Anyone who needs to plan for future risks — whether a city manager, a state official, or a business leader — needs good information that’s easy to find and easy to use. The federal government took an important step to help managers plan for the impacts of climate change with the release this month of the Climate Resilience Toolkit.
This new online portal offers a wide range of resources and interactives that consolidate some of the “greatest hits” from federal climate data sets, guidance for resilience planning, and examples of resilience projects.
The toolkit is likely to be especially helpful for communities and businesses in the early stages of resilience planning, or for individuals who want to know more about managing climate risks. I took a spin through the toolkit’s resources and here’s my take on some of its components.
The toolkit promotes a five-step process for building resilience: Identify the Problem, Determine Vulnerabilities, Investigate Options, Evaluate Risks and Costs, and Take Action.
The Climate Resilience Toolkit’s five-step process for building resilience.
What Works:The simple, linear process for addressing resilience demystifies tackling climate risks and builds on the actual experiences of practitioners. The five steps are quite similar to the steps C2ES found leading businesses are taking, and are almost a CliffsNotes version of more rigorous “how-to” guides for thinking about climate impacts.
What Needs Work: The process description, while valid, is insufficient for a user who might be farther down the road in resilience planning. For example, under Determine Vulnerabilities, only two sentences are offered to address “Dealing with Uncertainty.”
The toolkit offers vignettes of resilience projects around the country related to a variety of decisions, from growing crops to coastal planning to forestry management.
Examples of the toolkit’s narratives that illustrate resilience planning.
What Works: These write-ups are easy to understand and clearly demonstrate how the toolkit can be used. They also concretely illustrate the five-step process, with valuable links to project outputs and participating organizations. I’m not aware of another online resource that weaves storytelling and data resources as effectively.
What Needs Work: My only suggestion would be to add more stories. The current sampling is dominated by agriculture and coastal issues, so enhancing the diversity would be great.
The toolkit offers two avenues for users to get technical information, such as maps of projected sea level rise or graphs of past local temperatures: the Climate Explorer and a series of links under the “Browse Tools” tab.
What Works:The Climate Explorer is a huge step forward in the visualization of geospatial and meteorological data for a non-technical user. Want to see what 3 feet of sea level rise might look like at your favorite beach? Want to see how many relatively dry years occurred in Lincoln, Neb., since 2000? These answers and more are a click away.
What Needs Work: Users may struggle to choose which links in “Browse Tools” best fit their needs. For example, future temperature data are available here, here, here, here, and here, making a question like “On average, how much warmer might it be in the Northeast in 50 years?” hard to answer. In fairness, this is a glimpse of the difficulty of consolidating climate tools across agencies that each have their own way of making data available. Over time, it would be great to see some products in the “Browse Tools” links converted into Explorer layers to make the toolkit more streamlined and complete.
The Climate Explorer is limited to showing historical temperature and precipitation data, and a few layers related to vulnerability and impacts. For example, the only layer for “Ecosystem Stressors” is a map depicting drought. Other stressors to include would be presence of invasive species, changes in growing seasons, trends in forest fires, and increases in ocean acidity.
In addition, the Explorer could be vastly more powerful if it allowed users to do some statistical analysis. For example, it shows a running total of precipitation for a location for each year, but that doesn’t tell you how large an individual rain event was. For both temperature and precipitation, the tool can’t produce a trend analysis (although you could zoom out and “eyeball” a trend).
Screenshot of the Climate Explorer, showing the Eastern seaboard with 3 feet of sea level rise (dark blue shading on the map). The graph in the upper right shows daily temperaturesin Central Park, N.Y., in 2013. The graph in the mid-right shows accumulated precipitation in Central Park, N.Y., in 2013.
Training and Expertise
The toolkit links to a variety of training courses (online and in-person) and an interactive map to find experts to help with resilience planning.
What Works:The training options are a thoughtful addition and broach more detailed resilience issues, such as dealing with downscaled model projections, the “right” and “wrong” ways to interpret climate data, and the relationship between climate change and local extreme weather events. Links are labelled by difficulty/prior knowledge and estimated amount of time (for online resources). The experts list is also helpful.
What Needs Work: Both the Training and Expertise resources should be more prominent across the site.
The expertise map shows a lot of overlapping jurisdictions among expert centers, making it hard to know the best place to call. For example, if I had questions about climate data in Billings, Mont., would I call the Montana State Climatologist; NOAA’s Regionally Integrated Sciences and Assessments office in Corvallis, Ore.; NOAA’s Regional Climate Center in Reno, Nev.; the NCDC Regional Climate Center in Seattle; or the Western Region office of the National Weather Service Climate Services Division in Salt Lake City?
Screenshot of the Find Experts map.
The Climate Resilience Toolkit is likely to be a valuable resource for decision-makers grappling with climate risks. It is indeed more than the sum of its parts.
I’ve noted some shortcomings, many of which can be easily addressed. The larger challenge will be whether the toolkit can keep up with the evolving needs of resilience practitioners and the quickly expanding knowledge base in managing climate risks.
Similar sites (like Cal-Adapt) were excellent upon release, but have been updated sporadically. If agencies continue to develop and augment the features of the toolkit, they could seize a golden opportunity to connect with potential decision-makers and support the community of resilience practitioners around the country.