Action Needed Now for Climate Change Preparedness, Reinvestment Urged in Natural Defenses

Oct 24 2014

Climate impacts are hitting home faster than governments are adapting, but it’s not too late to protect our communities with cost-effective, nature-based approaches for risk reduction, according to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation, Allied World Assurance Company Holdings, LG, and Earth Economics. Natural Defenses from Hurricanes and Floods: Protecting America’s Communities and Ecosystems in an Era of Extreme Weather takes an in-depth look at the growing risks we face from these potentially-catastrophic natural hazards, the policy solutions that can safeguard people, property and wildlife habitats, and local case studies that point the way forward. It calls on America to substantially increase our investments in proactive risk reduction measures at a “Marshall Plan” scale that takes into consideration the growing risks from more intense storms, flooding and sea level rise.

…”There are obvious financial implications to the insurance industry as a result of extreme weather,” said Scott Carmilani, President and Chief Executive Officer of Allied World Assurance Company Holdings, AG.  “More importantly, insurance carriers need to partner with clients to help them mitigate their risk in the event of hurricanes and floods. It simply makes good business sense to confront this threat now and that’s why we’re working together with conservationists, industry partners and elected officials to find solutions.” The report analyzes a series of studies showing how taking action now can protect our communities and save money, highlighting how healthy natural systems such as dunes, oyster reefs, barrier islands and wetlands can reduce flood risk more effectively in many cases than erecting levees and seawalls. Among the examples:

  • Jamaica Bay prepares for strengthening storms: A broad coalition of federal, state and local agencies have restored more than 150 acres of wetlands, which held strong and helped absorb wave action during superstorm Sandy.
  • Duluth plans now for the next flood: In the wake of 2012’s flooding that caused $55 million in damages, Duluth worked with NOAA to conduct an economic benefit-cost study of natural infrastructure projects to reduce flood risks. It’s now applied for and received an Environmental Protection Agency grant to help fund a project that can naturally store 200,000 gallons of stormwater.
  • California’s Yuba County protects farms, cleans water and sustains wildlife: By moving 9,600 feet of levees further back from the shores of the Bear and Feather Rivers, Yuba County reconnected 600 acres of flood-prone agricultural land to the floodplain. This land has since been restored into habitat that supports numerous species of fish and wildlife, provides a variety of recreational opportunities, and helps buffer the release of pollutants from nearby agricultural operations into the rivers….

….This report identifies seven areas of federal and state law in need of improvement:

  1. Phase out subsidies for federal flood insurance to reduce incentives for development in high-risk and environmentally-sensitive areas while taking care to address social equity impacts.
  2. Prioritize federal investments on the front end of disasters, potentially reducing billions in disaster relief after storms and floods.
  3. Further reduce and eliminate federal subsidies that lead to more development on barrier islands.
  4. Ensure better protection of wetlands, intermittent streams, and other water bodies that can absorb floodwaters, act as speed bumps for storm surge, and buffer communities.
  5. Refocus Army Corps of Engineers on restoration projects
    that work with nature to reduce flood risk
    rather than on multi-billion dollar civil works construction projects.
  6. Ensure that state-sponsored insurance programs are designed in ways that discourage development in hazard-prone areas while protecting socially-vulnerable communities.
  7. Take urgent action to reduce carbon pollution that’s worsening extreme weather.

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