While the East Coast still struggled to recover from Superstorm Sandy, a Nov. 13th Climate Risk Roundtable  convened in San Francisco to explore the challenges of keeping society’s vital systems running as the climate grows more turbulent.

Under the auspices of the Pacific Coast Collaborative (PCC) composed of the chief executives of the West Coast states and British Columbia, the gathering drew over 50 representatives of public agencies and NGOs grappling with the critical issues of climate risk and resiliency. Scheduled well in advance of Sandy, the roundtable focused on infrastructure, the circulatory systems that make modern life possible. Submerged New York subways, blacked out Long Island neighborhoods and New Jersey gas lines formed a powerful backdrop to the meeting.

“The issue is timely, with Hurricane Sandy devastating the East Coast,” noted Wade Crowfoot of California Gov. Jerry Brown’s office in remarks opening the meeting. “We have a great opportunity to spur climate initiatives, an opportunity that doesn’t exist elsewhere in Canada or the U.S.”

The idea of Pacific Coast as global climate leader is coming to the fore.  The meeting was slated in conjunction with the first carbon emissions auction, held the next day, under California’s economy wide cap-and-trade system, first in the U.S.  British Columbia has charged a carbon tax for several years.  The election of former Congressman Jay Inslee as Washington governor places one of Capitol Hill’s true climate champions at the head of the Washington statehouse.  With Brown and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, Inslee fills out a coastal line-up of visionary chief executives who understand climate risks and clean economy opportunities.

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In 2007 flooding from a record storm shut down I-5 between Portland and Seattle.  Record wildfires nearly devoured a substantial piece of LA’s telecommunications infrastructure in 2009.  Fires in bug killed forests are increasing floods and wrecking roads in central BC. These and other climate extremes are in the face of West Coast leaders and governments.  And unlike electeds in other parts of the continent, they are not evading the issue.

A climate agenda for the Coast and North America was set out in a written statement made by Coastal chief executives made in association with the Roundtable.  Brown, Kitzhaber, BC Premier Christy Clark and outgoing Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, who also has led important climate initiatives, said:

“Confronting climate change requires concerted effort within each jurisdiction and across the region on several, interconnected fronts.

“First, we need to move forward together on policies that will drive investment in home-grown renewable energy and energy efficiency projects – jobs we can’t outsource.

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“Second, we must better account for the environmental impacts associated with using fossil fuels that are detrimental to the health and well-being of our communities – and future generations.

“Third, we need to protect our taxpayers’ investment in infrastructure by making sure these investments are resilient and account for climate risk.

“And (citing California and BC examples) we must also look at how best to consider and then account for the cost of carbon and our costly reliance on carbon-intensive energy sources.”

The Roundtable was a demonstration of coastal leadership.  The four jurisdictions are all leaders in climate adaptation.  They are beginning to bring considerations of increased storms, floods, mudslides, drought, wildfires and sea level rise into infrastructure planning.

Washington state, for example, has mapped climate risk to its road system.  British Columbia is doing extensive sea level rise vulnerability assessments along the 155 miles of coast in the Greater Vancouver area, including some stunning visualizations.  The province has supplied sea level rise guidelines to local governments.  Oregon is preparing its first statewide water bond with the challenge of declining snowpack water supplies in mind.  California requires the state’s 48 water planning areas to assess climate risk as a condition of funding.

Infrastructure sits at a vital nexus of climate change response.  It is also one of our hugest investments.  The four West Coast jurisdictions will make over $1 trillion in infrastructure investments over the next 30 years, noted Kitzhaber advisor Dan Carol in a Roundtable presentation on a new investment tool to close infrastructure funding gaps.  The West Coast Infrastructure Exchange is a PCC-generated alignment of the four jurisdictions to attract capital into a wide range of infrastructure investments. It was officially announced the day after the meeting.

With a goal to bring climate risk assessments into infrastructure strategies, the Exchange is a potentially powerful tool to drive huge amounts of capital into investments that both prepare for climate change and reduce the carbon pollution driving it. For example, green infrastructure including forests, wetlands and urban natural features both regulates water flows and takes climate changing carbon out of the atmosphere.

The Pacific Coast is positioned to lead on climate, and has a huge stake in the outcome.  With carbon revenues and new infrastructure investment strategies, it has some serious money to bring to the climate table.  How the four jurisdictions can work together to advance climate strategies that adapt to climate change while reducing its intensity, in the process pulling their respective nations and federal governments along, will be the subject of upcoming blogs.