Adapting to Climate Change: The Public Policy Response

Jun 16, 2009 | James E. Neumann, Jason C. Price

America's infrastructure—in transportation; energy generation and transmission; water, sewer, and telecommunications; and coastal defense—may be compromised by extreme weather events, rising temperatures, and other effects of global climate change. The threats are assessed in a new RFF Report, "Adapting to Climate Change: The Public Policy Response—Public Infrastructure."

Authors James E. Neumann and Jason C. Price, of Industrial Economics, Inc. in Cambridge, MA, examine climate-sensitive areas that could be imperiled by climate consequences such as flooding of lowlands, roads, and railway; loss of permafrost; clean water availability; damage to power lines and refineries; and overloading of sewer systems.

The report is one in a series issued as part of a major RFF project on domestic adaptation policy.

Excerpts from the Report

"Our recommendations for policy responses to these threats include the following.

The need for integration of planning. In both the transportation and coastal defense areas, and to some extent sewer infrastructure, studies have concluded that resources could be allocated more efficiently if infrastructure planning were better integrated with land‐use planning . . . .

The need to encourage innovation in technology and updating of standards. Many of the studies reviewed here note that a change in climate will present technological challenges that may require more resilient infrastructure capital . . . .

The need to take best advantage of replacement opportunities, including extreme events. More frequent and destructive extreme events, such as recent hurricanes and riparian floods, have already proven to be a huge challenge to maintaining public infrastructure. At the same time, many studies note that adaptation to climate stresses is more cost‐effectively accomplished during the design phase of projects, rather than as a retrofit to existing capital. Although extreme events are devastating to affected regions, the rebuilding process can be used as an opportunity to replace damaged infrastructure with more resilient capital."