts, spent a year preparing the report, called “Evaluating Knowledge to Support Climate Action.” It’s designed to help local officials incorporate the latest climate science in their planning.
The report, released today in the American Meteorological Society’s Weather, Climate, and Society journal, acknowledges that much of the public’s attention on climate change is drawn to large-scale natural disasters, such as wildfires in California. But local governments are more likely to encounter lower-profile risks from higher nighttime temperatures, more sunny-day flooding and reduced snowpack, the report said.
“We’re taking this very seriously, we’re saying it’s a long-term process, but unfortunately it’s the new normal, and so we just feel we have to take steps to start organizing the science so that it’s valuable in planning for that new normal,” said Richard Moss, the report’s lead author and senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.
The National Climate Assessment is a congressionally mandated volume of climate science released every four years. When it was released in the fall, President Trump dismissed the report by suggesting that scientists were politicized. The White House is now considering conducting an “adversarial” review of the science used in the climate assessment.
Today’s report from the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment is meant to be a resource for local officials when planning infrastructure projects and overseeing things like zoning regulations, insurance policies and building codes. It’s designed to help planners manage catastrophic wildfire risk and address threats from inland flooding, storm surge and subsidence.
“If you want to put it in the perspective of communities that aren’t yet really talking about climate change per se, it’s more along the lines of we have to do a capital improvement plan or we have to upgrade infrastructure, or put together a zoning plan going forward. How do we make sure as we do that that we don’t find ourselves putting in something today that is not going to be robust in 10 or 15 years with climate change?” Moss said. “The reframing of this is to take the knowledge that we have and figure out how we apply to the problems that they confront.”
The report highlights the need to plan for a broad set of risks posed by climate change. That includes public health interventions for deadly heat waves as well as the spread of disease like the Zika virus. It shows how local governments could account for disruptions in water supplies due to changing precipitation patterns and how to prepare for the displacement of people and food insecurity.
The group recommended establishing a “climate assessment consortium” that would exist outside of the federal government, where political interference would not impede the group’s work. It would increase the role of state, local and tribal governments in climate risk assessments.
The researchers recommended an increased reliance on artificial intelligence (AI), citizen science, stronger evaluations of climate models and efforts to support decisionmaking during periods of uncertainty.
“As cities, social systems, and infrastructures grow more complex, and as climates continues to change, AI can reveal impacts, insights, and options that would be difficult to otherwise discover,” the report states.
The new report doesn’t possess the weight it would have had with the backing of the federal government. And the coalition of states cannot replace federal support for science, like utilizing satellites and building better climate models.
If it had not been disbanded, the committee’s work could have been transformed into a government-funded program, Moss said. However, the committee had always intended its work to be broader than federal policy, and the new effort aims to show policymakers in rural areas and cities how they can best prepare for climate change.
“The federal government alone cannot prepare the nation for change, and there is a need to accelerate progress by synthesizing and sharing the lessons currently being learned both inside and outside the federal government,” the authors wrote. “This will require establishing sustained partnerships for knowledge, production and application.”
State leaders are already planning to incorporate some of the report’s findings into their planning.
“We know that success can be achieved only when everyone works together from a common set of facts, and this report is a welcome contribution to our efforts,” Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) said in a statement. “The proposed approach — one that integrates citizen and community science — can propel Hawaii’s resiliency measures forward in innovative ways.”