Yes, the weather has been weird. Yes, there's something we can do about it. - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Yes, the weather has been weird. Yes, there's something we can do about it.

ThinkStock via Crain's Chicago Business

The snowman: soon to be a relic in the Midwest?

This editorial originally appeared in Crain's Business Chicago on Monday, March 20, 2017.

In the midst of what was a historic snow drought—a dry spell that quickly ended last week—business and climate leaders gathered to drill down on the impacts felt in the Midwest from a changing climate.

At the National Climate Assessment session earlier this month, climate scientists reiterated predictions that indicate the Midwest could, by the end of the century, experience 45 to 85 days over 95 degrees Fahrenheit—a change that would increase heat-related deaths per year tenfold. Another prediction suggested that, by 2040, Midwesterners could see 20 percent more precipitation events in spring and experience 10 percent fewer in summer.

At the three-day Climate Leadership Conference, also in Chicago in early March, participants reaffirmed the need for a clear link between private-sector leadership and climate action. While there is no shortage of money for climate investment, there is a need for better visibility for private investment opportunities and better risk disclosures.

What we heard from both groups was a call for private and public leaders to continue to talk about—and invest in—local solutions.

Even as the Trump administration proposes to cut the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's budget by 30 percent, there are other viable options for the federal government to take action. President Trump confirmed his interest in a National Infrastructure Bank in his address before Congress. This could serve as one clearly visible avenue for the private sector to engage in infrastructure investment. In that regard, the administration should consider three objectives:

1. Accelerate funds for resilient infrastructure projects by the National Infrastructure Bank, focusing especially on infrastructure modernization and rehabilitation that increases the safety and security of existing infrastructure while creating jobs.

2. Increase private-sector engagement in infrastructure redevelopment by considering a corporate tax code change that would provide a community infrastructure revitalization credit to promote public infrastructure upgrades and develop or redevelop real estate served by the infrastructure.

3. Consider carefully the National Flood Improvement Program, which is $23 billion in debt and must be reauthorized by Sept. 30. To ensure a fiscally solvent program of flood insurance for homeowners and businesses and to help community actions to reduce flood losses, the program could increase transparency and provide better risk information; address rates and ensure affordability; and encourage individuals and communities to mitigate flood risks.

Local solutions are still called for in this uncertain time from Washington. So let us re-examine our risks from a changing climate across the complex intersections of the built, natural and social systems of our society: supply chains, job centers, residential and commercial buildings, real estate developments, utilities, sewer and stormwater pipes, transportation networks, flood-prone and disinvested communities, public green spaces and vacant brownfields.

If planning and investment decisions in these areas are being made, for example, under the assumption that flood risks in the future will be identical to flood risk in the past, that is simply flawed logic.

Take part in this conversation. Ask yourself and your colleagues: What are the climate risks in my portfolio today and tomorrow? How does the private sector engage in mitigation and adaptation actions? How else can Chicago proactively address climate changes? Local actors need to find ways to ask tough questions and make the right investments.

Sarah Cardona is an associate at the Metropolitan Planning Council. Previously, she worked for the World Bank in Washington, D.C., in climate-resilient, low-emissions development. Joyce Coffee is president of Climate Resilience Consulting and the former managing director of the Global Adaptation Initiative at the University of Notre Dame.

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