Now that we've entered the verified era of global climate change, cities need to get ready for the greater likelihood of the unexpected, which may include according to the Fourth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stronger-than-average hurricanes, coastal storm surge flooding, catastrophic heat waves, and urban forest or brush fires.
Adaptation to climate change is a strategy that is coming into prominence alongside the mitigation efforts of climate change now occurring in most major North American cities. Cities such as Chicago have recently fared well in reducing the impacts of potential catastrophic heat waves through the its Office of Emergency Management's deployment of cooling centers and outreach to the elderly and disabled when such events are forecast.
But what about the larger-scale events like Hurricane Katrina, or the 2003 heat wave that killed more than 14,000 in Paris and other parts of France? How do cities better prepare financially and organizationally for such levels of devastation?
Roger Ferguson, Chairman of Swiss Re America Holding Corporation, advised the world's largest city mayors that they consider developing a Chief Risk Officer role in their city to, "identify and assess emerging risks, to communicate risks, to help mitigate mega-risks that can't be covered by insurance companies alone."
"There is a need for a holistic approach to mitigate and adapt to climate change," said Ferguson as he addressed mayors from 32 of the world's largest cities at the C40 climate summit earlier this month in New York City.
SustainLane ranked the largest 50 US cities according to their risk for natural disasters in its US City Rankings. The top five in order of being most at risk: Miami (hurricanes, flooding); New Orleans (hurricanes, flooding); Oakland (earthquakes, wildfires); San Francisco (earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding); Honolulu (tsunami, flooding, earthquakes).
None of these cities have a Chief Risk Officer, though some smaller cities such as Johannesburg, South Africa do have such a position, and many corporations now staff a similar executive-level position.