Caltrans Activities to Address Climate Change Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Adapting to Impacts

This report provides a comprehensive overview of activities undertaken by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapt the state’s transportation system to prepare for the impacts of climate change. It also identifies opportunities for additional reductions in GHG emissions and climate adaptation activities that Caltrans may wish to consider in the future.

The goals of the report are to:

  • Help spread information about best practices in GHG mitigation and climate change adaptation among Caltrans staff working in different divisions and districts, as well as among other transportation agencies;
  • Aid staff at other state agencies in identifying potential opportunities for collaboration with Caltrans in efforts to meet statewide GHG reduction and energy efficiency targets; and
  • Inform the public about the status of Caltrans’ initiatives to address climate change.

The report qualitatively discusses activities that are underway across Caltrans divisions and districts, and provides quantitative information on GHG reduction initiatives wherever possible.

Climate Change Adaptation Guide for Transportation Systems Management, Operations, and Maintenance

This guide provides information and resources to help transportation management, operations, and maintenance staff incorporate climate change into their planning and ongoing activities. It is intended for practitioners involved in the day-to-day management, operations, and maintenance of surface transportation systems at State and local agencies. The guide assists State departments of transportation (DOTs) and other transportation agencies in understanding the risks that climate change poses and actions that can help reduce those risks. Incorporating climate change considerations into how agencies plan and execute their transportation system management and operations (TSMO) and maintenance programs helps the agency become more resilient to unanticipated shocks to the system. Adjustments to TSMO and maintenance programs—ranging from minor to major changes—can help to minimize the current and future risks to effective TSMO and maintenance.

Hawaii SB 2745: Planning Act; Priority Guidelines; Climate Change

Creates a climate change adaptation policy for the State of Hawaii by amending the Hawaii State Planning Act to include climate change adaptation priority guidelines.

The purpose of this Act is to encourage collaboration and cooperation among county, state, and federal agencies, policy makers, businesses, and other community partners to plan for the impacts of climate change and avoid, minimize, or mitigate loss of life, land, and property of future generations.

City of Portsmouth, New Hampshire Coastal Resilience Initiative: Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Plan

Research shows how the climate of New Hampshire and the Seacoast region has changed over the past century, and predicts that the future climate of the region will be affected by human activities that are warming the planet. The most current climate report for New Hampshire (Wake et al, 2011) describes historic trends over the past century and likely changes in New Hampshire’s climate over the next century and is designed to help residents and communities plan and prepare for changing climate conditions.1

Overall, New England has been getting warmer and wetter over the last century, and the rate of change has increased over the last four decades according to detailed analysis of data collected at four meteorological stations (Durham and Concord NH; Lawrence, MA; and Portland, ME).

  • Since 1970, mean annual temperatures have warmed, with the greatest warming occurring in winter.
  • Average minimum and maximum temperatures have also increased over the same time period, with minimum temperatures warming faster than mean temperatures.
  • Both the coldest winter nights and the warmest summer nights are getting measurably warmer.

The Coastal Resilience Initiative (CRI) is the City of Portsmouth’s first look at the potential impact from a changing climate. Coastal communities like Portsmouth are most vulnerable to impacts of sea level rise and coastal storm surge.

The objectives of the Coastal Resilience Initiative were to:

  • Describe the range of climate change and sea level rise scenarios that researchers have identified for the New Hampshire Seacoast region;
  • Map four sea level elevations to show how these scenarios would impact the City of Portsmouth in the next 40 to 90 years;
  • Using these maps, identify physical assets (buildings and infrastructure) and natural resources that are vulnerable to sea level rise and coastal storm surge;
  • Develop preliminary strategies for adapting to future conditions, and estimates of the costs of these adaptation actions;
  • Provide recommendations to guide adaptation planning, including policies and regulations.

The study products include a set of flood elevation maps, a vulnerability assessment, a preliminary outline of potential adaptation strategies, and recommendations for future planning, regulation and policies. This report represents a starting point for the City to identify avenues to implement adaptation measures that impart resiliency in the built environmental and protect natural systems.

Study Purpose and Limitations

The purpose of this report is to provide a broad overview of spatial and temporal risk and vulnerability of public and private assets as a result of projected changes in climate. This report should be used for preliminary and general planning purposes only, not for parcel-level or site- specific analyses.

The best available predictive information about future climatic conditions specific to sea level rise were utilized in the preparation of this report which with LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) data collected by aircraft in 2011 serves as the primary source information for this project. That said, the vulnerability assessment performed for the project was limited by several factors including the vertical accuracy of elevation data (derived from LiDAR) and the static analysis applied to map coastal areas subject to future flooding which does not consider wave action and other coastal dynamics. Also, the estimated damages to buildings and infrastructure listed in Table 4 of the report are based upon the elevations of the land surrounding them, not the structure itself.

The modeled information in this report is based on the best understanding of the current and predicted future climate for this region. As model results and climate based projections are improved this report and reports of this type will need to be updated to reflect that new information, which could change the predicted amount of sea level rise and future climate impacts.

Tracking Coastal Adaptation: Implementing California’s Innovative Sea Level Rise Planning Database

Sea level rise presents a significant climate change adaptation challenge for California. The state has over 3400 miles of coastline, millions of coastal residents, and an economy dependent on coastal natural resources. Higher sea levels threaten residents, public and private development, critical infrastructure, and natural resources with increased risk of flooding, inundation, storm damage, shoreline erosion, saltwater intrusion, and beach loss.

Although California has long been a worldwide leader in mitigating global climate change through reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the state has only recently begun to focus seriously on adaptation actions, which aim to reduce or adjust the adverse impacts of climate change. California’s coastal communities, agencies, and public and private entities are largely in the early stages of planning for and addressing climate-related changes on the coastline.1 Because the coast is an integrated system, and entities throughout the state have similar adaptation needs and challenges, coordination in sea level rise adaptation across sectors, jurisdictions, and scales of governance is not just beneficial but essential. Yet recent reports on sea level rise have cited a lack of integration between the many actors engaged in adaptation in California and consequently have called for improved information-sharing.2

In response, the California Legislature recently enacted one of the state’s first laws designed to advance climate adaptation. A.B. 2516,3 which Governor Brown signed on September 21, 2014, directs the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) and Ocean Protection Council (OPC) to publish information about state and selected local efforts to respond to sea level rise in a publicly accessible online database. The law requires the following entities to submit relevant information to the database biannually: airports and ports in the coastal zone or San Francisco Bay area, investor-owned utilities and publicly owned electric or natural gas utilities in the coastal zone or San Francisco Bay area, regional water quality control boards, and several state entities with relevant jurisdiction (see Box 5 below).4 Notably, municipalities and counties do not fall under the reporting requirements of A.B. 2516.

The CNRA and OPC are currently in the process of developing an implementation strategy for A.B. 2516. A.B. 2516 was not accompanied by an appropriation of funds to support its implementation. With sufficient resources, however, the database has the potential to become one of the most robust sea level rise planning information portals in the country, and an example that other jurisdictions may wish to duplicate.5

Importantly, the law grants the agencies broad discretion to determine which types of sea level rise planning information to include in the database, whom to survey, and how to organize the data. These decisions are not insignificant. Creation of the database offers an opportunity to help establish a coastal adaptation survey and dataset that may be useful not only for state and local planning but also for broader assessment of California’s preparedness for sea level rise. And although mandatory reporting is limited to a discrete list of entities, all public and private actors engaged in coastal climate change adaptation—in California and beyond—stand to gain valuable knowledge and insight from the database. Furthermore, because California’s database is the first of its kind, the agencies’ choices about which information to survey, whom to survey, and how to structure the database have the potential to influence the form and scope of future adaptation databases in other jurisdictions.

This policy brief provides recommendations to the CNRA, OPC, and California Legislature regarding how to harness A.B. 2516 to enhance coastal climate change preparedness in California. The authors and contributors to these recommendations collectively bring expertise in coastal law, climate change adaptation, program evaluation, and survey research. Overall, acknowledging that the CNRA and OPC have limited resources to devote to implementation of A.B. 2516, we urge the agencies to work over the next several years to the best of their capacity toward developing a database that can play an integral role in the development and promotion of coordinated, integrated, and effective state adaptation policy.

Coastal Flood Damage and Adaptation Costs Under 21st Century Sea-Level Rise

Coastal flood damage and adaptation costs under 21st century sea-level rise are assessed on a global scale taking into account a wide range of uncertainties in continental topography data, population data, protection strategies, socioeconomic development and sea-level rise. Uncertainty in global mean and regional sea level was derived from four different climate models from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5, each combined with three land-ice scenarios based on the published range of contributions from ice sheets and glaciers. Without adaptation, 0.2–4.6% of global population is expected to be flooded annually in 2100 under 25–123 cm of global mean sea-level rise, with expected annual losses of 0.3–9.3% of global gross domestic product. Damages of this magnitude are very unlikely to be tolerated by society and adaptation will be widespread. The global costs of protecting the coast with dikes are significant with annual investment and maintenance costs of US$ 12–71 billion in 2100, but much smaller than the global cost of avoided damages even without accounting for indirect costs of damage to regional production supply. Flood damages by the end of this century are much more sensitive to the applied protection strategy than to variations in climate and socioeconomic scenarios as well as in physical data sources (topography and climate model). Our results emphasize the central role of long-term coastal adaptation strategies. These should also take into account that protecting large parts of the developed coast increases the risk of catastrophic consequences in the case of defense failure.

MTA Adaptations to Climate Change A Categorical Imperative

For organizations to survive, flourish and deliver public services, they must adapt to changing conditions and demands. Climate change is such a demand. Already it has impacted MTA facilities and operations, and will do more so during this century and beyond. The climate-induced change of the physical environment necessitates that MTA find an effective way to adapt its infrastructure, operations, and policies. This chapter provides a risk-based framework for adaptations to climate change. A risk-based, systematic approach to adaptation is important now because of the long lifetimes of urban infrastructure, long planning horizons, and the significant social, economic, and environmental risks faced by urban coastal areas already. New Orleans and hurricane Katrina are an extreme case in a special location far from the MTA service area, but they can serve as a wake-up call: lack of preventive action in the face of known threats can lead to unacceptable losses and outcomes. But not just such extreme events need attention. More frequent seemingly lesser events cause considerable disruptions and losses, as demonstrated by the modest storm of Aug 8, 2007 (MTA 2007). It severely disrupted much of the region’s mass transit. In addition, MTA facilities face a long-term threat from rising sea levels and higher storm surges.

Adaptation measures fall into different categories, and may follow distinct timelines and decision paths: first, a general adaptation policy needs to be adopted to guide the MTA leadership and MTA agencies in their adaptation efforts. It should include the mandate to develop a set of general performance standards for its facilities and operations vis-à-vis climate change; the implementation of these policies will require, in turn, agency-wide vulnerability assessments of the MTA’s physical assets and operations; an engineering- based feasibility assessment of remediation options with estimates of the economic, environmental, and social costs and benefits associated with the various risk reduction measures; MTA actions may require extensive cooperation and integration with other stakeholders, agencies, governments, communities and planning organizations.

These emerging adaptation plans will need to be fully integrated into the fiscal planning process, including preparation of long-range capital spending plans. The planning process will need to develop solutions for different time horizons: a short- term horizon for the next decade or less; a mid-range horizon of several decades; and a long-range preview on the order of a century or even longer. Such long time horizons typically apply to long-lasting infrastructure (e.g. bridges, tunnels, rights-of-way). On these longer time scales some climate-change-related threats (e.g. sea level rise and related storm surge inundations) could become severe and may require much more broadly based (regional, multi-agency) land-use and urban planning solutions than the shorter time horizon’s tasks demand. The National Academies (2008) have issued a report that outlines a framework for climate change adaptation specifically aimed at the transportation sector. It provides valuable information and generic guidance.

Some major regional adaptation measures (e.g. whether to consider regional storm barrier systems or not) constitute substantial policy issues that will require full coordination and joint actions with many levels of government and with stakeholders in the public and private sector, since larger and very fundamental social, economic and environmental issues related to land-use, urban planning and sustainability of entire communities and their livelihoods are at stake, if not those of the entire City and metropolitan region.

Climate risks to coastal urban areas largely stem from temperature rise, changes in precipitation, and sea level rise (SLR) and consequent higher storm surges. They manifest themselves by the frequency, intensity and duration of extreme events including heat waves, droughts, river and street flooding, and storm- and sea-level-rise-induced coastal flooding. Some of the MTA systems are more vulnerable than others: low-lying fixed structures such as below-sea-level road- or subway-tunnels, or near-sea-level railroad tracks, rail yards and shops are more prone to coastal and urban street flooding than bus routes that can be readily rerouted on short notice according to flood conditions.

In planning for adaptation, it is important to recognize that there is no “one size fits all” approach. For given expectations about climate change, different adaptations are appropriate for different types of facilities and their different life spans or criticalities. Rail yards, for example, may need hard protection against rising sea levels and storm surges, whereas other facilities, such as recreation areas, open space, and parking lots, can be allowed to flood temporarily at acceptable frequencies. A facility that will last for 20 years may not require significant adaptation now, whereas a substantial transportation facility with a lifetime of 100+ years and tied to a given right of way will require important adaptation elements with a well planned schedule. The timing of adaptations will differ according to rehabilitation and replacement cycles in addition to magnitude of risk exposure as, in general, adaptations to climate hazards are less expensive when undertaken as part of otherwise needed rehabilitation, replacement, or expansions.

The most challenging decisions may be those where MTA programs are tied to landuse-, community-, urban and regional planning that at some point in time may require the abandonment of land, real estate, or rights of way used for generations, or may need radical and expensive measures to raise or otherwise protect the infrastructure and/or communities from the risk of rising waters. As the last resort, options may include relocation and may require new rights-of-way at safer elevations.

This Adaptation Chapter expands on these general ideas as they apply to MTA facilities, operations, capital planning procedures, and related policies.

Addressing Climate Change Adaptation in Regional Transportation Plans A Guide for California MPOs and RTPAs

The reality of a changing climate means that transportation and planning agencies need to understand the potential effects of changes in storm activity, sea levels, temperature, and precipitation patterns; and develop strategies to ensure the continuing robustness and resilience of transportation infrastructure and services. This is a relatively new challenge for California’s MPOs and RTPAs – adding yet one more consideration to an already complex and multifaceted planning process. In that light, this guide is intended to support planning agencies in incorporating the risks of climate change impacts into their existing decision-making, complementing the broader planning and investment processes that MPOs and RTPAs already manage.

This guide was designed to account for the varying capacities and resources among MPOs and RTPAs, featuring methods that can be used by organizations seeking to conduct a more sketch-level assessment of the risk and vulnerability of the regional transportation assets to climate impacts, or in-depth analysis that incorporates separate stakeholder processes and geospatial analyses. It is oriented to provide information for two types of audiences.

  • A Basic User, a MPO or RTPA conducting climate impact assessments and/or climate vulnerability and risk assessments for the very first time. This pathway is appropriate for agencies with limited resources and GIS capability.
  • An Advanced User, a MPO or RTPA that has experience with climate impact assessments, has strong interagency partnerships with universities, natural resources agencies or public works departments and have more staff resources and technical tools to dedicate to the effort.

For both of these user types, this guide is a resource to help MPOs and RTPAs to: 

  • Assess the relative risks to their transportation system infrastructure and services of different climate stressors (sea-level rise, temperature changes, precipitation changes, extreme weather events); 
  • Conduct an asset inventory and vulnerability assessment of existing infrastructure;
  • Incorporate climate impact considerations into future long-range transportation planning and investment decisions.

Currently, there is no requirement to date to incorporate climate adaptation into regional transportation planning. Nevertheless, this guide provides information and tools to help MPOs/RTPAs anticipate the incorporation of climate assessment and adaptation into future planning efforts.

Mainstreaming Climate Change Adaptation Strategies into New York State Department of Transportation’s Operations: Final Report

This study identifies climate change adaptation strategies and recommends ways of mainstreaming them into planned actions, including legislation, policies, programs and projects in all areas and at all levels within the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT). In accomplishing its goal, the study team relied on: a literature review; discussions with key NYSDOT personnel based on a Climate Risk Information Summary worksheet; information from other ongoing and completed projects in climate change adaptation, especially those in the New York region; and advice and guidance from the NYSDOT‘s Technical Working Group and Columbia‘s Advisory Working Group for the project. The results of the project are presented (following the Introduction) in terms of: the current understanding of climate change science and climate futures for New York State; climate change impacts and vulnerabilities to transportation in NYS; adaptation strategies and best practices; potential adaptation strategies for mainstreaming climate change into the NYSDOT‘s operations and investment, including the detailed results of climate risk management discussions with personnel from 2 Divisions, 12 Offices, and 1 Region; and a communications and technology transfer plan.

Highlights from Federal Agency Adaptation Plans Federal Strategies for Promoting and Removing Barriers to State, Local, and Tribal Adaptation

Federal agencies released updated adaptation and sustainability plans on October 31, 2014. The updated plans build and improve upon the first phase of plans released in 2013. For the first time the plans include discussion of how agencies can leverage existing federal programs to better support and remove barriers to state, local, and tribal adaptation efforts.

Federal programs, policies, and decisions will be critical to ensuring the long-term resilience of states and communities. Federal agencies deliver billions of dollars in financial assistance; they develop the data, tools, and models that are critical to informed climate decisionmaking; and federal regulatory programs, such as the Clean Water Act and National Flood Insurance Program, greatly affect state and local decisionmaking.

Updated federal agency adaptation plans include important analysis of these downstream effects of federal programs on state and local decisionmakers. Plans discuss barriers and identify strategies for promoting resilience at the state, local and tribal level. This report provides a summary of the adaptation plans of key federal agencies: U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Commerce (DOC) including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Interior (DOI), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).