Flooding from Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey, US

US President Barack Obama has issued an executive order directing planners, developers and local consent authorities to factor in increased flood heights and frequency due to climate change, in an effort to bolster the resilience of the nation’s built environment.

The move, which follows a massive increase of funds for climate and renewable energy on Mr Obama’s wishlist for the US budget (see below), might be something a new Queensland government should consider after last year’s debacle where former deputy premier Jeff Seeney ordered a Brisbane council to remove future sea-level rise from its planning regulations.

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“These [flood] impacts are anticipated to increase over time due to the effects of climate change and other threats. Losses caused by flooding affect the environment, our economic prosperity, and public health and safety, each of which affects our national security,” Mr Obama said.

“The federal government must take action, informed by the best available and actionable science, to improve the nation’s preparedness and resilience against flooding.”

The order states that government departments and agencies must avoid either direct or indirect support of floodplain development “wherever there is a practicable alternative”.

Like Australia, the US has a population heavily concentrated in coastal, urban areas, many now deemed to be at risk of flood. Under the order, agencies are to increase the current base flood level assessments both vertically and horizontally, with a “climate-informed science approach that uses the best available, actionable hydrologic and hydraulic data and methods that integrate current and future changes in flooding based on climate science” used to determine the revised flood hazard.

An alternative approach is also offered of authorities or planners adding two feet (0.6 metres) to the current base flood elevation for non-critical buildings such as homes or commercial premises, or three feet (0.9m) in the case of critical facilities such as hospitals. Estimates of the likelihood of flooding are also to be increased.

The move follows a massive boost to climate and renewable energy in Mr Obama’s wish list for the nation’s budget.

According to Huffington Post it includes:

  • Increased spending on renewable energy research and development – US$7.4 billion for programs designed to stimulate the development of clean energy technology, mainly through the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Agriculture, and the National Science Foundation
  • Extended tax credits for wind and solar –includes  a 30 percent federal tax credit for solar systems on residential and commercial properties
  • A new fund to help states cut emissions – Including a $4 billion fund designed “to encourage states to make faster and deeper cuts to power plant emissions than would be required under the rules proposed by Obama’s EPA last year”
  • Being more prepared for natural disasters, including an increase of $184 million in the National Flood Insurance Program Risk Mapping efforts…to $400 million
  • International efforts to fight climate change –  $1.29 billion to advance its Global Climate Change Initiative, which includes $500 million for US contributions to the UN’s Green Climate Fund—the first installment of the $3 billion pledged by the US last November.

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