Hazards Planning Research Center

Anticipating Impacts of Climate Change

Climate change is changing the way we think about our future on the planet. Whether because of warming or other impacts, we can no longer be certain that the climate we enjoy in particular regions will remain stable even within our own lifetimes. The changes scientists have predicted pose new dangers for our communities, which must evolve and adapt even as they seek to mitigate those changes by reducing their own carbon footprints.

Some of those changes surely involve, if not greater impacts from natural hazards, at least greater volatility with regard to meteorologically generated natural disasters. Greater drought in some areas could lead to increased propensity for wildfires. Global warming could significantly increase the risks of urban heat emergencies, such as those that have affected major cities in Europe and North America. Sea-level rise could increase the vulnerability of numerous highly populated coastal communities both by bringing existing development closer to the shore and by compromising some of the natural protections they have previously enjoyed. These sorts of changes should be anticipated and included in any hazard identification in both local hazard mitigation plans under the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 and in comprehensive plan elements devoted to natural hazards. California has taken a major step in this direction by requiring that climate change be addressed in safety elements of local comprehensive plans.

The Hazards Planning Research Center has addressed these questions through its work on PAS Report No. 560, Integrating Hazard Mitigation into Local Planning. Funded by FEMA, this project examined best practices in how communities integrate hazard mitigation into all aspects of the planning process, most especially including the comprehensive plan. Two of the six case studies in the report pertain to communities in California that are already planning to address these issues.

Currently, the Center is also undertaking work on how communities can better plan for the impacts of drought through mitigation and preparedness, through an agreement with the National Drought Mitigation Center of the University of Nebraska. The product will be a PAS Report on best practices in this area.