The Federal Government Should Incentivize Risk Reduction in Building Practices, Writes CFR Climate Policy Expert

April 7, 2020

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“Knowing that federal assistance is all but certain, state and local officials frequently ignore the disaster risks they create with their decisions on land-use and building standards,” writes Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Senior Fellow for Climate Change Policy Alice C. Hill in a new Policy Innovation Memorandum, “Reducing Disaster Costs by Building Better.” “Congress can curb this moral hazard by providing the beneficiaries of federal disaster assistance with incentives to jump-start resilient development and reduce risk before disaster strikes.” 

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“Given the political debate that rages around climate change, [some members of Congress] may discount the future threats it poses,” says Hill. “As a result, many communities continue to approve new development in areas at high risk for flooding and wildfires. Since 2009, for example, Connecticut has permitted more than three times as much housing to be built in coastal flood areas as in less risky areas.” When these areas inevitably flood, “The federal government will likely pay recovery costs.”

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Hill cites “two powerful levers” the federal government has “to encourage state and local officials to make better decisions” and to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent resiliently:

  • Follow sound land-use practices. “To discourage state and local governments from permitting new development in high-risk areas, the federal government should withdraw financial support for that development.”
  • Promote climate-resilient building standards. “The federal government should require state and local jurisdictions to implement building codes that address the future risk of climate change when federal money supports construction, either pre- or post-disaster.”

 

“With climate impacts destined to worsen in coming decades, the federal government cannot afford to underwrite development and then pay for it again when it collapses in the next flood or burns in the next wildfire,” concludes Hill. “Insistence on climate-resilient building practices increases the likelihood that the new bridge or house will withstand the ferocity of climate-fueled storms.”

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Alice Hill is the author of Building a Resilient Tomorrow: How to Prepare for the Coming Climate Disruption. To read the Policy Innovation Memorandum, please visit “Reducing Disaster Costs by Building Better.” Follow her on Twitter @Alice_C_Hill.

To interview Hill, please contact CFR's Global Communications and Media Relations team at 212.434.9888 or communications@cfr.org.

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