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How DC Can Rise to the Challenges of Climate Change

by Nena Perry-Brown

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A map showing DC’s sea levels in 2100 due to Antarctic glacial melting

The District is not immune from the effects of climate change and a panel on Tuesday night discussed how the city is responding to mounting environmental concerns.

The panel, moderated by former Ward 6 councilmember Tommy Wells, offered a reality check on climate change, its likely impact in the District and what is being done to prevent the worst from happening. The overall takeaway for the evening was that different cities and localities need to partner together to come up with bold and creative solutions to diminish the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable people and neighborhoods.

Wells noted that DC’s location — situated between two tidal rivers and on top of a tectonic plate — means that the city is gradually sinking even as sea levels rise. Even though the city is currently implementing its Sustainable DC plan, involving several benchmarks and timelines aimed at reducing emissions, additional steps need to be taken in order to prepare the city for the inevitable effects of climate change.

Washington Post Deputy Weather Editor Angela Fritz pointed out that Antarctic glacial melting alone could raise DC-area sea levels by two meters by the year 2100. In light of such sobering information, the city is drafting a climate adaptation plan which will assess and address its infrastructure and neighborhood vulnerability, as well as identify what lies within the floodplains.

DC’s former head of the Office of Planning Harriet Tregoning, now with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, offered a perspective on the nationwide and local responses to climate change. There were 208 declared disasters in the U.S. between 2011 and 2013, and while most funding goes toward restoring impacted areas, Tregoning’s office set aside $1 billion at the end of 2013 for the National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC). The contest offered an opportunity for disaster-affected localities to develop solutions to not only rebuild, but to do so in such a way that future vulnerabilities are mitigated against. HUD announced the winners of the contest this past January.

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A winning NDRC design for a New York City park that will mitigate rising sea levels

Another area of concern is the disproportionate impact of extreme weather and environmental instability on poorer households. Tregoning pointed out that the benefits of renewable energy have largely been inequitable thus far, and poor people pay more for utilities.

Wells explained that up to 10 percent of the city can support solar panels, but the challenge is to figure out how to maximize the benefits of solar power for low-income residents. Towards that end, the city is spending $25 million over 24 months to invest in solar energy, and solar panels will be installed on DC government buildings (which already receive 30 percent of their energy from a Pennsylvania wind farm).

Ultimately, the takeaway from the evening was that cities need to experiment and find solutions that can address impending climate change, the need for improved and expanded transit, and underemployment. While Tregoning jokingly asked, “don’t you think the monuments would be beautiful by gondola?”, the fact remains that these are the kinds of bold proposals that can become effective solutions.

See other articles related to: planning, hud, climate change

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/how_dc_can_rise_to_the_challenges_of_climate_change/11130

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