Climate Change Adaptation Cost in the United States: What Do We Know?

This article, jointly authored by ICF International and others, assesses the current state of knowledge on the magnitude of adaptation cost in the United States. While incomplete, the studies suggest that adaptation cost could be as high as hundreds of billions of dollars annually by mid-century.

The article also identifies key studies in each sector, surveys the cost estimates and approaches to cost estimation, and highlights methodological issues in interpreting, comparing, and aggregating adaptation cost estimates. Steps are recommended to make future adaptation cost studies more comparable within and across sectors and more accessible and relevant to policy and decision makers.

Can Payments for Ecosystem Services Contribute to Adaptation to Climate Change? Insights from a Watershed in Kenya

Climate change presents new challenges for the management of social-ecological systems and the ecosystem services they provide. Although the instrument of payments for ecosystem services (PES) has emerged as a promising tool to safeguard or enhance the provision of ecosystem services (ES), little attention has been paid to the potential role of PES in climate change adaptation. As an external stressor climate change has an impact on the social-ecological system in which PES takes place, including the various actors taking part in the PES scheme. Following a short description of the conceptual link between PES and adaptation to climate change, we provide practical insights into the relationship between PES and adaptation to climate change by presenting results from a case study of a rural watershed in Kenya. Drawing upon the results of a participatory vulnerability assessment among potential ecosystem service providers in Sasumua watershed north of Nairobi, we show that PES can play a role in enhancing adaptation to climate change by influencing certain elements of adaptive capacity and incentivizing adaptation measures. In addition, trade-offs and synergies between proposed measures under PES and adaptation to climate change are identified. Results show that although it may not be possible to establish PES schemes based on water utilities as the sole source of financing, embedding PES in a wider adaptation framework creates an opportunity for the development of watershed PES schemes in Africa and ensures their sustainability. We conclude that there is a need to embed PES in a wider institutional framework and that extra financial resources are needed to foster greater integration between PES and adaptation to climate change. This can be achieved through scaling up PES by bringing in other buyers and additional ecosystem services. PES can achieve important coadaptation benefits, but for more effective adaptation outcomes it needs to be combined with vulnerability assessments and climate scenarios to ensure that these are realized and potential trade-offs between PES measures and adaptation measures minimized.

Hawaiian Islands Climate Vulnerability and Adaptation Synthesis

The goal of the Hawaiian Islands Climate Synthesis Project was to develop comprehensive, science-based syntheses of current and projected future climate change impacts on, and adaptation options for, terrestrial and freshwater resources within the main Hawaiian Islands. The Hawaiian Islands Climate Vulnerability and Adaptation Synthesis presents the results of the major project components - climate impacts assessment, vulnerability assessment, and adaptation planning - and provides an inter-island analysis of the findings. More detailed information is available in the individual vulnerability assessment syntheses and adaptation summaries, and should be referred to for decision support, which can be found at

NIST Community Resilience Economic Decision Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems

This Economic Guide provides a standard economic methodology for evaluating investment decisions aimed to improve the ability of communities to adapt to, withstand, and quickly recover from disruptive events. The Economic Guide is designed for use in conjunction with the NIST Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems, which provides a methodology for communities to develop long-term plans by engaging stakeholders, establishing performance goals for buildings and infrastructure systems, and developing an implementation strategy, by providing a mechanism to prioritize and determine the efficiency of resilience actions. The methodology described in this report frames the economic decision process by identifying and comparing the relevant present and future streams of costs and benefits—the latter realized through cost savings and damage loss avoidance—associated with new capital investment into resilience to those future streams generated by the status-quo. Topics related to non-market values and uncertainty are also explored. This report provides context for increasing resilience capacity through focusing on those investments that target key social goals and objectives, and providing selection criteria that ensure reduction of risks as well as increases in resilience. Furthermore, the methodological approach aims to enable the built environment to be utilized more efficiently in terms of loss reduction during recovery and to enable faster and more efficient recovery in the face of future disasters.

Limiting the Federal Government's Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks

Climate change is considered by many to be a complex, crosscutting issue that poses risks to many environmental and economic systems and presents a significant financial risk to the federal government. According to the National Research Council (NRC), although the exact details cannot be predicted with certainty, there is clear scientific understanding that climate change poses serious risks to human society and many of the physical and ecological systems upon which society depends.1 According to the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), among other reported impacts, climate change could threaten coastal areas with rising sea levels, alter agricultural productivity, and increase the costs of severe weather events as these once “rare” events potentially become more common and intense due to climate change.

These impacts call attention to areas where government-wide action is needed to reduce fiscal exposure, because, among other roles, the federal government (1) leads a strategic plan that coordinates federal efforts and also informs state, local, and private-sector action; (2) owns or operates extensive infrastructure vulnerable to climate impacts, such as defense facilities and federal property; (3) insures property and crops vulnerable to climate effects; (4) provides data and technical assistance to federal, state, local, and private-sector decision makers responsible for managing the impacts of climate change on their activities; and (5) provides disaster relief aid. As a result, we added Limiting the Federal Government's Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks to the High-Risk List in 2013.

EPA Financing Green Infrastructure: A Best Practices Guide for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund

Since 1988, EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) has established itself as an important source of affordable funding for infrastructure projects that improve and maintain the quality of our nation’s waters. Each of the 51 programs operating independently across the United States and Puerto Rico demonstrate the power of federal and state partnerships to leverage financial resources in the interest of building sustainable infrastructure and protecting public health and water quality. There is no single prescription for accomplishing these goals; infrastructure solutions must be tailored to meet the environmental and economic needs of individual communities. States have significant flexibility within the CWSRF to establish their own funding priorities, assist communities of all sizes, and address a wide range of water quality concerns.

This best practices guide illustrates a variety of incentives states use to encourage consideration and implementation of green infrastructure and foster sustainability within their programs. Some of the incentives and examples featured in the guide are not specific to green infrastructure, but could easily be adapted to focus on green infrastructure implementation. Likewise, many of the practices that are specific to green infrastructure can also be applied to other sustainable projects such as water and energy efficiency. State programs have used the practices in this guide with great success. EPA is pleased to highlight these efforts in the hope that other interested programs can follow their example.

Climate Change Adaptation Plan: U.S. Department of the Treasury (2014)

Our goal is to develop practical, nationally consistent, legally justifiable, and cost effective measures, both structural and nonstructural, to reduce our vulnerability, while increasing our resilience to climate change. We are engaged in a collaborative approach, partnering with other federal agencies. This collaboration takes advantage of our different perspectives and expertise so that our progress reflects the best available and actionable science. We are developing and implementing plans, policies, and infrastructure adaptation in parallel, rather than sequentially, so that adaptation begins soonest for projects that are most vulnerable. We will refine our adaptation based on any new knowledge that is gained.

This report also provides details on current adaptation planning and implementation progress. We believe that the scope, collaboration, and the resources applied to climate change adaptation planning demonstrate the importance Treasury has placed on this critical challenge to the sustainability of our mission, operation, and our responsibility to the nation.

U.S. Department of Justice Climate Change Adaptation Plan

This document presents the Department of Justice (DOJ) Climate Change Adaptation Plan (also referred to as the “Adaptation Plan”), to be submitted to the White House Council on Environmental Quality as part of the DOJ 2014 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan and implemented throughout DOJ in FY 2014 and beyond. DOJ, along with other Federal agencies, is required to comply with the climate resiliency directives under Executive Order (EO) 13514, Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance (2009) and EO 13653, Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change (2013).

In accordance with these requirements, this Adaptation Plan presents DOJ’s climate change policy framework, summarizes the results of the agency’s high-level vulnerability analysis, describes the overall process envisioned for preparedness planning and evaluation, and identifies specific actions for increasing climate resilience. The Adaptation Plan includes a detailed discussion of the programmatic activities and actions the agency intends to pursue to both better understand and address climate change risks and opportunities in FY 2014 and beyond. These actions align with the four major climate change vulnerabilities identified by DOJ in the 2012 U.S. Department of Justice Climate Change Adaptation Plan: 1) physical damage to buildings, utilities infrastructure, and assets; 2) health impacts to personnel; 3) disruption of operations resulting from potential unrest among affected populations; and 4) depletion of fiscal resources.

Housing and Urban Development Climate Change Adaptation Plan

The Department is committed to identifying threats and adapting policies and investments to help communities to better prepare for and respond to the effects of climate change, including rebuilding after natural disasters. As a result of this work, HUD and its partners are helping to protect lives and livelihoods, promote equitable and sustainable development, and more responsibly invest limited fiscal resources. In doing this, HUD is saving taxpayer dollars by ensuring preventative measures are taken to reduce future disaster response and recovery costs. HUD is working to manage the effects of climate change on its mission, programs, and operations by:

  • Engaging experts inside and outside of the Department to better understand the risks and impacts of climate change.
  • Working with grantees to help reduce the vulnerability of local communities to climate change.
  • Ensuring that the lives of vulnerable and disadvantaged populations are not only considered, but improved, as a result of these activities.
  • Consulting with all levels of government (state, local, tribal, and territorial) to identify and remove policy, programmatic, and other barriers to resilient investments and respond to the needs of communities impacted by climate change.
  • Enforcing and implementing relevant civil rights statutes and environmental justice policies as they pertain to climate change.

Storm-Ready Cities: How Climate Resilience Boosts Metro Areas and the Economy

In his Climate Action Plan, President Barack Obama acknowledged the risks of climate change to families, businesses, infrastructure, and water supplies across the country. To help metro areas manage these risks, the president pledged to reduce flood damage by raising flood elevation standards for federally funded infrastructure projects, to support community resilience through existing federal grant programs, and to make climate change information more accessible, among other actions. But given the high cost of strengthening cities to withstand extreme weather—which the journal Climate Policy reports could rise to hundreds of billions of dollars per year by the middle or end of the century—and the even higher cost of inaction, urban and federal leaders must do more to increase metro-area resilience.

In this report, we identify climate change risks to cities, highlight metro areas that are taking the lead to build resilience in ways that support economic growth and help tackle other pressing challenges, and recommend local and federal actions to further support urban resilience and inclusive, sustainable economic growth. Our recommendations include: