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Climate Resilience

Chicago Climate Action Plan: Prioritizing Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies Through Risk Assessment

The Chicago Climate Action Plan (CCAP) is the result of a three-phase research and development process, producing a “roadmap for reducing climate change impacts and adapting to the changes already occurring” (Coffee, et al.).

The three phases that produced the CCAP are as follows (Institute for Sustainable Communities):

  1. Climate Impacts Report—Assessing climate impacts, vulnerabilities, and risks.”
  2. Economic risk report of the economic risks to city infrastructure and services.
  3. Risk prioritization

The following is a summary of the third phase of the CCAP production, meant to provide a basic understand of how MWH Global, an engineering consulting firm, created the “risk prioritization.” In the case of the CCAP, risk prioritization was largely a cost/benefit analysis assessing the most detrimental climate change impacts (physically and economically) on the city and how these might be combated with easily implemented,  cost-effective,  adaptation or mitigation techniques that are highly efficient. Risk prioritization is important to the implementation of green infrastructure as it provides a method for implementing the most effective (greatest reduction in threat), cost efficient (quickest to find funding for) adaptation or mitigation techniques first, allowing more time for the research, development, and implementation of currently lesser known, less effective or more costly green infrastructures.

“The approach adopted for MWH’s risk assessment…was to combine a measure of the probability or likelihood of a predicted climate change impact occurring with a measure of the probable severity or magnitude of the consequences associated with specific impacts resulting from that prediction” (Parzen).   “For each of the climate-related predictions described in…[phases one and two], a scale of 1 to 5 for likelihood (5 being the most likely) was used. Similarly for each identified impact a scale of 0 to 5 was used for consequence (5 being of greater consequence, and 0 representing an impact with a beneficial outcome)” (Parzen).

Climate change predictions based on local physical and economic consequences due to the impacts of climate change such as increased urban heat island effect and flooding, and the likelihood of these events taking place produced three categories of impact including “High”, “Moderate”, and “Low” (Parzen). An additional factor of time was also used in prioritizing risks, including three time frames: “Now = already happening; Near = 2010 – 2039; Mid = 2040 -2069” (Parzen).  Impacts through to be occurring in the “Now” or “near” future and of “High” risk included heat related illnesses and death and increased energy costs. “Moderate” impacts include increased costs related to flooding and detrimental affects on local wetland rehabilitation and mitigation efforts (Parzen).

MWH then developed a methodology for recommending adaptation and mitigation tactics based on looking at the most high risk impacts and figuring out those which provided the best cost/benefit ratio. The potential actions were then evaluated and revised to increase its effectiveness in combating climate change and its economic efficiency in implementation. The resulting recommendations were then ranked based on their effectiveness in combating climate change, how necessary they were relative to the factor of time, and the level of benefit that would come from implementing these actions relative to their cost (Parzen).

“Currently…Chicago has 39 specific adaptation tactics in various stages of implementation…[with each “adaptation work group”]…developing action plans that include primary actors, timelines, budgets, and performance measures that the City will track” (Coffee, et al.).

The image below is from Coffee, et al. highlighting the prioritized results from the process of developing the CCAP.


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