New York State’s communities, ecosystems, infrastructure, and economy are already being re-shaped by climate change—with more to come. This edition of the New York State Climate Impacts Assessment Update spotlights how assessment leaders are are studying climate change impacts on transportation to inform decision-makers about impacts that will affect New Yorkers for decades to come.
Climate Change Drives a Need for Resilient Transportation in New York State
November 17, 2022
Whether we realize it or not, transportation is key to just about every aspect of our lives. From supply chains to our daily commutes, transportation systems are essential to every aspect of a healthy economy and vibrant communities. Transportation connects us to jobs, goods, and recreation; essential services, like education and healthcare; and each other. Even when we remain at home, the goods we consume rely on ships, trains, trucks, and automobiles to find their way to our doorsteps. Given their fundamental significance in our society, transportation systems must be reliable and resilient.
New York’s vast transportation systems comprise many highly interconnected modes that traverse ground, sea, rivers, and sky. Freight trains and trucks link the state to interstate and global trade networks, transferring goods to and from cargo planes and ships at air and seaports. Mass transit systems and “micromobility” options—like bicycles and scooters—move people around neighborhoods and to airports and train stations to complete longer trips. Roads and railways connect communities and industries to each other within the state, as well as to New York’s U.S. and Canadian neighbors. All these crucial systems, however, are vulnerable to climate change.
“The effects of climate change [on the transportation system] are already being felt today, causing disruption to our communities through both direct and cascading impacts,” explains Amy Macdonald, co-chair of the New York State Climate Impacts Assessment’s Transportation technical workgroup. For instance, increased precipitation and more frequent heavy downpours threaten roads, tunnels, and bridges through flooding and erosion. Extreme heat can damage railway infrastructure. Extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, heat waves, and ice storms, can ground flights, delay shipping, cause power outages, and shut down mass transit. These and other hazards can block access to essential goods and services, damage critical infrastructure, and threaten people’s health and safety.
Assessment experts are studying these impacts to inform climate-smart transportation planning decisions across New York State in the years to come. Macdonald, a risk and resilience specialist, has valuable hands-on experience responding to natural disasters across the globe and specializes in transportation systems risk management, climate adaptation, and resilience. Fellow co-chair Joan McDonald is well-versed in New York’s transportation systems—and how governments must respond to hazards—as the Director of Operations for Westchester County and the Chair of the New York State Bridge Authority; she was also the Commissioner of the NYSDOT from 2011 to 2015.
“In my government roles, I have experienced firsthand the impact climate change is having on how government responds,” McDonald notes. Extreme weather events, she states, “have required government to both respond during the event and assess afterward how we can improve our measures of resilience.” As extreme events become even more frequent and intense with climate change, McDonald emphasizes, governments must aggressively implement these measures while also assessing their benefits and costs. “This assessment is a much-needed guidebook for policy leaders throughout the state,” McDonald says. “We look forward to working with our partners in state and local government, as well as the private sector, as we build a more resilient New York State.”
The workgroup includes six other members working with McDonald and Macdonald: Hua Cai, Purdue University; Jennifer Ceponis, Capital District Transportation Committee; Cheila Cullen, City University of New York; Projjal Dutta, New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority; Gary McVoy, McVoy Associates, LLC; and Andrea Cristina Ruiz, ERG (formerly Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
The workgroup is also considering climate justice challenges affecting underserved communities, which experience a higher risk of harm from transportation system disruptions and failures. Rural areas can be cut off from essential supplies and services if extreme weather blocks or damages roads. Low-income communities may have fewer resources for local road and bridge maintenance and suffer disproportionate impacts from damaged infrastructure. Many people with disabilities or chronic illnesses are in danger of losing access to healthcare when public transit becomes inoperable or roadways become inaccessible. Communities that face disinvestment or have been historically excluded from transit planning—like Tribal nations and communities of color—may have underdeveloped infrastructure or fewer accessible options, compounding their risk.
Climate-related disruptions to transportation also affect livelihoods—especially for lower-income and hourly workers. Damaged or delayed transportation can prevent people from getting to their jobs; blue-collar workers, especially, are less likely to be able to work from home and are reliant on transportation systems to earn a living. Economic impacts are also felt by key industries and businesses across New York, such as agriculture, forestry, tourism, logistics, and more. Disruptions to freight systems can inhibit production and shipping, while an immobilized workforce can degrade operations and overall profitability. For instance, disruptions to freight systems can prevent farmers from transporting their goods from production facilities to consumers, a particular risk for goods with a shelf life.
It’s also important to remember that a given transportation mode does not exist as a standalone—all modes are part of a complex, intermodal system, and most are reliant on access and availability of fuel or electricity. Focusing on the climate resilience of only one part of the network risks leaving it vulnerable to cascading impacts from other modes and sectors. The Transportation workgroup recognizes that it is critical to study the sector holistically to understand how different climate hazards affect all transportation modes within these complex systems, as well as the direct and indirect impacts on the communities and industries that rely on them. The team is identifying these systemic risks to enable New York State’s communities and leaders to develop comprehensive, actionable solutions to climate-related transportation challenges.
“A detailed understanding of the shocks, stresses, associated vulnerabilities, and potential consequences will allow for risk-informed, future-focused decisions to be made on how we manage and develop our infrastructure,” Macdonald emphasizes. Ultimately, and together with the rest of the Climate Impacts Assessment team, the Transportation workgroup strives to inform strategies that can help New York State build a resilient future—and keep its communities and economy moving.
Next edition: NYS Climate Assessment Spotlight: Society and Economy.
Climate Change Brings a Wave of Changes to New York State’s Water Resources
October 7, 2022
If you don’t live in a part of New York State that experiences frequent water scarcity or droughts, it can be easy to forget that our water is vulnerable to climate change. Yet many climate change impacts, such as changes to precipitation patterns, rising sea levels, and higher temperatures, can affect the quantity and quality of the water resources we rely on every day. New York State is already beginning to see the impacts of climate change on its water resources, and they are poised to have wide-ranging consequences on our communities, ecosystems, and businesses.
The New York State Climate Impacts Assessment’s Water Resources technical workgroup is evaluating these impacts so decision-makers will have the information needed to prepare for an uncertain future. Dr. Stephen Shaw, an associate professor at the State University of New York (SUNY) College of Environmental Science and Forestry, leads the workgroup with Dr. Kelsey Leonard, an assistant professor at the University of Waterloo and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Waters, Climate and Sustainability in the Faculty of Environment.
“Climate projections suggest that New York State will, on average, have more precipitation in the future,” states Shaw. “There is still the possibility of drought, but little evidence that periods with less rainfall will become more frequent than in the past.”
But this, Shaw emphasizes, does not mean New York will be spared from the possibility of water scarcity. “We can still experience greater water loss due to increased evaporation and transpiration (plant water loss) from higher temperatures and a longer growing season,” he explains. In particular, water systems with limited storage—especially those that are sensitive to short but intense dry periods—may experience shortfalls. “This could include homeowner wells that are particularly shallow or community water supplies that have small reservoirs or get water directly from small rivers or streams.”
New York State’s water quality, too, is at risk. Warmer temperatures create prime conditions for the growth of cyanobacteria (also known as harmful algae blooms) that can produce toxins. Flooding and storm surge can contaminate waterbodies—including drinking water sources—with bacteria, viruses, pollutants, and sediment, making the water unsafe to consume or use for recreation, swimming, and fishing. Rising sea levels can cause salt water to infiltrate into coastal groundwater systems and tidal rivers that supply communities with fresh water. For example, Shaw notes that in the Hudson River, the drinking water supply for more than 100,000 people, higher-salinity water will move farther upstream as sea levels rise.
The Water Resources workgroup is also committed to highlighting the water concerns of underrepresented voices across the state. They are paying careful attention to equity and justice issues, including documenting long-standing inequities and highlighting climate solutions that do not pose a further burden to under-resourced and underserved communities. For example, those experiencing the effects of systemic racism—like Black and African American communities and Tribal Nations and Indigenous Peoples—may historically lack reliable water infrastructure or have fewer resources to pay for water services. “Tribal Nations and Indigenous Peoples face distinct water insecurity issues further exacerbated by climate change,” states Leonard. “In 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identified these challenges as distinctly worsened due to colonialism.” For decision-makers, engaging with Tribal Nations and Indigenous Peoples and considering their perspectives and unique knowledge is crucial. “Despite the difficult challenges ahead,” notes Leonard, “Tribal Nations and communities across New York are building resilient strategies to adapt and protect water.”
Effective climate solutions must be equitable, accounting for social, economic, and regional vulnerabilities. “Solutions for adapting to climate change may require new and updated infrastructure for things like new treatment processes, new pipes, and new water intakes,” explains Shaw. In these situations, he warns, “there may still be sufficient water of good quality, but it may cost more.” Tracking water rates, he says, will be crucial, “to help make sure any upgrades to water infrastructure can be done in a way that keeps water affordable to everyone in a community.”
The workgroup includes six other experts working alongside Leonard and Shaw: Abraham Francis, Mohawk Council of Akwesasne; David Hermann, Retired (U.S. Department of State); Laureline Josset, Columbia University, Columbia Water Center; Kris May, Pathways Climate Institute; Ben Wright, Hazen and Sawyer; and Kiyoko Yokota, SUNY College at Oneonta. A diverse set of advisors will help the workgroup ensure that assessment results and products are accessible and relevant for all.
A thorough understanding of these risks to our water resources and infrastructure allows us to better prepare. The Water Resources workgroup aims to provide decision-makers and residents statewide with actionable information about how climate change will affect their communities. The workgroup’s scope includes critical issues such as water supply, water governance, wastewater and stormwater management, and infrastructure. Water resources are also a key consideration for many other sectors covered by the assessment: “Water is connected to many issues statewide, including ecosystem health, energy generation, building damage, and public health,” Shaw emphasizes. Workgroup members are collaborating across disciplines to ensure these interconnections are reflected throughout the assessment.
The co-chairs underscore the many nuances and variations of climate change effects, along with the need to understand them for better preparation. “A process like the Climate Assessment provides an opportunity to think through and plan for potential problems long before a crisis exists, ultimately leading to better decisions that minimize economic, social, and environmental impacts,” Shaw says. To protect and improve our water systems, we must start with actionable knowledge; the New York State Climate Impacts Assessment will provide and disseminate that knowledge, for the livelihood of all those who call the state home.
Next edition: NYS Climate Assessment Spotlight: Transportation.
Fostering Resilient Energy Systems in Light of a Changing Climate
August 30, 2022
Energy systems power New York State—literally. When they are reliable and well-functioning, it can be easy to forget about the complex mechanisms that keep our lights on, our homes cooled or heated, and our workplaces, hospitals, schools, grocery stores, pharmacies, and other essentials up and running. Even though turning on the lights is one of the first things we might do in the morning, how they come on is probably one of the last things on our minds.
Providing reliable energy is an intricate process that depends on many entities. In the case of electricity, it’s generated from resources (like solar panels, wind turbines, or power plants that burn fossil fuels), then transmitted to its user (think: power lines). Natural gas and liquid fuels are transported and stored through a complex system and go through many stages of processing before being distributed to consumers. Much of the energy system was designed for the climate of the past—not the more extreme climate we see in our future. So, though it was built with stability and reliability in mind, the system has vulnerabilities.
When damage and disruption to the electric power system occurs, power outages, “brownouts,” and cost increases for rate payers often follow, with the potential to profoundly disrupt the way we live our lives and conduct business. What happens when our lights don’t come on, our fridge doesn’t stay cool and keep our food safe, and things we need—from phone chargers to medical equipment—don’t have the power to function? How can we ensure that our systems will sustain us in the years to come?
These are the questions that climate change is demanding we ask—now. “Loss of power has obvious consequences to health and safety,” Sandra Meier, co-chair of the New York State Climate Impacts Assessment energy technical workgroup, asserts. Meier is the director of the Environmental Energy Alliance of New York, and she also provides technical analyses, strategic planning, and policy development for the energy sector.
A changing climate is expected to bring about more extreme storms and impacts like wildfires, droughts, and floods. These extreme events can damage energy systems, leading to more power outages and more harm to our communities. And as temperature extremes become more common, cold snaps and heat waves increase the demand for electricity and other fuels, including natural gas (which both heats many buildings and generates much of New York’s electricity). The more we turn our thermostats up or our air conditioners down, the greater strain we put on our energy systems, sometimes causing them to fail.
The New York State Climate Impacts Assessment energy workgroup is no stranger to these challenges, and they’re studying them intensively to scaffold a climate-smart future for our energy systems. The workgroup’s analysis of current and projected climate impacts will consider critical steps for the future, such as how to protect existing energy systems from flooding and extreme weather and ensure reliable operations of new and existing facilities under changing climate conditions like sea-level rise and drought. Co-chairing the group with Meier are Susanne DesRoches, who serves as vice president of Clean and Resilient Buildings for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), and Peter Marcotullio, a professor in the Department of Geography at Hunter College and director of the City University of New York Institute for Sustainable Cities.
Meier, DesRoches, and Marcotullio are committed to making sure that the team’s findings are relevant, useful, and accessible for all New Yorkers—especially historically underserved and overburdened communities. They are engaging with community leaders and stakeholders from across the state in acknowledgement that the impacts of climate change do not affect all communities equally. For low-income communities that already lack access to reliable energy sources, for example, the risks and consequences of losing power can be greater. Underserved urban neighborhoods, often including communities of color, are already more susceptible to extreme heat and may have older infrastructure. For people with disabilities or chronic illnesses who rely on medical equipment or timely care, power outages can have life-threatening consequences.
“A critical component of the energy section of the assessment is the inclusion of energy justice,” Marcotullio says. “Examining these issues, particularly in vulnerable communities, will improve New York State’s adaptation strategies.” According to the U.S. Census, about 13 percent of the state’s population is under the federal poverty threshold—and studies show that low-income households spend more of their income on energy than the national median. “New York State has a significant climate- and energy-vulnerable population,” Marcotullio explains. “Assessing issues like the disproportionate energy burden on some communities in the state will help to provide policy-relevant information for a just energy transition and climate-just energy adaptation strategies.”
The energy workgroup is also aware of and looking into the challenges of embracing renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and hydropower. A powerful tool to mitigate emissions that worsen climate change, renewable energy—paradoxically—has its own vulnerabilities to climate change impacts. For example, hydropower can be vulnerable to drought, and changing wind speeds and patterns could affect offshore wind potential. Because the New York State Climate Act requires an 85 percent reduction in energy-related emissions by 2050 (and creating a carbon-free electric grid is key to reaching this goal), New York will be increasing its use of renewable energy resources, all while working to ensure that energy remains reliable. This focus on reliability is, Meier notes, “particularly critical for the early years of the transition, where there will still be a need for fossil [fuel] support as we install new energy resources and build an expanded transmission system that can withstand the changing climate.” To best help decision-makers navigate these transitions, the assessment team is considering the full scope of challenges to come.
The workgroup includes eight other experts working alongside DesRoches and Meier: Jeff Freedman, University at Albany, State University of New York; Justin Gundlach, Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law; Jordi Parisian, New York Power Authority (NYPA); Peter Sheehan, New York State Department of Public Service; William Slade, Con Edison of New York; Maureen Golan, NYPA; Lemir Teron, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry; and Ke Wei, NYSERDA. A diverse set of advisors will help the workgroup ensure that assessment results and products are accessible and relevant for all.
So, while many (or even most) of us may not think about the intricate journey of energy delivery every time we turn on the lights, by better understanding the system and its vulnerabilities to a changing climate, we can take the actions needed to plan for and invest in resilience. The New York State Climate Impacts Assessment is providing the information, insights, and projections needed to generate a climate-smart future—so that communities across New York State have the energy they need to thrive.
Next edition: NYS Climate Assessment Spotlight: Water Resources.
The Impacts of Climate Change Stress Already-Stressed Communities Across New York State
June 17, 2022
New York State is feeling the effects of climate change. Temperatures are increasing; sea levels are rising; extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and more intense. Undoubtedly, a thorough understanding of climate impacts is crucial for climate action. But for action to be effective for all, we must also understand how these impacts vary for different communities and population groups, and how some impacts are worsened by social, economic, and ecological inequities that already exist.
Due to existing inequities, many communities are hit harder by climate change, often without adequate resources or support to prepare for hazards, recover from them, or reduce their impacts. Low-income communities, for example, may not have housing that can withstand extreme weather, adequate emergency or health care, or insurance to help them recover from disasters. Some populations, too, are more exposed to climate impacts; for example, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2021 Social Vulnerability Report, Black and African American individuals are “40 percent more likely to live in areas with the highest projected increases in extreme temperature-related deaths.”
“It’s not simply about vulnerability to sea level rise, heat waves, or being afflicted by a superstorm,” explains Dr. Lemir Teron, assistant professor of environmental studies at the State University of New York and a member of the Energy workgroup for the New York State Climate Change Impacts Assessment. “It’s all those challenges in addition to contending with the legacy of racial inequality and the pervasiveness of poverty, uninsured households, and medically underserved communities.”
Teron and several other experts from across the assessment’s eight sectors have come together to form an equity and justice team, which aims to ensure that equity and justice are prioritized throughout the assessment. Their group is helping the larger assessment team highlight equity and justice at every stage of the work, from planning and research to outreach and dissemination. To truly function as a tool that serves all New Yorkers, the assessment must evaluate and communicate how climate change will affect each of the many communities that call this state home.
What’s more, data about climate change—a necessity for climate action—is not accessible for everyone. Health and Safety workgroup member Dr. Anjali Sauthoff, chair of the health and community resilience teams of the Westchester County Climate Crisis Task Force, explains, “Lack of data collection can itself be an injustice—if there is no data, there is often no awareness of a need for course correction.” Data, and tools that allow communities to use that data, are necessary to develop climate-smart strategies at any level. “Even when data capacity in communities does exist,” Sauthoff adds, “it is not held equitably across groups of people, organizations, and institutions”—a potential disparity that can leave groups who lack access to the data less able to plan and prepare for climate change. “Communities are at the front lines of climate impacts—they require relevant local data and knowledge to organize, plan, and implement at the community level.”
The workgroup is building equity and justice into the very framework of the assessment, so that its findings, data, and tools are accessible to, responsive to, and actionable for all communities—and provide decision-makers with knowledge to better address inequity. “We’re all in agreement that environmental justice and equity really need to be woven into the text throughout, recognized at each juncture, rather than tacked on at the end as a consideration,” states Dr. F. Garrett Boudinot, a member of the assessment’s Ecosystems workgroup and research associate at Cornell University. “Environmental justice is a foundational lens through which to view all climate change impacts.”
The equity and justice team, Boudinot explains, has developed a guide to help each sector’s technical workgroup include, frame, and address key equity and justice issues in their respective sections of the assessment, ensuring that these concerns are core components of the final product.
The equity and justice team comprises experts from across the assessment’s technical workgroups, including Allison Chatrchyan (Agriculture), Garrett Boudinot (Ecosystems), David Burgy (Society and Economy), Andrea Cristina Ruiz (Transportation), Hua Cai (Transportation), Anjali Sauthoff (Health and Safety), and Lemir Teron (Energy).
And while a primary aim of the assessment is to create an equitable, up-to-date foundation for climate action across all of New York State, the team also seeks to build upon the important work that many organizations and communities are already doing. “Leveraging this report as a way to raise awareness of existing tools, and existing groups doing great work on this, is an additional goal for us,” notes Boudinot. Some of the team members’ own professional backgrounds provide firsthand expertise on these types of community projects and opportunities; for example, Teron is working on a research and community outreach campaign in Central New York focused on urban forestry, which can help cool communities and reduce flooding impacts, “putting urban forestry tools in the hands of residents, along with stipend-supported training.” Meanwhile, Sauthoff works with geospatial mapping tools, which can help communities, including those often excluded from planning processes, visualize and communicate climate and health data.
“Typically,” Sauthoff states, “the topic of equity and justice across communities is approached through a deficit lens, focusing on weaknesses and voids.” But identifying community assets, opportunities, and shared values is an effective step that can’t be left out of climate action. “Considering what communities have, how they collectively act, and for whom—this is essential for creating greater community resilience.” By highlighting equity and justice as part of its framework, the assessment can provide not only a picture of how climate change will impact New York State, but also a foundation for climate action that accounts for the ways communities are unique and will experience and respond to climate change differently.
At the end of the day, when it comes to climate change, “We’re past the ‘how bad will it be?’ phase globally,” says Boudinot, “and now securely in the ‘what are we going to do about it?’ phase.” Democratizing environmental science tools and knowledge, Teron notes, is one major step in the right direction, along with forward-thinking policy. Ultimately, to help get there, the New York State Climate Impacts Assessment is committed to serving all of New York State. Equity and justice are not an afterthought—they are a necessity.
Next edition: NYS Climate Assessment Spotlight: Energy.
The Climate Crisis Is Also a Health Crisis—We’re Studying What That Means for New York State
April 27, 2022
In September 2021, more than 200 medical journals across the globe published a statement by 19 editors of leading medical and health journals—one of the largest-scale editorials ever run. Its message was unequivocal: our changing climate, and the cascade of impacts in its wake, “risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse.” The continued warming of the climate, the authors wrote, constitutes “the greatest threat to global public health.”
Given these implications, Dr. Janice Barnes—co-chair of the New York State Climate Impacts Assessment’s human health and safety technical workgroup—notes that it’s surprising that health has not often been central to climate hazard mitigation and adaptation investments. Instead, Barnes says, the workgroup recognizes that “capital loss risk continues to lead climate discussions, outside of health professional environments.” As a founder of Climate Adaptation Partners, Barnes prioritizes the relationship between climate change and public health—a relationship that, research shows, deserves more weight in climate-related investments.
Climate change poses many threats to people’s health and safety across New York State. For example, more severe heat waves can lead to more heat-related illnesses, like heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Warmer temperatures can also create prime conditions for ticks to expand their range, potentially increasing the risk of illnesses like Lyme disease. Flooding can contaminate water supplies and spread waterborne illnesses. Rising sea levels can drive displacement. Extreme weather, like storms and floods, can cause physical injuries and mental health effects, including post-traumatic stress disorder. These are just some of the possible direct effects of climate change on health in New York State, and they are not expected to be isolated incidents; communities can be affected by multiple impacts, compounding people’s risk of harm.
And then, too, there are the indirect impacts, like risks to the systems we rely on to stay well and safe. Extreme weather can cause power outages and damage buildings, not only leaving people vulnerable at home, but also threatening the ability of medical facilities and equipment to function. People may have difficulty accessing emergency or medical care when storm debris blocks roads or flood waters make transit stops inaccessible. During heat waves or disease outbreaks, facilities may be overwhelmed and struggle to accommodate all of the community’s needs (something we’ve already witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic). The many interconnected systems and services that are critical to our health—including medical care, buildings and energy, food and water, transportation, and our natural environments—are vulnerable to climate impacts. To inform climate-smart decision-making, the workgroup is highlighting the need to ensure that, in hazard mitigation and adaptation investments, health is a central concern.
Barnes and fellow co-chair Dr. Perry Sheffield also emphasize that climate impacts affect some groups far more than others—a reality that is a crucial factor in future planning. “To support communities to achieve and maintain wellbeing,” Sheffield states, “we need to transform how we ask questions about health, what linkages we make, and whose voices and lives are valued.” Sheffield, an associate professor in environmental medicine and public health and pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, studies the health effects of climate change with a focus on children—one example of a vulnerable group due to their growing bodies, developing brains, and dependence on caretakers.
A variety of factors can put certain people and groups at higher risk of harm from climate change, including how and when they are exposed to hazards, and the resources available to them to avoid or reduce the impact of those hazards. Outdoor workers, for example, may be more exposed to heat and weather, making them vulnerable to illness and injury. Food-insecure families may be disproportionately affected when storms or floods disrupt distribution systems. For people with chronic illnesses or disabilities, climate threats can prevent access to home health aides, medications, or important medical care. And many groups—including immigrants, communities of color, tribal communities, and disabled people—have historically been excluded from local planning processes, like facility siting, wealth building, and community stabilization opportunities (such as home ownership or income protection programs), leaving their neighborhoods more susceptible to harm as climate change progresses. Given that well-being and equity are inextricably linked, the workgroup is carefully evaluating how climate impacts will affect different populations in different ways.
Ultimately, when it comes to decision-making, “the intersection of climate change and human health warrants much greater attention in hazard mitigation and adaptation planning,” Barnes asserts. The assessment serves as a tool to improve and prioritize decision-making at this intersection. For instance, a core theme of the workgroup’s current efforts is the “one health” approach, which recognizes that human health is closely connected to the health of animals and the environment. The workgroup is also paying close attention to—and trying to further understand—the relationship between direct and indirect health impacts, as many people will experience multiple hazards and exposures with a wide range of effects.
Barnes and Sheffield are working closely with eight other leaders in the workgroup: Nathan Graber, Albany Medical Center; Sonal Jessel, WE ACT for Environmental Justice; Kevin Lanza, UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin; Vijay Limaye, Natural Resources Defense Council; Faustenia Morrow, Monarch of Infinite Possibilities; Anjali Sauthoff, Westchester County Government Consultant; Michael Schmeltz, California State University, East Bay; and Shavonne Smith, Shinnecock Indian Nation Environmental Department. The workgroup is also supported by a diverse group of advisors who will help ensure that assessment results and products are accessible and relevant for all.
Despite the gap in climate decision-making and investments when it comes to health outcomes, Sheffield points out the notable “growth and maturation of the field of climate health impacts over the past decade.” Building on this growth, the workgroup is emphasizing the need to integrate public health and safety into hazard mitigation and adaptation. The assessment team aims to provide leaders and communities statewide with actionable, relevant information about where climate and health impacts meet, broadening opportunities for better outcomes via health-centric climate investments. The data are loud and clear that climate change is affecting our health and impairing efforts toward health equity—and the New York State Climate Impacts Assessment team is moving that message front and center for climate planning.
Next edition: NYS Climate Assessment Spotlight: Equity and Justice.
A Natural Balancing Act: Ecosystems and Climate Change in New York State
February 15, 2022
While ecosystems like forests, wetlands, lakes, and streams may not be at the forefront of every person’s mind, they play a crucial role in just about every aspect of daily life—in New York State and across the globe. They offer a wide range of benefits, or “ecosystem services,” that support our communities and economies. Among their many crucial services, ecosystems clean our air and water; maintain healthy soils; sustain much of the food we eat; provide spaces for recreation; and support livelihoods, from fisheries to tourism and more.
To function, ecosystems need balance: conditions that allow the organisms in the system to work with one another. However, New York State’s ecosystems are at risk of negative effects from a changing climate. Rising temperatures, for instance, may lead to more invasive species and pests, upsetting intricate natural balances. Meanwhile, more frequent and intense rainfall could cause flooding and erosion, which can contaminate water and disrupt aquatic life.
The New York State Climate Impacts Assessment’s ecosystems technical workgroup, led by co-chairs Sheila Hess and Doug Burns, is studying the effects of climate change to better understand how to protect our ecosystems. Hess, a principal ecologist and CEO at CC Environment & Planning, works with local, state, and regional partners to integrate natural resource conservation and climate resilience into land-use planning, ecosystem management, and economic development strategies. She leverages her 22 years of experience in ecology, conservation, and planning with her broad network of peers to create collaborative and interdisciplinary solutions that serve as catalysts for sustainable change.
As a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research hydrologist, Dr. Burns’ principal research focus is how human activities affect ecosystems and watersheds, with an emphasis on climate change and air pollution effects. He coordinates two USGS environmental monitoring programs and leads state-, national-, and international-scale projects. Burns has authored more than 130 peer-reviewed publications and holds a Ph.D. in Water Resources Management from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
According to Hess and Burns, New York State’s ecosystems face a number of stressors as the climate continues to change. For example, Hess notes that climate impacts can threaten the stability of native species, such as the eastern hemlock, spotted salamander, and brook trout. A climate-driven rise in invasive species—including insects and ticks—also poses risks to native plant and wildlife species.
Hess and Burns are working closely with eight other leaders in the workgroup: Garrett Boudinot, Cornell University; Carrie Brown-Lima, Cornell University; Jason Corwin, SUNY Buffalo; John Foppert, Paul Smith’s College; George Robinson, University at Albany; Kevin Rose, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Matt Schlesinger, New York Natural Heritage Program; and Rebecca Shuford, New York Sea Grant. The workgroup is also supported by a diverse group of advisors who will help ensure that assessment results and products are accessible and relevant for all.
“Climate change is promoting the northward advancement of many invasive species, such as deer ticks,” says Burns. Deer ticks are known for spreading Lyme disease, which can lead to chronic illness if not treated early. And it’s not just humans at risk: ticks, Burns adds, are causing mortality in other species, such as moose in the Northeast. As the climate continues to change, more intense droughts and warmer temperatures will continue to affect biodiversity and stress the balance of ecosystems. Another impact of these changes already occurring in New York State’s waters is an increase in harmful algal blooms, which are influenced by water temperature and can make people sick.
Nevertheless, when it comes to a climate-smart future, knowledge about climate change is power. “Understanding and projecting impacts of warmer temperatures, altered precipitation patterns, and longer growing seasons,” says Hess, “will help natural resource managers, municipalities, and landowners prepare and adapt viable conservation strategies.”
It is also critical, she notes, that the ecosystems technical workgroup pay close attention to environmental justice as they study these climate projections. Some people—such as those from low-income, under-represented, and/or under-served communities—are at a higher risk of experiencing climate change impacts. For example, changes in temperature and precipitation can affect native plant and animal species that are culturally significant and sacred to Indigenous communities. Across the state, people with fewer resources may be more affected by air quality issues, heat stress, food insecurity, and damage from floods and storms. And in urban settings, trees support air quality, recreation, and public health (including much-needed shade to moderate excessive urban heat, which affects low-income neighborhoods most)—but these “urban forests” are especially sensitive to climate change effects. Ultimately, only a study that considers the most vulnerable will be most effective in helping to develop a resilient future for all.
Nature itself plays a critical role in resilience and adaptation. When we protect it, it protects us. Natural dune systems, flood plains, healthy soil, green spaces, and myriad other features promote healthy life each and every day. The Climate Impacts Assessment is evaluating the ways New York State can protect its natural systems and, in turn, its people.
Next edition: NYS Climate Assessment Sector Spotlight: Human Health and Safety.
Constructing a Resilient Future for New York State’s Buildings in the Face of Climate Change
January 11, 2022
It’s no secret that the built environment plays a key role in the livelihoods of communities across New York State. New York City alone contains approximately one million buildings; meanwhile, in upstate New York, cities like Rochester, Buffalo, and Albany are bustling metropolises of their own. And both inside and outside of city centers, buildings—homes, workplaces, schools, hospitals, recreational facilities, factories, and more—are vital to the health, safety, and well-being of all New Yorkers.
Climate change poses risks to infrastructure throughout the state, so understanding and documenting its effects is key to informing resilient, climate-smart decision-making in the future. To this end, the New York State Climate Impacts Assessment is fortunate to have experts serving on the buildings technical workgroup to evaluate the ways climate change will affect the built environment statewide.
The workgroup comprises a robust team of leaders, spearheaded by Dr. Nicholas Rajkovich and Laurie Schoeman. Rajkovich, an American Institute of Architects and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional, holds a Ph.D. in urban and regional planning from the University of Michigan and is an associate professor in the School of Architecture and Planning at SUNY Buffalo. His research investigates the intersection between energy efficiency, renewable energy, and adaptation to climate change in buildings.
Ms. Schoeman is a deeply committed national climate risk reduction leader. As a multi-sector intermediary, she is recognized for her keen ability to drive complex problems into tangible outputs that achieve climate safe housing, financial investment, environmental education, capacity building, and supportive public policy. She has led policy packages, programs, and initiatives across the nation to reduce climate risks to housing, infrastructure, and communities and increase community resilience.
“Homes and structures across New York State are facing significant risk from a changing climate, which threatens to undermine the financial and physical sustainability, stability, health, and welfare of millions of New York’s households and local economies,” Ms. Schoeman stated on the need to understand climate change impacts on our built environment. Likewise, Dr. Rajkovich noted: “Our homes, businesses, and schools have all been designed for a climate that no longer exists.”
The built environment is facing an array of possible climate change-related challenges. A primary issue of concern is ensuring that buildings and land uses are resilient, adaptable, and resistant to extreme weather events caused by climate change. Flooding and extreme weather, for instance, may lead to building loss and damage.
Rajkovich and Schoeman are working closely with seven other leaders in the workgroup: Illya Azaroff, +LAB Architect/New York City College of Technology CUNY; Erik Backus, Clarkson University; Carrie Brown, Resource Refocus LLC; Jared Enriquez, University at Albany, State University of New York; Jamal Lewis, Green & Healthy Homes Initiative; K. Ozgem Ornektekin, KO2 Consulting; and Josh Stack, Stack Resilience, LLC. The workgroup is also supported by a diverse group of advisors who will help ensure that assessment results and products are accessible and relevant for all.
When it comes to planning for the future, the co-chairs agree that the climate impacts assessment will be a key tool in informing resilience planning and activities statewide. “The climate assessment will provide a strategic roadmap of solutions to preserve and stabilize New York’s most vulnerable communities—and ensure that our state will be able to adapt to and thrive in the face of a changing climate,” stated Ms. Schoeman.
Climate risks are most likely to impact overburdened, low-to-moderate income areas that may already be housing-stressed. In certain such areas, both rural and urban, infrastructure may be older or poorly designed, leading to challenges adapting to the effects of climate change. Stakeholders participating in the assessment are considering these impacts from an environmental justice angle—so that the results and communications products will be relevant and accessible to the communities most at risk.
Understanding and assessing the risks associated with climate change will provide decision-makers and communities with tools and resources to protect and adapt New York’s built environment—its homes and neighborhoods, schools, healthcare centers, businesses, and the many other places that are a part of our everyday. Armed with the knowledge of what’s next, New York State can work toward building a more resilient, climate-smart future.
Next edition: NYS Climate Assessment Sector Spotlight: Ecosystems.
Agriculture and Climate Change in New York State: A Crop of Changes Expected
December 7, 2021
Many of the nation’s iconic and most beloved apple varieties, including the Empire and McIntosh, are grown in and synonymous with New York State. Yet the state’s famed apple orchards, from the Hudson Valley to the southern shore of Lake Ontario and many other areas, are susceptible to weather variations and other impacts expected from climate change. The same goes for nearly every other agricultural output in New York, including maple syrup, grapes, field crops like corn, vegetables, and livestock.
Given agriculture’s enormous role in the economies, cultures, and basic human health and well-being of communities throughout New York State (and across the globe), understanding how, when, and where specific climate changes will occur is vital. The New York State Climate Impacts Assessment is fortunate to include Dr. Deborah Aller and Dr. Allison Chatrchyan as the co-chairs of the agriculture technical workgroup, which is leading the effort to gather, analyze, and synthesize the latest data on climate change and explain how it will affect New York’s diverse agricultural landscape.
Dr. Aller, a soil scientist, serves as the agricultural stewardship specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County (CCE-Suffolk). With a Ph.D. in soil science from Iowa State University, she conducts applied research, leads on-farm trials, and educates farmers about current technologies and best management practices.
Dr. Chatrchyan is a senior research associate who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. In addition to teaching and conducting research on how social, environmental, and agricultural systems interact, she facilitates Cornell’s Climate Smart Farming Program, which provides resources, tools, and training on climate science, impacts, adaptation, and mitigation to New York’s farmers.
“Around the world, there are more than 800 million people that are undernourished; world hunger is rising; and the global population is expected to rise to 9.7 billion people by 2050,” Dr. Chatrchyan stated on the importance of the agricultural portion of the assessment. In New York State, “assessing the impacts of climate change on agriculture can help us identify appropriate adaptation practices that can help minimize agricultural losses and increase resilience, so we can sustainably increase production and ensure food security—despite the challenges of climate change.”
Aller and Chatrchyan are working closely with seven other agriculture experts in the workgroup: Alejandro Calixto, Cornell University; Jaime Cummings, Syngenta; Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, Cornell University; Gregory Peck, Cornell University; Junior Schouten, Big Apple Edibles; Ben Weikert, SUNY College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill; and Elizabeth Wolters, New York Farm Bureau.
The agriculture technical workgroup is looking at a wide range of impacts and their implications. For example, more extreme and frequent heat waves could stress crops and livestock, and climate-driven seasonal shifts—such as “false spring” events or less of the winter chilling that fruit trees require—may pose challenges to crop quality and productivity. Increased precipitation and severe weather events brought on by a changing climate could require increased management of excess water, runoff, and irrigation. And while some farmers could benefit from longer growing seasons, warming could also lead to a rise in invasive plants, insects, and diseases that could affect certain crops—threats that are particularly hard to predict. The assessment can help New York State’s agriculture sector better prepare. Among other things, the workgroup will study how innovations in cropping, soil health, local and regional supply chains, and other actions could enable resilience and adaptability within the sector.
Ultimately, the contributions from the assessment’s agriculture workgroup will help inform a thorough, up-to-date evaluation of climate impacts across New York State that will provide decision-makers with tools and information to make climate-smart decisions. After all, the more we understand the impacts of climate change, the better we can prepare.
Next edition: NYS Climate Assessment Sector Spotlight: Buildings.
Building a Resilient Future for All: New York State Launches Statewide Climate Impacts Assessment
November 9, 2021
Climate change is already affecting New York State—and it will continue to do so. From changing temperatures to increased rainfall and extreme weather events, there are a multitude of climate change impacts, all of which can pose unique risks to every one of New York State’s economic sectors, industries, natural systems, communities, and regions. For instance, the changing climate could affect seasonal patterns and destabilize crops; cause strain to medical and transportation infrastructure; and throw off the balance of the state’s many complex ecosystems.
Fortunately, the better we understand the impacts of climate change, the better we can prepare. Furthering our understanding of future climate impacts can help inform action and adaptability at every level to ensure the health, safety, and resilience of our communities.
This fall, a team of climate scientists, policymakers, community leaders, and NYSERDA officials convened virtually to launch a new, statewide Climate Impacts Assessment. Together, they will collect, review, and synthesize the latest data, science, and predictive models to document how our changing climate will affect New York State’s many diverse communities, ecosystems, and industries.
Building on NYSERDA’s previous climate assessment (the 2014 ClimAID report) and developing over a two-year timeline, the new assessment will constitute a science-based evaluation of observed and projected climate impacts on the state. The final research and outreach products will provide an accurate, scientific understanding of probable climate change-related impacts to foster informed decisions around climate resilience, preparedness, and environmental disaster response and recovery. All the while, the assessment’s leaders will consider different geographic needs and concerns of underserved communities—including those in urban and rural areas, those on tribal lands, and those disproportionately impacted today and in the future.
NYSERDA and its team of climate experts uphold diversity, equity, and inclusion as key values driving the assessment in addition to accuracy, relevancy, and accessibility. The assessment process will involve participants from all regions of the state; all levels of government, including tribal nations; the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and community advocates; and academia and other research organizations.
After an initial kickoff workshop this September set standards to ensure the accuracy, inclusiveness, equity, and integrity of the assessment, the team is breaking into workgroups to evaluate how climate change will impact eight key sectors of focus: ecosystems, energy, agriculture, transportation, society and economy, the built environment, human health, and water resources. The workgroups will use critical, up-to-date research and projections conducted by leading organizations—such as Columbia University and Industrial Economics, Inc.—to generate sector-specific information and analyses that are relevant, useful, and accessible to decision-makers, community members, scientists, and researchers.
Ultimately, and with resilience and adaptability in mind, the evaluation will create an up-to-date foundation for future action and decision-making as part of NYSERDA’s mission to mitigate climate change and improve the health, resilience, and prosperity of New Yorkers. When it comes to combatting the climate crisis, accurate, up-to-date, well-communicated knowledge is power.
The New York State Climate Impacts Assessment: A Short Timeline
2011 – NYSERDA publishes ClimAID, the first comprehensive New York State Climate Assessment. Columbia University and Cornell University contribute scientific analyses.
2014 – NYSERDA updates portions of ClimAID and begins planning for its update.
2020 – NYSERDA selects contractors to coordinate the next assessment and conduct economic modeling and climate impacts projections.
Winter/Spring 2021 – A formal Steering Committee is convened to guide the development of the Assessment’s purpose and scope.
July 2021 – Climate experts, public sector decision-makers, representatives from impacted populations and industries, and other stakeholders are identified to form technical work and advisory groups and investigate and document climate impacts on eight key sectors.
September 2021 – The assessment is formally launched with the convening of all parties for a virtual two-day summit to establish a project framework, processes, and goal posts.
October 2021 – Research and data gathering begin.
Next edition: NYS Climate Assessment Sector Spotlight: Agriculture.
NYSERDA Launches Multi-Year Study to Explore How Climate Change Affects New York State Communities, Ecosystems, and the Economy
November 4, 2021
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) today announced the launch of a multi-year study to explore how climate change affects communities, ecosystems, and the economy in New York State. This collaborative climate research effort will be conducted in partnership with academic institutions, science organizations, community leaders and industry representatives, among others to better understand and document how climate change is affecting the state, what future impacts may be, and how the state can better prepare for them. Taking action to adapt to future climate conditions, in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, supports the implementation of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.
Led by NYSERDA, the New York State Climate Impacts Assessment: Understanding and Preparing for Our Changing Climate will provide a credible, science-based analysis of what to expect from climate change in New York under various scenarios and will seek to convey this information in ways that are actionable, relevant, and easy to understand. Nearly 80 individuals representing more than 60 different organizations will be involved in developing the technical foundation of the assessment, which will ultimately help residents, businesses, and decision-makers across the state better understand how climate change might impact New York State’s ecosystems, communities, industries, and infrastructure, so decision-makers and stakeholders can plan and prepare for these impacts. This assessment, which is expected to be completed in early 2023, will incorporate the latest data, models, and scientific understanding of climate change. New York State’s previous climate impacts effort, ClimAID, was published in 2011.
Specifically, the assessment will include:
- Up-to-date projections of future climate conditions in New York State;
- In-depth economic impact assessments;
- A peer-reviewed technical report on impacts and adaptation strategies, and;
- Summaries and other materials designed for various audiences.
To ensure the final assessment reflects a wide range of input and engagement, NYSERDA has assembled a team of national climate science experts and representatives from diverse communities and constituencies from across New York State, other U.S. states—California, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Texas—and Canada, as well as members of indigenous communities to collaborate on developing the assessment. Eight technical working groups will conduct much of the day-to-day work, including searching and critically reviewing the best available scientific literature, incorporating new projections, and developing the technical report. Each workgroup is led by two co-chairs and has been tasked with examining climate change impacts in one of the following eight sectors: agriculture, buildings, ecosystems, energy, human health and safety, society and economy, transportation, and water resources.
In addition to these sector topics, the assessment will address several cross-cutting themes such as equity and underserved communities, municipal government concerns, marine coastal zones, and the Great Lakes. Each technical working group is supported by an advisory group comprised of representatives from communities and industries that are active in or impacted by sector activities. The advisory groups will help ensure that the assessment captures the impacts that matter most, the process is driven by the needs of people who will use this research, and the results are accessible and actionable. NYSERDA has selected Columbia University, Industrial Economics (IEc), Eastern Research Group (ERG), and Consensus Building Institute (CBI) to provide technical modeling, administrative coordination, and facilitation support for the assessment.
In New York, climate change is already having a profound impact on society, the economy, and ecosystems. The agricultural growing season is fluctuating. Coastal and inland flooding are happening more often. Populations of plants and wildlife are changing. Catastrophic weather events are more likely, and their costs to human life and infrastructure are increasing. While we must continue to make significant progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to slow the pace of climate change, work such as this assessment will also help us prepare for some impacts that may be unavoidable.
New York State’s Nation-Leading Climate Act
New York State’s nation-leading climate agenda is the most aggressive climate and clean energy initiative in the nation, calling for an orderly and just transition to clean energy that creates jobs and continues fostering a green economy as New York State recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Enshrined into law through the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, New York is on a path to achieve its mandated goal of a zero-emission electricity sector by 2040, including 70 percent renewable energy generation by 2030, and to reach economy-wide carbon neutrality. It builds on New York’s unprecedented investments to ramp-up clean energy including over $21 billion in 91 large-scale renewable projects across the state, $6.8 billion to reduce buildings emissions, $1.8 billion to scale up solar, more than $1 billion for clean transportation initiatives, and over $1.2 billion in NY Green Bank commitments. Combined, these investments are supporting more than 150,000 jobs in New York’s clean energy sector in 2019, a 2,100 percent growth in the distributed solar sector since 2011 and a commitment to developing 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2035. Under the Climate Act, New York will build on this progress and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent from 1990 levels by 2050, while ensuring that at least 35 percent with a goal of 40 percent of the benefits of clean energy investments are directed to disadvantaged communities and advance progress towards the state’s 2025 energy efficiency target of reducing on-site energy consumption by 185 trillion BTUs of end-use energy savings.
NYSERDA, a public benefit corporation, offers objective information and analysis, innovative programs, technical expertise, and funding to help New Yorkers increase energy efficiency, save money, use renewable energy, and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. NYSERDA professionals work to protect the environment and create clean-energy jobs. NYSERDA has been developing partnerships to advance innovative energy solutions in New York State since 1975. To learn more about NYSERDA’s programs and funding opportunities, visit nyserda.ny.gov or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or Instagram.