New Report Ranks States' Climate Change-Related Disaster Preparedness

Survey by Columbia Law School's Center for Climate Change Law Finds Land-Locked States Lag Behind Coastal States in Consideration of Climate Change in Hazard Mitigation Plans
New York, November 11, 2013—Despite risks such as drought, floods, and extreme heat, land-locked states lag behind their coastal counterparts in incorporating the effects of climate change into their hazard mitigation plans, according to a new report released today by Columbia Law School’s Center for Climate Change Law.
Michael Gerrard, Director of the Center for Climate Change Law and the Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia Law School, said that “this 50-state survey shows stark differences in how states plan for and prepare for disasters, and will provide a baseline of data to evaluate future revisions to these plans.” 
The center gathered data from all 50 state plans, which are required in order to receive federal disaster mitigation funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The report then ranked the states based on the extent to which they address climate change. While climate change is affecting and will continue to affect the frequency and severity of natural hazard events, FEMA does not require states to include climate change in their mitigation plans and explicit consideration of climate change varies widely across the country. 
The results of the survey indicate that coastal states are more likely to include a discussion of climate change, possibly due in part to recent emphasis on and awareness of the relationship between climate change and sea level rise, coastal storms, and related hazards. The relative lack of discussion of climate change in land-locked states may point to a need for greater communication of how risks such as drought, floods, heat events, and non-coastal storms are affected by climate change. 
The Center for Climate Change Law’s report ranked 18 states as Category 1, meaning the states’ plans either do not mention climate change issues at all or mention them in an inaccurate, confusing, and/or dismissing way. Eleven states received the center’s highest ranking, Category 4, because they include the most thorough discussions of both climate change impacts and climate adaptation and mitigation plans. The states in Category 4 were: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington. The remaining states fell into Categories 2 and 3.

Several states will be releasing updated mitigation plans in 2013 and 2014, and the Center for Climate Change Law’s survey forms a basis for improving those plans through shared lessons learned and targeted communication. State plans that currently include climate change analyses and adaptation plans may be used as examples for improving other plans.    “Given rising sea levels, and more frequent and intense storms, droughts, and heat waves, using only historical data is not sufficient to plan for future disasters,” Gerrard said. “We hope that the data and analysis in this report will encourage the lower-ranked states to upgrade their disaster planning.”

The report identifies California’s plan as having the most thorough consideration of climate change. California’s plan contains a climate change section that provides a description of climate change and important concepts such as climate change adaptation and mitigation, a listing of all of the state’s climate change initiatives, an overview and progress report on the state’s climate adaptation strategy, and a discussion of principles and recommendations for integrating climate change in current and future hazard mitigation plans. The plan is included in the appendix of the center’s report as a model.

The report was drafted by Matthew Babcock, a Columbia University student sponsored by Columbia’s Earth Institute.

View the complete report.