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The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing examining the current and projected impacts of climate change in the Northeast and regional efforts to manage these risks.


Radley Horton
Associate Research Scientist, Columbia University; Convening Lead Author, National Climate Assessment Chapter on the Northeast
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Scott Davis
Senior Advisor, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
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Dan Zarrilli
Director of the Office of Recovery and Resiliency, New York City
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Debra Knopman
Vice-President, RAND Corporation; Director, RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment
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Question & Answer Session:

The Northeast is home to approximately 64 million people and is one of the most built-up environments in the world. Since much of the population and infrastructure is located along the coast, this region is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, as was most clearly seen when Hurricanes Irene and Sandy struck in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Between 1958 and 2010, the Northeast experienced a 70 percent increase in the amount of precipitation falling during very heavy events.

The Third National Climate Assessment (NCA), which was released on May 6, projects that climate change will further threaten the region’s environmental, social, and economic systems. While many of the states and municipalities in the Northeast have developed plans to mitigate and adapt to the threats of climate change, implementation is still in the early stages. How have federal, state, and local government initiatives acted to increase resiliency against current and future impacts of climate change? What more can and should be done to reduce these risks?

The NCA defines the Northeast as the “high-density urban coastal corridor from Washington D.C. to Boston,” and includes the 12 states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. The NCA states that private and public infrastructure will be increasingly compromised by sea level rise, coastal flooding, and intense precipitation events. Infrastructure at significant risk includes networks for energy supply, transportation, communications, water supply, and wastewater treatment. The potential regional and national economic impacts—absent investment for adaptation—are staggering. The direct effects of more frequent flooding and extreme heat events, compounded by infrastructure failures, could lead to increased health risks and death rates for the region’s residents, especially its most disadvantaged populations (i.e., the elderly, children, low-income individuals). Warmer weather may result in a longer growing season, which has mixed implications for the region’s agricultural sector.

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