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December 02, 2015

Philadelphia releases city's first climate-readiness report

New analysis provides recommendations for adaptations that will protect city from effects of climate change

Urban Planning Climate Change
121215_ClimateReport Cameraluv/Flickr

Philadelphia Museum of Art in the winter.

As world leaders in Paris continue to negotiate a global climate action plan, the city of Philadelphia on Wednesday released its first climate adaptation report detailing how climate change will impact municipal operations and how the city can respond to mitigate potential risks from public safety to resource management.

The report, "Growing Stronger: Toward a Climate-Ready Philadelphia," draws attention to several extreme weather events and trends recorded in Philadelphia over the last five years: our two snowiest winters, our two warmest summers, our wettest day and two wettest years, and two hurricanes, among other events.

Driven by the spike in local records and an accelerating trajectory predicted by climate scientists, the Mayor's Office of Sustainability first convened the Climate Adaptation Working Group (CAWG) in 2012 to draw on the wisdom of 10 agencies and departments that will guide the city's preparation for climate change.

“While world leaders are gathered in Paris to negotiate an international agreement, we are focused on what we can and need to do at the local level,” said Katherine Gajewski, Director of Sustainability for the city of Philadelphia. “The effects of a changing climate are already apparent in Philadelphia. We need to understand what climate change will look like on the ground and how to advance smart, proactive initiatives that will help us to prepare. Climate actions often come with a host of co-benefits that we are eager to identify and incorporate into how we make decisions and investments.”

Process and timeline for developing and implementing climate adaptation actions for Philadelphia. (Contributed Art/City of Philadelphia)

Using a combination of local weather data, regional climate projections and vulnerability maps, the report notes that Philadelphia is still far from "climate proof" in the face of warmer and wetter conditions projected to become the norm over the course of the 21st century.

These new weather patterns have the potential to decrease quality of life, disrupt business continuity, reduce the attractiveness of Philadelphia to businesses and residents, and damage built infrastructure and the natural environment — but the changes also provide opportunities to prevent these harms while providing additional benefits to Philadelphians.

The report details the nature and extent of climate change anticipated in Philadelphia and breaks down how various risk factors – flooding, emergency management, infrastructure damage, and asset protection – can be addressed proactively by city agencies through early implementation plans. There are also summaries of the existing capabilities Philadelphia has developed both to prepare for climate change and to mitigates its causes.

At the state level, Pennsylvania recently received a favorable preparedness grade from States at Risk for climate-driven and weather-related threats. The report specifically commended the state's efforts to understand and plan for climate change-related risks, an encouraging sign for Philadelphia as it embraces a similar approach.

"Looking forward, the city of Philadelphia will need to continue climate-adaptation work at the municipal level, and at the same time, work with residents, businesses and infrastructure managers to develop a citywide roadmap for adapting to our changing climate."

The full report can be viewed here.