Climate Compass Blog

New research highlights flood risks from sea-level rise

Recent scientific studies on the impacts of sea-level rise can help cities and businesses in coastal areas strengthen their climate resilience planning.  

Coastal flooding is expected to be a particularly costly climate impact. As the seas rise, U.S. cities from Miami to Atlantic City, New Jersey, now routinely deal with tidal flooding, also called nuisance flooding or sunny day flooding. But higher sea levels can also magnify flooding from more rare major storms like hurricanes.

Researchers at Princeton and Rutgers recently took into account the fact that coastal cities face this combination of small (high-probability) and large (low-probability) flooding events. They took observations from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) tide gauges and used statistical techniques to measure the occurrence of historically low- and high-probability events across coastal locations. They then used sea-level rise projections to understand how the frequency of low- and high-probability events would change at each location.

The key insight from this study is that sea-level rise will have a different impact on flooding patterns in different regions of the country. Charleston, South Carolina, will see a larger increase in moderate floods than in severe floods (though both types of floods will increase), while Seattle will see the opposite pattern.

The study also demonstrates that flood frequencies will increase dramatically in many coastal areas by 2050. The blue and green dots in the maps below show the places where flood frequencies will increase by hundreds or even thousands of times from today (Alaska and Hawaii were also modeled in the study, but not shown in this map. The full dataset is here).


Source: Princeton University, 2017.

It’s no wonder, then, that cities and businesses across the country are taking steps to prepare for flooding and other climate change risks. We continue to urge them to work together to find the options that work best for the community overall. 

A year after a devastating flood, lessons in building resilience

Nearly one year after a devastating flood in Ellicott City, Maryland, shoppers pass by reopened businesses and shuttered ones in the same block of historic Main Street.

Nearly a year after a devastating flood, business is bustling again along Main Street in Ellicott City, Maryland, but signs of the disaster remain. Just steps away from shops with flags flying and doors open are others with “space available” signs and boarded-up windows. Construction equipment sits at the corner.

Climate change is increasing the odds that communities across the United States will face similar risks. To withstand these disasters, communities must become more resilient, and a C2ES report offers ways for state and local governments to help.

On July 30, 2016, more than six inches of rain fell in two hours in a low-lying area in central Maryland bounded by two rivers. Water gushed down a historic Ellicott City street lined with antique shops, art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. The flood damaged 90 businesses and caused more than $22 million in damages to infrastructure.

The economic damage didn’t stop there. The county where Ellicott City is located lost between $42 million and $67 million in economic activity and as much as $1.3 million in tax revenues because of the flood.

With the help of loans from the state and private donations, more than 90 percent of the damaged businesses have reopened, and some new ones are moving in.

The National Weather Service classified the storm as a thousand-year rainfall event – meaning that scientists using historic data calculate a one-in-a-thousand chance of an event like this occurring each year. But as the climate keeps changing, the odds of seeing extreme weather go up, increasing the risks to communities and businesses throughout the country.

Almost 40 percent of small businesses nationwide never reopen their doors following a disaster event. Those closings can have an especially big impact; small businesses account for more than half of U.S. sales and jobs.

Small business owners often are unaware of their climate risks and lack the time and resources to prepare for the impacts. Fewer than half of Maryland small businesses that replied to a C2ES survey said they knew about climate risks. Most said they lacked resources to learn about them, and that available resources do not directly address local risks most relevant to them.

But state and local governments in Maryland and elsewhere can help their small businesses become more climate-resilient by following the recommendations in C2ES’s framework for engagement.

When engaging with small businesses on weather and climate resilience, the C2ES framework recommends state and local officials:

1.    Use trusted messengers to convey climate information. These include organizations that small businesses frequently interact with, like city or county chambers of commerce, trade associations, and other business organizations.

2.    Leverage existing channels of communication. State agencies and local agencies often already interact with businesses on preparedness, emergency planning, flood management, long-term planning, and economic development. Climate resilience information can be incorporated into these interactions. Likewise, existing resilience efforts can be broadened to include the business community.

3.    Identify new opportunities. New programs and information can be developed on small business resilience, such as public-private partnerships and business resilience networks. Training materials and other resources can be distributed via trusted messengers.

4.    Distribute targeted information. Businesses need more information on what they can realistically do to become more resilient to extreme weather and climate change. Sector- and location-specific information can help businesses better understand their risks and opportunities for enhancing resilience. 

The extreme weather risk to communities like Ellicott City will only increase as the Earth’s atmosphere continues to warm from rising greenhouse gas emissions. But state and local governments have opportunities to open new channels of communication to help small businesses become more climate resilient and able to survive disasters.

Bipartisan support grows for carbon capture

Bipartisan support is growing on Capitol Hill and beyond to accelerate carbon capture deployment on power plants and industrial sources like steel and cement plants. This support comes from lawmakers who share a common interest in increasing the production of domestic energy resources and reducing carbon emissions.

On July 12, a bill co-sponsored by 25 senators was introduced that would provide a performance-based incentive to capture CO2, put it to productive use, and store it safely and permanently underground.

The FUTURE Act (Furthering carbon capture, Utilization, Technology, Underground storage, and Reduced Emissions) would extend and expand a federal tax credit, known as Section 45Q, which incentivizes capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from power and industrial sources for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and other uses. CO2-EOR is a decades-old process that produces domestic oil from existing fields, while safely and permanently storing billions of tons of CO2. Recent analysis demonstrates its climate benefits.

Bill supporters cross the aisle and the country. They include Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), John Barrasso (R-WY), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

Other bipartisan bills would help unleash private capital to scale up more carbon capture projects. The Carbon Capture Improvement Act, introduced in April by Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), would authorize states to use private activity bonds to help finance carbon capture equipment. A companion bill was introduced by Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Marc Veasey (D-TX). Private activity bonds are widely used to develop U.S. infrastructure, such as airports and water and sewer projects. (Join a free C2ES webinar on private activity bonds July 24.)

America’s Pledge can drive and tally U.S. climate action

Today, Gov. Jerry Brown and Michael Bloomberg are launching America’s Pledge—an initiative to compile and quantify the actions of U.S. states, cities and businesses to drive down their greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

America’s Pledge will for the first time aggregate and quantify the commitments of these “non-state actors,” demonstrating to the international community that U.S. climate resolve remains strong despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw from Paris.

The ambitious initiative also will provide a roadmap for increased ambition, outlining steps these groups can take to further reduce their emissions.

Since the president’s announcement, an unprecedented number of U.S. states, cities, and businesses have affirmed their support for the landmark climate deal, including through the “We Are Still In” declaration signed by more than 1,500 businesses, nearly 200 cities and counties, nine states, and over 300 universities. 

This enthusiasm for climate action is as yet unquantified, but it’s vast and varied and growing every day:

  • Just this week, California Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders released a plan to extend through 2030 California’s cap-and-trade program. The program marshals market forces to motivate investment in low-carbon solutions, drive innovation, create jobs, and cut emissions cost-effectively.
  • Also this week, Colorado announced it will be the 14th state in the newly formed U.S. Climate Alliance, whose members together represent over a third of the U.S. population and GDP. The states are committed to the U.S. meeting its Paris target of reducing emissions 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.
  • More than 350 Climate Mayors have adopted the Paris Agreement goals for their cities. And more than 100 U.S. cities both large and small have pledged to transition their communities to 100% clean energy.
  • About two-thirds or more of mayors who responded to a recent survey by C2ES and The U.S. Conference of Mayors said they generate or buy renewable electricity to power city buildings or operations, buy green vehicles for municipal fleets, and have energy efficiency policies for municipal buildings. And they want to partner with the private sector do more.

Why transparency makes the Paris Agreement a good deal

Listening to some of the reasons President Trump cited for his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement – how it undermines national sovereignty while other countries do “nothing” – I found myself wishing someone had done a better job explaining to him how the agreement actually addresses his very concerns through increased transparency.

I saw this kind of transparency at work two weeks earlier, at the U.N. climate talks in Bonn, Germany, where countries, including the United States and India, took turns explaining to the international community the steps they’re taking to address climate change.

One of the Paris Agreement’s few binding commitments is for parties to report and be reviewed on their progress toward their climate targets. Under the two existing arrangements that will serve as a model for the new transparency rules being developed under the Paris Agreement, countries report every two years, providing information on emissions and on progress toward their climate goals. These reports are reviewed by a team of experts, and reporting countries undergo “peer review.” Other countries can pepper them with questions about their report, first in writing, then in a publicly broadcast session for all to hear.

In Bonn, 29 countries were up for peer review, including Mauritania, the first least developed country to go through the process. These countries publicly answered questions about the steps they are taking to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and build resilience.

India served as a particularly rich example of the benefits of this “facilitative sharing of views,” as the process for developing countries is called. President Trump suggested that India would take action only upon receiving “billions and billions and billions” of foreign aid. But with the cost of solar power plummeting, India boasts an impressive array of ambitious solar and other renewable energy targets and policies aimed at reducing poverty and expanding access to electricity. Developed and developing countries alike were curious to know how India advanced renewable energy policy in such a short timeframe and how its federal government works with local governments and the private sector to reduce emissions and implement policy.

The United States presented at the “multilateral assessment” for developed countries. A crowded room, while eager to hear how the new administration’s policies would affect U.S. emissions, responded respectfully as the lead U.S. negotiator reiterated that current and future climate policies were under review – no other countries, as the president imagined in his Rose Garden speech, were laughing.