In the runup to President Trump’s State of the Union address, cities, states, and many in the business community will be waiting to hear how the administration plans to address the country’s infrastructure needs. While lawmakers on both sides of the aisle see the need for infrastructure investments, there’s been little detail to date on priorities.
But it’s clear that the infrastructure plan presents a tremendous opportunity to improve the resilience of the nation’s communities and businesses and limit their risks from climate change impacts. This means we can take steps now to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to costly climate and weather trends. When done thoughtfully, climate resilience planning can save lives and protect economic activity.
These opportunities are the subject of a new C2ES brief. We present criteria that—if incorporated into infrastructure design and operation—can ensure that infrastructure investments today pay resilience dividends over their lifetime. We also outline the types of infrastructure projects that can promote resilience while simultaneously achieving other climate and energy goals (hint: our economy needs more than just roads and bridges) and recommend changes to existing federal policies and programs to ensure ongoing improvement to the climate resilience of America’s infrastructure.
In much of the United States, the need for planning for extreme weather is painfully evident. The United States last year set new highs for both the number of billion-dollar climate and weather disasters and for the total cost of losses—16 events cost the U.S. a record-breaking $306 billion. While those disasters resulted in great damage to property and infrastructure, the cost in loss of life and economic activity is even greater. A key question moving forward is how to avoid similar losses when the next big storm or wildfire strikes.
The good news is, Congress won’t need to start from scratch when it comes to making resilient choices for infrastructure. We already have most of the tools in place—we just have to rethink how we deploy resources and set priorities.
There’s also much to learn from cities, states, and businesses that have been developing best practices for resilient infrastructure. We look forward to working with Congress to explore these lessons to ensure that federal money is spent in a way that supports a prosperous, resilient economy now and in the years to come.
The cost saving for resilient planning and construction can pay in spades. Projects to reduce wind and water damage in Florida, for example, were found to have avoided $81.1 million in losses after Hurricane Matthew hit the state in 2016, but they only cost $19.2 million to implement.
In Philadelphia, green infrastructure helps to address flooding challenges. Those investments have had an economic impact of nearly $600 million within the city, and they support 430 local jobs.
In Houston, the Texas Medical Center invested $50 million in floodgates, prompted by $2 billion in flood damages it suffered from Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. The floodgates proved themselves during Hurricane Harvey, and the hospital complex remained dry and operable.
These types of forward-looking projects would result in better efficiencies in spending taxpayer money by preventing costly losses later.
The easiest way to realize the savings opportunities of resilient infrastructure is for Congress to build in requirements into expected legislation to provide federal agencies clear and long-lasting guidance to allocate funds and approve projects. Resilience is not just a passing fad. It’s emerging as the best practice for fiscal responsibility, so climate resilience criteria should be made consistent across administrations.
And beyond roads and bridges, any infrastructure project should also include a robust network of alternative transportation systems, advanced internet and telecommunications, and diverse and clean electricity sources—all built to maximize environmental benefits.
When all is said and done, the case is so strong for climate resilience planning in infrastructure, there’s no reason not to.