Climate-smart infrastructure should apply rigorous science, prioritize equitable outcomes, spend limited resources wisely, and plan proactively, holistically, and transparently

By Jamesine Rogers Gibson November 20, 2017 Read full Union of Concerned Scientists post here

“Climate-smart” infrastructure means designing and building infrastructure with future climate projections in mind, instead of building infrastructure based on past trends. Climate-smart design takes advantage of opportunities to reduce heat-trapping emissions and encourages innovative solutions to bring social, economic, health, and environmental benefits to Californians.

In the next few years, California will invest billions of dollars in new infrastructure, as well as in maintaining and retrofitting existing systems. In this white paper, we outline key principles, barriers, and recommendations to leverage these investments to strengthen the climate resilience of California’s infrastructure system, and ensure it will continue to deliver key services for many decades to come.

Principles for climate-smart infrastructure include:

  1. Applying rigorous science
  2. Prioritizing equitable outcomes
  3. Spending limited resources wisely
  4. Planning proactively, holistically, and transparently

….Our recommendations focus on ways the state, as well as local governments, can overcome existing barriers to do just that:

  • Update standards and codes.
  • Increase local technical capacity.
  • Establish a state coordinating center to support state agencies.
  • Incorporate costs of climate change and benefits of climate resilience into economic assessments, and develop data and tools for analyses.
  • Require meaningful climate-smart criteria for use of public funds.
  • Leverage existing and identify new sources of funding and creative financing for climate resilient infrastructure.
  • Encourage financial transparency of climate risks for public infrastructure projects.
  • Plan in advance for climate-smart disaster recovery efforts.
  • Increase local predevelopment capacity, and transparency and inclusion in decision-making.
  • Ensure better interjurisdictional and cross-sectoral coordination at both the state and local levels.

The UCS white paper describes a set of principles for ‘climate-smart’ infrastructure and then highlights barriers and opportunities for improving and accelerating their integration into public infrastructure decisions.  Climate-smart infrastructure is designed and built with future climate projections in mind, rather than relying on historic data that are no longer a good predictor of our climate future. It bolsters the resilience of the Golden State’s communities and economy to the impacts of extreme weather and climate change instead of leaving communities high and dry, overheated, or underwater.

A microgrid is providing efficient, reliable, cleaner power for Blue Lake Rancheria government offices, buildings, and other critical infrastructure, such as an American Red Cross disaster shelter. It will also create local jobs and bring energy cost savings. Photo: Blue Lake Rancheria

Climate-smart also can reduce heat-trapping emissions, spend limited public funds wisely, and prioritize equitable infrastructure decisions. This last point is important because some communities in California are more vulnerable to both climate impacts and infrastructure failure due in part to decades of underinvestment and disinvestment, especially in many low-income communities, communities of color, and tribal communities.

When done right, the results can be innovative infrastructure solutions, like the Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid, that bring social, economic, health, and environmental benefits to Californians AND protect us from the weather extremes we are inevitably facing.  More examples of climate-smart principles in action are described in the white paper, and some are shown in the accompanying StoryMap.