Aug. 14, 2008

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has launched a Climate Change Adaptation Task Force aimed at securing the city's critical infrastructure against rising seas, higher temperatures and less reliable water supplies due to ongoing climate changes. Researchers at Columbia University's Earth Institute will play a key role in the New York City Panel on Climate Change, which will advise and provide scientific expertise to the new task force. Cynthia Rosenzweig, a scientist with Columbia's Center for Climate Systems Research and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, is chief research scientist and co-chair of the panel.

Professor Cynthia Rosenzweig
Professor Cynthia Rosenzweig
Photo credit: Peter Kobel

The Climate Change Adaptation Task Force is part of PlaNYC, the city's long-term sustainability plan, and is composed of city and state agencies, public authorities and companies that operate and maintain the transit, water, sanitation, energy and telecommunications systems. The task force will be one of the world's first, and most comprehensive, urban efforts to adapt to changing climate.

"We face two urgent challenges—both of which we're responding to as part of PlaNYC," said Mayor Bloomberg. "First, we have to shrink our carbon footprint to slow climate change. Second, we have to adapt to the environmental changes that are already beginning to take place. For example, we can raise critical infrastructure, like back-up generators, to higher ground in areas prone to flooding. Changes in the way we maintain and operate our infrastructure can also help secure our City."

The New York City Panel on Climate Change includes experts from across academic institutions and the legal, engineering, and insurance industries. The panel includes five Columbia experts, including Rosenzweig: Vivien Gornitz, Radley Horton and David Major at the Center for Climate Systems Research, and Klaus Jacob at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

"Experts at Columbia University's Earth Institute are pleased to offer scientific and technical expertise to assist the City of New York with its climate adaptation plans," said Rosenzweig, who is also an adjunct professor of environmental science at Barnard College. "It is our hope that cities in the United States and around the world will use New York City's planning process as a model to respond effectively to climate change challenges."

Specifically, the New York City Panel on Climate Change will seek to develop further climate-change projections for the city; help task force members identify at-risk infrastructure; develop adaptation strategies for existing structures; and draft guidelines for design of new ones. It will also issue one or more reports on the ongoing regional effects of climate change.

Rosenzweig and other Columbia experts have, for many years, helped the city understand climate change and its potential effects on the city. In May, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection issued an assessment and action plan on climate threats coauthored by Rosenzweig and other Columbia researchers. The report projects that, by 2080, New York and its watershed will likely experience a 7.5 to 8-degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature, and a sea-level rise of about a foot and half. Precipitation increases of up to 10 percent are likely to come in the form of more frequent and intense rainstorms. The volatile weather and rising waters could periodically put roads, tunnels, sewage systems and subways underwater. Rising temperatures could intensify the severity of droughts and heat waves, straining the water supply and, in hot weather, overloading the electrical grid. The report points out these changes are already underway; between 1900 and 2005, temperatures went up by about 1.9 degrees, and sea level by a foot. The recently launched Climate Change Adaptation Task Force will build on this Department of Environmental Protection initiative.

The initial work of the new advisory panel will be funded by a $350,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, as part of a $70 million commitment to strengthen global resilience to climate change.

© Columbia University