A Climate Change Vulnerability and Risk Assessment for the City of Atlanta, Georgia

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The Southeastern United States will experience several impacts from climate change over the coming decades, including average temperature increases of several degrees, more frequent droughts, and heavier rain and flood events. More intense weather will place stress on Atlanta’s infrastructure, affect planning decisions, and increase demands for already scarce natural and financial resources. The impacts will affect the health of Atlantans and test the strength of the local and regional economy. Understanding the future climate and preparing now will help ensure that the city remains an economically viable, healthy, and enjoyable place to live and work.
Twenty-four planning areas in nine sectors that the city can influence were evaluated to determine their vulnerability and risk with regard to climate change. The assessments were designed using guidance from ICLEI’s Adaptation Guidebook and involved dozens of expert interviews, analysis of city reports, and a comprehensive literature review. The results show that air quality, water quality, and energy assurance are the most vulnerable, at-risk planning areas in the City of Atlanta. These areas are crucial to the health of citizens and the economic viability of the city. Increasing their resiliency will require significant coordination with all levels of government and the private sector. Failure to properly prepare these planning areas for climate change could result in substantial costs to the city. Several additional planning areas show significant vulnerability and risk. These include: electricity production and demand, affordable housing, disaster response, heat relief, stormwater management, urban forest management, road and bridge maintenance, and air transport. Analysis of vulnerability and risk by sector resulted in similar findings. The sectors of energy, water, and health will be most impacted by climate change over the coming decades. Improving the resiliency of these sectors may be most effectively achieved through measures that focus on strengthening sectors like ecology, transportation, and land use and development. This study identified recurring barriers that lower the city’s adaptive capacity. Lack of program funding and knowledge of climate change - and the impacts - were pervasive. Short planning horizons and planning efforts based on historical data (or future projections that ignore climate change) are also common and reduce Atlanta’s resiliency. Coordination between several planning areas is strong, but could be increased in others such as heat relief and urban planning. Narrow government mandates, like the flood plain ordinance, can also limit progress towards climate resiliency. In other cases, strict mandates like those stemming from the CSO Consent Decree have been instrumental to project success. The results of this project are intended to inform the next phase of adaptation planning. This involves setting high-level goals for climate resiliency and outlining the adaptation tactics to achieve them. It is recommended that a diverse, knowledgeable committee of local decision makers and stakeholders be tasked with this challenge. A robust adaptation strategy will place Atlanta in the company of other climate proactive cities that have already created comprehensive adaptation plans, like New York City and Chicago.





Morsch, Amy (2010). A Climate Change Vulnerability and Risk Assessment for the City of Atlanta, Georgia. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/2157.

Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.