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Climate Change Adaptation Industry to Double by 2020

Aerial view of Marsh
The market for services related to helping communities—especially those along the coasts—adapt to sea level increases is expected to double by 2020. NOAA

With the climate change adaptation industry poised for explosive growth in the next decade, engineering expertise in modeling, risk assessment, and planning will be in high demand by public sector clients.

July 30, 2013—The climate change adaptation industry is ripe with opportunities for consulting and engineering firms to assist clients in risk assessment, asset management, and long-term planning, according to a recently released report from Environmental Business International (EBI), a strategic market intelligence company based in San Diego.

The report estimates that the climate change adaptation industry will reach $1 billion by 2015 and $2 billion by 2020. “Climate change is driving a huge volume of work for companies involved in risk analysis, planning, design, building, or project management related to infrastructure,” says Grant Ferrier, EBI’s president.

The EBI report segments the climate change adaptation industry into three segments: climate risk assessment and analysis; climate adaptation planning; and adaptation design, engineering, and construction. Engineers possess the professional skills and knowledge base to contribute to all three sectors, Ferrier says.

Although accounting for stresses and loads imposed by worst-case weather scenarios is nothing new to civil and structural engineering, climate change adaptation brings an additional dimension to design, he contends. Based on observed extremes in temperature, precipitation, and storms, the EBI proposes that engineers should now base their specifications on such data extremes as being the norm and bring this information to bear an all projects.

But the nascent climate change adaptation industry has a long way to go to get to this point, Ferrier adds, and the majority of current climate change adaptation projects still fall within the risk analysis and assessment category—particularly as related to water. “Clients are mostly the public stewards of water resource systems, drainage, and wastewater treatment, usually in the context of asset management and long-term planning,” he notes.

In the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, risk assessment and mitigation related to coastal hazards and sea level rise has garnered the lion’s share of attention from coastal states. The U.S. government takes it seriously enough that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is incorporating planning for sea level rise into future infrastructure projects. “Hurricane Sandy was a lesson in the need to integrate climate change considerations into both national coastal flood risk management and urban development,” Ferrier adds.

Some civil engineering firms are already carving out a niche for themselves in climate and sea level rise risk assessment and mitigation strategy development, not least among them Dewberry, a Fairfax, Virginia-based architecture, engineering, and consulting firm. Since 2007 Dewberry engineers and scientists have been engaged in hazard identification, risk assessment, mitigation strategies, and risk communication for both coastal and inland projects related to climate impacts.

“We look at climate change as an exacerbation of natural hazard risks,” says Mathew Mampara, P.E., a senior associate with Dewberry. “We take a very pragmatic approach to evaluating climate risk to assets and infrastructure and assessing various adaptation management strategies. There are a number of actions that communities can take to effect more resilience in terms of their assets and infrastructure.”

Dewberry’s largest climate change adaptation project is a $5-million, three-year study that the firm is managing for the North Carolina Office of Geospatial and Technology Management, Division of Emergency Management. By employing a scenario-based approach with extensive modeling, Dewberry is evaluating the effects of sea level rise on ecological and societal systems, agriculture, aquaculture, and buildings as well as critical infrastructure in North Carolina’s coastal hazard area.

The firm has also conducted a sea level rise risk assessment for Maryland’s Anne Arundel County, leveraging existing data and a simplified risk-analysis approach. “This project drives risk assessment to the individual, structural level with the goal of identifying the optimal risk mitigation strategies,” Mampara explains.

Like the North Carolina project, the Maryland project includes a web-based visualization tool that presents decision-makers with risk scenarios at the neighborhood, community, and regional levels, and these images can show changes over time. By including a stakeholder polling component, Dewberry has collected feedback to evaluate the effectiveness of their approach in increasing their clients’ understanding of the risks.

Dewberry is also involved in assessing climate impacts for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and is participating in a Transportation Research Board Airport Cooperative Research Program project to develop a guidebook and climate risk assessment tool for U.S. airports.

Mampara agrees with EBI’s assessment of the still largely unrecognized need to incorporate climate change adaptation into all engineering design. “As infrastructure decisions are made, there needs to be consideration given to how climate change risks should influence design and planning,” he says. “Climate change adaptation design and implementation present opportunities for engineers.”

The engineering firms most likely to profit from the expanding adaptation industry are those that deliberately acquire staff with risk-analysis and scenario-modeling skills; develop relationships with ports, utilities and other public entities with significant assets; and know how to effectively harness technology to assist with adaptation planning, according to Ferrier.

The climate change adaptation industry is young, and clients in the United States are, for the most part, still in the early stages of understanding what they need to do, he says. He predicts that the next seven to eight years will be a period of continued research, led by the consulting and engineering industries, to be followed by an intense design and construction period.

To date, consulting and engineering firms have only scratched the surface of the potential market, Ferrier says. “Right now, there is an open market for someone to assume leadership.”



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