Climate Resiliency

The 2018 President's Sustainability Summit hosted campus & regional partners for adaptation discussion.

Climate Resiliency 

Cornell was the first major U.S. university to include climate adaptation in its climate action plan and has advanced state and regional resiliency planning as part of our approach to climate leadership.

Advancing Resiliency in New York

As New York’s land grant university, Cornell is committed to engaging the public in climate and energy solutions. Cornell Cooperative Extension offices in counties across New York State support renewable energy and energy efficiency planning and implementation among local governments, businesses, and directly with homeowners. 

As the host of the Northeast Regional Climate Center, Cornell works with federal agencies such as NOAA to provide accurate climate data and analysis tools for the 12 state region. As part of the University’s land-grant mission, Cornell faculty, graduate students, and extension staff support climate science and adaptation planning for New York State and the wider Northeast Region. The data and many interactive analysis tools are publicly available.

Cornell provides climate adaptation support to farmers across the state through the Cornell Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Experiment Stations. The new Institute for Climate Change and Agriculture serves as a focal point to facilitate research, education, and outreach to reduce the agricultural sector’s collective impact on the climate and to help farmers become more resilient to climate change.

ClimAid: Advancing NY Resiliency

In 2009, NYSERDA commissioned a comprehensive state-wide report on adaptation challenges:

Responding to Climate Change in New York State

ClimAid was undertaken to provide decision-makers with cutting-edge information on the state’s vulnerability to climate change and to facilitate the development of adaptation strategies informed by both local experience and scientific knowledge. Cornell faculty Art DeGaetano and David Wolfe helped produce the report.

About the Report

  • The ClimAid report includes a useful tool for campus engagement, the Climate Adaptation Guidebook for New York State

  • The Guidebook outlines a methodology for local and regional planning.

  • A similar model developed at Dalhouise University in Canada provides a roadmap for Cornell to create a customized climate adaptation plan for campus.

Climate Action Plan Goals

Two goals in the Climate Action Plan address adaptation and resiliency as a campus and community.  By innovating and demonstrating new approaches to infrastructure development and emergency response on our own campus, Cornell can serve as a state and national leader in climate adaptation planning.  

Goal 1: Campus Resiliency

Conduct vulnerability assessments
and climate adaptation planning in order to minimize disruptions to campus as a result of extreme
weather events and increased
flood risks.

Goal 2: Local Resiliency

Collaborate in local, regional, state, national, and international planning efforts to address challenges posed by climate change and to increase resiliency.

More about these goals:

Cornell’s actions to mitigate climate change-related hazards will have widespread impacts across Tompkins County. Cornell University is the largest private land owner and employer in the county, and approximately 60,000 people live or work on Cornell property or adjacent to Cornell properties.

Current Adaptation Needs

Based on cost estimates from the Tompkins County All Hazard Mitigation Plan, Cornell could experience significant capital losses and health related costs in the range of $10,000 to $10M per event from predicted increases in severe droughts, flash floods, heat waves, and disruptions to water filtration systems as a result of climate change. If climate adaptation planning can help the University to anticipate and mitigate just 10% of these losses, savings could range from $1,000 to $1M per event – or more.

The Tompkins County Hazard Mitigation Plan was updated in 2013 to reflect the increased understanding that climate change-related hazards needed to be specifically addressed. In the 2013 update the county’s top three highest rated hazards identified using the Health Industry Representatives Association (HIRA) risk assessment process were:

  1. transportation accident
  2. severe storm
  3. flash flood.

Additionally the plan emphasized that the county should to prepare for the following impacts over the next 65 years:

  • Heat waves will become more frequent and intense, increasing heat-related illness and death and posing new challenges to the energy system, air quality, and agriculture.
  • Summer drought is projected to increase, affecting water supply, agriculture, ecosystems, and energy production.
  • Heavy downpours are increasing and are projected to increase further. These can lead to flooding and related impacts on water quality, infrastructure, and agriculture.
  • Major changes to ecosystems, including species range shifts, population crashes, and other sudden transformations, could have wide-ranging impacts, not only for natural systems but also for health, agriculture, and other sectors.

The County mitigation plan names Cornell as a partner in several key actions to mitigate the damage of climate change, including:

  • Developing regulations to prohibit future building in flood-prone areas as well as creating incentives to encourage property owners to protect and improve streams and buffers. This should include improving gorge safety and carefully designed and maintained trails within these buffer areas.
  • Developing and publicizing a heat response plan which includes the use of cooling centers.
  • Working with the scientific community to update and refine regional climate projections/impacts and utilizing this information in planning and management.