CEDS | Climate Change Impacts

Western Arizona Economic Development District

Climate Change Impacts

February 2021 Update

According to the National Weather Service - Phoenix, in February 2021, IPCC completed the most recent National Climate Assessment in 2014. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. The IPCC working group comprises reports due this year (2021), and the overall synthesis report is due in 2022. The National Climate Assessment will release its updated information along a similar timeline. In general, the 2014 National Climate Assessment accurately represents the impacts depicted for the Southwest well in this CEDS.

Rural Communities Key Messages

“Climate models project that the American Southwest is very likely to experience more frequent and more severe droughts,” said William Anderegg, a University of Utah biologist and climate scientist. “This study and other recent work demonstrates that this dry-down has already begun.” Source: Geophysical Research Letters, April 12, 2021

Rural communities are highly dependent upon natural resources for their livelihoods and social structures. Climate change-related impacts are currently affecting rural communities. These impacts will progressively increase over this century and shift the locations where agricultural economic activities (like agriculture, forestry, and recreation) can thrive.

Rural communities face particular geographic and demographic obstacles in responding to and preparing for climate change risks. In particular, physical isolation, limited economic diversity, and higher poverty rates, combined with an aging population, increase rural communities' vulnerability. Systems of fundamental importance to rural people are already stressed by remoteness and limited access.

Responding to additional challenges from climate change impacts will require significant adaptation within rural transportation and infrastructure systems and health and emergency response systems. Governments in rural communities have limited institutional capacity to respond to, plan for, and anticipate climate change impacts.

Our District is prone to the following climate related hazards: Increasing temperatures and extreme heat; inland flooding; wildfire; and drought. Learn about climate change impact mitigation strategies and how to build a Climate Resilience Toolkit.

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Rural Outlook

Warming trends, climate volatility, extreme weather events, and environmental change are already affecting rural areas' economies and cultures. Many rural communities face considerable risk to their infrastructure, livelihoods, and quality of life from observed and projected climate shifts.

These changes will progressively increase volatility in food commodity markets, shift the ranges of plant and animal species, and, depending on the region, increase water scarcity, exacerbate flooding and coastal erosion, and increase the intensity and frequency of wildfires across the rural landscape.

Climate changes will severely challenge many rural communities, shifting locations where particular economic activities can thrive. Changes in the timing of seasons, temperatures, and precipitation will alter where commodities, value-added crops, and recreational activities are best suited. Because many rural communities are less diverse than urban areas in their economic activities, changes in one traditional commercial sector's viability will place excessive stresses on community stability.

Climate change impacts will not be uniform or consistent across rural areas, and some communities may benefit from climate change. In the short term, the U.S. agricultural system is expected to be reasonably resilient to climate change due to the system's flexibility to engage in adaptive behaviors such as the expansion of irrigated acreage, regional shifts in the area for specific crops, crop rotations, changes to management decisions (such as choice and timing of inputs and cultivation practices), and altered trade patterns compensating for yield changes. Recreation, tourism, and leisure activities in some regions will benefit from shifts in temperature and precipitation.

Tourism is often climate-dependent as well as seasonally dependent. Increasing heat and humidity projected for summers in the Midwest, Southeast, and parts of the Southwest by mid-century (compared to the period 1961-1990) is likely to create unfavorable summertime outdoor recreation and tourism conditions activity.

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Rural Economies

Rural America has already experienced some of the impacts of climate change-related weather effects, including crop and livestock loss from severe drought and flooding, infrastructure damage to levees and roads from extreme storms, shifts in planting and harvesting times in farming communities, and large-scale failures from fires and other weather-related disasters.

These impacts have profound effects, often significantly affecting the health and well-being of rural residents and their communities and are amplified by the vital economic link that many of these communities have to their natural resource base.

The implications of climate change on communities dependent on resource extraction (coal, oil, natural gas, and mining) have not been well studied. Attributes of economic development in these communities, such as cyclical growth, transient workforce, rapid development, pressure on infrastructure, and lack of economic diversification, suggest that these communities could face challenges in adapting to climate change.

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Responding to Risk

Modern rural populations are generally older, less affluent, and less educated than their urban counterparts. Rural areas are characterized by higher unemployment, more dependence on government transfer payments, less diversified economies, and fewer social and economic resources needed for resilience in the face of significant changes. In particular, the combination of an aging population and poverty increases rural communities' vulnerability to climate fluctuations.

There has been a trend away from manufacturing, resource extraction, and farming to amenity-based economic activity in many rural areas of the United States. Expanding amenity-based commercial operations in rural areas include recreation and leisure, e-commuting residents, tourism, and second home and retirement home development. This shift has stressed traditional cultural values and put pressure on infrastructure and natural amenities that draw people to rural areas. Changes in climate and weather are likely to increase these stresses.

Rural components of transportation systems are particularly vulnerable to risks from flooding and sea-level rise. Since rural areas often have fewer transportation options and fewer infrastructure redundancies, any disruptions in the road, rail, or air transport will profoundly affect rural communities.

Power and communication outages resulting from extreme events often take longer to repair in rural areas, contributing to the isolation and vulnerability of elderly residents who may not have cell phones. The lack of cellular coverage in some rural areas can create problems for emergency response during power failures.

Governments in rural areas are generally ill-prepared to respond quickly and effectively to large-scale events, although individuals and voluntary associations often show significant resilience. Health risks are exacerbated by limitations in the health service systems characteristic of rural areas, including the distance between rural residents and health care providers and the reduced availability of medical specialists.

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Climate variability and increases in temperature, extreme events (such as storms, floods, heatwaves, and droughts), and sea-level rise are expected to have widespread impacts on the provision of services from the state, regional, local, and tribal governments. Emergency management, energy use, distribution systems, transportation and infrastructure planning, and public health will all be affected.

Rural governments often depend heavily on volunteers to meet community challenges like fire protection or flood response. Also, rural communities have limited locally available financial resources to help deal with climate change. Small community size tends to make services expensive or accessible only by traveling some distance.

Local governance structures tend to de-emphasize planning capacity compared to urban areas. While 73% of metropolitan counties have land-use planners, only 29% of rural counties not adjacent to a metro county had one or more planners. Moreover, rural communities are not equipped to deal with significant infrastructure expenses.

Suppose rural communities are to respond adequately to future climate changes. In that case, they will likely need help assessing their risks and vulnerabilities, prioritizing and coordinating projects, funding and allocating financial and human resources, and deploying information-sharing and decision support tools.

The economic and social diversity of rural communities affects both individuals' and communities' ability to adapt to climate changes and underscores the need to assess climate change impacts locally. The quality and availability of natural resources, legacies of past use, and changing industrial needs affect the economic, environmental, and social conditions of rural places and critical factors.

Successful adaptation to climate change requires balancing immediate needs with long-term development goals and the development of local-level capacities to deal with climate change.

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Southwest Region Impacts

The Southwest produces more than half of the nation's high-value specialty crops, which are irrigation-dependent and particularly vulnerable to extremes of moisture, cold, and heat. Reduced yields from increasing temperatures and increasing competition for scarce water supplies will displace some rural communities' jobs.

Increased warming, drought, and insect outbreaks, all caused by or linked to climate change, have increased wildfires and impacts to people and ecosystems in the Southwest. Fire models project more wildfire and increased risks to communities across extensive areas.

Projected regional temperature increases, combined with the way cities amplify heat, will pose increased threats and costs to public health in southwestern cities, which are home to more than 90% of the region's population. Disruptions to municipal electricity and water supplies will exacerbate these health problems.

The Southwest is the hottest and driest region in the United States, where the availability of water has defined its landscapes, history of human settlement, and modern economy. Climate changes pose challenges for an already parched region that is expected to get hotter and, in its southern half, significantly drier. Increased heat and changes to rain and snowpack will send ripple effects throughout the region's critical agriculture sector, affecting the lives and economies of 56 million people – a population that is expected to increase 68% by 2050, to 94 million.

Severe and sustained drought will stress water sources, already over-utilized in many areas, forcing increasing competition among farmers, energy producers, urban dwellers, and plant and animal life for the region's most precious resource.

Agriculture, a mainstay of the regional and national economies, faces uncertainty and change. The Southwest produces more than half of the nation's high-value specialty crops, including certain vegetables, fruits, and nuts. The severity of future impacts will depend upon pests' complex interaction, water supply, reduced chilling periods, and more rapid changes in crop development's seasonal timing due to projected warming and extreme events.

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Vulnerabilities of Native Nations and Border Cities

The Southwest's 182 federally recognized tribes and communities in its U.S.-Mexico border region share unusually high vulnerabilities to climate changes such as high temperatures, drought, and severe storms. Tribes may face the loss of traditional foods, medicines, and water supplies due to declining snowpack, increasing temperatures, and growing drought see also. Historical land settlements and high poverty rates – more than double that of the general U.S. population – constrain tribes' abilities to respond effectively to climate challenges.

Most of the Southwest border population is concentrated in eight pairs of fast-growing, neighboring cities on either side of the U.S.-Mexico border (like El Paso and Juárez) with shared problems. If the 24 U.S. counties along the entire border were aggregated as a 51st state, they would rank near the bottom in per capita income, employment rate, insurance coverage for children and adults, and high school completion.

Lack of financial resources and low tax bases for generating resources has resulted in a lack of roads and safe drinking water infrastructure, making it more daunting for tribes and border populations to address climate change issues. These economic pressures increase vulnerabilities to climate-related health and safety risks, such as air pollution, inadequate erosion and flood control, and insufficient safe drinking water.

Source: 2014 National Climate Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program

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