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City May Implement Policy Adapting to Effects of Climate Change

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega City May Implement Policy Adapting to Effects of Climate Change
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The City of Columbus may soon implement public policy to adapt to the consequences of climate change. A taskforce headed by researchers at The Ohio State University’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center (BRCRC) has released an action plan meant to prepare the city for more extreme weather. It’ll be presented to Columbus City Council and Mayor Andrew Ginther next month.

This new report is based on a prior one released by the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments (GLISA) program and the City, which measured seasons, tracked temperatures, determined water quality, and gathered other weather-related data in central Ohio. It also contains considerations for emergency preparedness and ensuring protection for low-income and other vulnerable neighborhoods.

Its findings predict near-future bouts of increased heat — especially at night — as well as heavier rainfall, flooding and decreased water quality.

“Some of these come together, if you think about it,” said Jason Cervenec, education and outreach director for BPCRC. “You have an intense downpour, it pours a lot of fertilizer and materials into the waterways in the city, and then you have warm conditions that can cause algae to bloom and grow.

That’s where these one-two punches come. We have a warmer temperature regimen and also heavy downpours. Warmer temperatures can cause reduced air quality. There’s some health effects that you wouldn’t necessarily think directly tie to climate change, but they do.”

Accounting for these changes, residents and businesses will be spending more money on air conditioning to keep people cool. Companies will need to provide more for construction workers laboring in the heat to build homes for the influx of 1 million residents by 2035. And, those who don’t have or can’t afford air conditioning will be at an increased risk of heat stress in the summer, the country’s number one killer in weather-related events.

Insurance premiums may increase as well, as heavy rainfall causes basement flooding and other water damage. Those whose insurance lacks flood protection could lose everything.

“From my experience, [climate change] mitigation seems like a really abstract thing for a lot of people until they’ve realized the adaptation cost,” Cervenec said.

Although this report doesn’t cover climate change mitigation, Cervenec said those efforts should and need to continue. The study will inform initiatives like Branch Out, the city’s plan to plant 300,000 trees by 2020, thickening the canopy over Columbus to protect residents from extreme heat. Many urban neighborhoods are disproportionately exposed to the sun, making them vulnerable when the summers begin to get longer and hotter. So far, at about 35,650 trees, the program has planted 12 percent of its goal.

“There’s no point at which you’re beyond the point of no return, and in fact, it’s probably important to do more sooner to mitigate climate change, because those impacts compound over time,” Cervenec said.

According to the 2015 study, which looked at local average annual temperatures, noted a 2.3 degree increase in temperature from 1951 to 2012, “higher than both national and global averages.” Precipitation has also taken off, with storms becoming 30 percent more likely and precipitation rising by 20 percent.

“You can have a 2-, 3-, or 4-degree temperature increase. Ideally, to keep the conditions we have now, you want to keep that as low as possible,” Cervenec said, “but throwing up your hands and saying ‘Don’t do anything,’ is definitely not the course of action we want people to follow.”

Although the state has yet to release its own climate change adaptation plan, Columbus is not the first municipality to move forward on the matter independently. Other Ohio cities, including Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton and Toledo, have all developed comparable action plans.

The value of a statewide plan, Cervenec said, would be application to larger regions that share the same climate. It’d benefit other more rural counties as well; Downtown Columbus is going to have different problems than Newark or New Albany. Cervenec said the report has already been shared with other counties and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) through which he expects the document will spread further throughout the state.

The report is available for public review and input until March 9, after which the finalized report will be given to city council and Mayor Ginther. Cervenec said it’s important for the study that long-time residents and experts in the field contribute what they can so that the city is informed before it implements policy. It’s available at bpcrc.osu.edu/columbus.


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