Amidst a titanic shift in U.S. climate policy that prioritizes clean energy jobs and reductions in carbon emissions, lies an effort to protect communities against very real and inevitable climate events — including hurricanes, droughts and floods — before they hit. The Biden administration is seeking to free up $10 billion at the Federal Emergency Management Agency for climate resiliency and adaptation efforts that can help provide this protection.
Linda Shi, an urban environmental planner and assistant professor at Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning, researches how cities adapt to climate change. Shi says the new U.S. strategy is crucial for pre-disaster mitigation, but that the funding required for these efforts go far beyond the $10 billion proposed allocation — and that insurance reforms and other measures will be needed to discourage unwise local development in disaster-prone areas.
“President Biden's proposal to increase FEMA's new Building Resilient Infrastructure Program to $10 billion – up from $500 million – is a critical boost for pre-disaster mitigation funding. It emphasizes nature-based solutions, capacity building, greater flexibility and innovation, and support for smaller, rural, and disadvantaged communities that can't afford the 25% local cost share requirement. However, for scale comparison, Boston, New York, and Miami have each proposed a big seawall that costs $8-10 billion, and post-disaster recovery for the 2017 hurricane season required $120 billion in relief appropriations and $16 billion in flood insurance debt forgiveness, so this is still a drop in the bucket.
“Meanwhile, many cities continue to develop disaster-prone properties even as they mitigate risks of developed sites. Historically, federal government has failed to influence local land use planning, but new, large-scale funding programs must be coupled with insurance reforms, funding requirements, and regulations that address underlying drivers of why local development disregards historic and future hazard risks.”