New York just took a huge step toward funding lasting climate resilience

Earlier this year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo presented an ambitious challenge to the state Legislature: Pass a $3 billion bond to boost climate resilience and mitigate the impacts of sea level rise while preserving the state’s natural resources.

Last month, at the height of the coronavirus, the Legislature responded, passing a budget bill that included the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act.

The measure is expected to go to voters in the fall. If a majority approves the bond, it will put New York on a path to building lasting resilience, while also stimulating the economy, creating jobs and benefiting the state’s most vulnerable communities.

Sea level rise poses a grave threat for New York

In the coming decades, climate change will significantly impact New York communities, particularly in coastal areas susceptible to flooding and sea level rise.

Since 1900, the state has experienced at least a foot of sea level rise and scientists anticipate land loss will accelerate over the next century. NOAA estimates that New York will experience an inch of sea level rise every seven to eight years, while low-lying areas such as Kings Point and the Battery will experience more than 15 inches by 2050.

New York currently has 100 square miles of land within the 100-year coastal floodplain, putting 431,000 New Yorkers at risk of coastal flooding each year. By midcentury, sea level rise will add 50 square miles to the floodplain, placing an additional 230,000 residents at risk.

Protecting New Yorkers against floods and superstorms

Superstorm Sandy caused a total of $71 billion in economic damages, with $19 billion in New York City alone. Going forward, rising global temperatures will lead to a greater number of destructive storms like Sandy, which delivered a 14-foot storm surge at the Battery and inundated Lower Manhattan.

Damage in Breezy Point, New York, after Superstorm Sandy, which caused a total of $71 billion in economic damages. Credit: U.S. EPA photo by Jeanethe Falvey.

It’s clear that New York needs bold investments to build resilience to flooding from extreme weather, and the Bond Act provides a great model for how states can proactively finance climate resilience.

At the federal level, we know that every $1 invested before a disaster saves $6 in post-disaster recovery, so savings at the state level could be even greater. Plus, as more and more states are experiencing extreme weather and competing for federal disaster recovery dollars, it’s increasingly important for state leaders to identify ways to fund their own climate resilience. Then, states are better positioned to apply for matching federal investments to allow state dollars to go even further.

The Bond Act will give New York leaders the ability to invest $3 billion of state dollars in large-scale projects that build climate resilience over time, while also benefiting the economy. According to one study, every $1 invested in land or water conservation generates $7 in return for New York businesses. The Restore Mother Nature Bond Act can help provide the necessary resources to create a more resilient future for New York. Click To Tweet

Bond Act delivers comprehensive, long-term solutions

The Bond Act will fund a comprehensive suite of solutions that include flood risk reduction, open-space land conservation, climate change mitigation, clean energy projects and water quality improvements.

The bond will invest in natural infrastructure and nature-based solutions to restore wetlands and seashores, which help reduce flooding and coastal erosion, and have the added benefits of beautifying landscapes, creating recreational and job opportunities, and stimulating the economy.

One vital component of the Bond Act is its commitment to environmental justice. Recognizing the outsized toll climate change takes on marginalized communities, the measure dedicates at least 35% of funds to minority and low-income communities that bear a disproportionate share of environmental harms. With that inclusion, the governor and Legislature are demonstrating the state’s commitment to investing in resilience where it is most needed.

The Empire State and its people have proven themselves strong and resilient time and again. If adopted, the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act will provide the necessary resources to create an even more resilient future for New York, help protect people and property from disasters, and pave the way for other states looking to do the same.

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