Westchester Climate Change Summit

By Drew Gamils, Associate Pace Environmental Law Review. Class of 2016 

On Friday September 12, 2014, Pace Law School’s Global Center for Environmental Legal Studies and Federated Conservationists of Westchester County hosted a daylong conference to discuss the impacts of climate change in Westchester County, New York State, and the surrounding New York metropolitan region.

The morning keynote speaker, Dr. Cynthia Rosenzweig, presented on “Enhancing Resilience to Climate Change in the New York Metropolitan Region.” Dr. Rosenzweig is a Senior Research Scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. She is in charge of the Climate Impact Group at the Institute. Her presentation highlighted the threats that climate change will impose on the New York region. Such threats include rising sea levels, fluctuating temperatures, and changing precipitation patterns.  The New York region has experienced an increase in mean average temperature by 4.4°F, an increase in temperature variability, sea level rise of over 1 foot since 1900, and a 75% increase in the heaviest rain events in the Northeast in the last 50 years. Dr. Rosenzweig proposed solutions and strategies available to municipalities and individuals to address these threats, but what can the legal community do to develop solutions to combat climate change?

The New York regional area local climate record shows that there has been an increase in extreme events with increases in higher temperatures, heat waves, heavy rains, and huge snow storms. These extreme events no longer appear at random and have been occurring on a more regular basis. Scientists are working hard to make projections to facilitate risk-based decision making in the metropolitan area. These projects incorporate a range of possible outcomes based on climate model results and different predictions for future greenhouse gas emissions.

As a result, it is critical to community resilience to develop flexible approaches to deal with climate change impacts. These flexible adaption pathways must use both adaptation and mitigation methods at the same time to respond to climate change. These flexible adaptation pathways refer to adaptation approaches that focus on the uncertain and long-term nature of climate change using risk-based decision making. Furthermore, regional responses must incorporate legal and policy solutions that are also flexible to appropriately adapt and respond to a changing future.

These flexible adaptation pathways involve several steps of assessment and implementation to prioritize, plan, monitor, and reassess strategies and solutions. In New York City the flexible adaptation pathway approaches focus on minimizing the risks to critical infrastructure that will result from sea level rise, high temperatures, and changing precipitation patterns. There are lots of players involved in creating resilient communities in the metropolitan area. Successful approaches to resilience action requires consideration of policy, engineering, ecosystem, and social approaches. The legal community needs to also consider adaptation and mitigation solutions to adequately develop appropriate laws and regulations to address the issue of climate change. It is important to consider the scientific literature and model based outcome projections. Decision makers make decisions on uncertainties every day, what is key is to be clear about what the uncertainties are and seriously consider the future projections to take on a probabilistic approach to legal and policy solutions. Overall, it is important to consider these solutions on a regional scale.

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