NOAA’s Climate and Equity Roundtables

NOAA is convening a series of Climate and Equity Roundtables across the country to gather feedback from community partners to inform how NOAA provides climate services, engages with underserved and vulnerable communities, and strengthens internal processes to respond to expressed needs. Hosted by the NOAA’s Regional Collaboration Teams, these events are designed to frame discussions around impacts experienced in local communities related to a changing climate.

Heat Health in the Southeast

2021 heat mapping work in Charleston, SC.
Image from 2021 heat mapping work in Charleston, SC. (Climate Adaptation Partners)

On 19 November 2021, NOAA’s Southeast and Caribbean Regional Collaboration Team hosted a roundtable focused on heat health in the southeast, with a focus on Charleston, SC and Miami, FL.  Extreme temperatures are often dismissed as "commonplace" yet heat illness and death are, unfortunately, also commonplace, with heat (coupled with humidity) responsible for more deaths than any other weather hazard. Both cities have completed “urban heat island” mapping and are addressing the role of extreme heat in health related issues, particularly for more vulnerable segments of the community. The roundtable featured medical, community, and municipality leaders discussing extreme heat, its impact on residents, and steps to address those impacts. Panelists had suggestions for partnership approaches to forecasting and monitoring heat risk and improvements in education and communication to provide intervention and mitigation to protect citizens from extreme heat. Participants represented The Medical University of South Carolina, Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities, Climate Adaptation Partners, The City of Charleston, Florida International University College of Medicine, Catalyst Miami, and Miami-Dade County.

Tackling Barriers to Accessing NOAA Climate and Resilience Resources in Alaska

A snowmachine sits in the Niglick River as a result of the rapid erosion in Newtok, AK
A snowmachine sits in the Niglick River as a result of the rapid erosion in Newtok, AK (Amy Holman)

On April 27, NOAA’s Alaska Regional Collaboration Team hosted a climate and equity discussion with the leadership of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC). As the largest tribal serving health organization in the country, the ANTHC is a recognized leader in addressing poor health outcomes resulting from disparities in the social determinants of health including increasing environmental risks from permafrost thaw, flooding, coastal inundation and erosion, and detrimental shifts in access and availability of traditional food sources resulting from climate change.  NOAA leadership learned about the roles of tribal serving organizations, the limited direct benefits many Alaska Native communities receive from NOAA programs, and barriers these communities face in accessing federal resources to address climate and resilience needs. Discussion included specific federal grant programs that disadvantage or exclude rural Alaskan communities and lead to underinvestment in the data collection and monitoring of environmental conditions needed to inform community derived climate adaptation solutions, and specific steps NOAA could take to achieve climate services and equity improvements in Alaska.

Coastal Flooding in Connecticut

Flooding in the South End neighborhood of Bridgeport, CT
The frequency of flooding events like this in the South End neighborhood of Bridgeport, CT were discussed. (Andrew Martinez)

On June 14, NOAA’s North Atlantic Regional Collaboration Team hosted a climate and equity roundtable focused on coastal flooding in Connecticut. Discussion themes included the need for ‘hyperlocal’ climate planning for Connecticut’s 169 municipalities, the inclusion of underrepresented communities in the planning process, coordination of funding and grant phasing through a ‘whole of government approach,’ including requiring local engagement and defining it to include community organizations, and continued support for capacity (trainings, grant writing) and messaging (e.g. warnings and watches, as well as sharing of NOAA data, products and services). Participants represented Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Connecticut Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, the Governor’s Council on Climate Change (GC3) Equity & Environmental Justice Working Group, University of Connecticut Institute for Resilience & Climate Adaptation, the MetroCouncil of Governments (MetroCOG), Stratford, CT Office of Planning and Zoning, Connecticut Sea Grant, and the Mary & Eliza Freeman Center for History and Community. 

Flooding and Resilience in Mississippi River Communities

Davenport Iowa 2019 Flooding image
Flooding in Davenport, Iowa - 2019.

On September 10, NOAA’s Central Regional Collaboration Team hosted a climate and equity roundtable focused on flooding and resilience in Mississippi River communities. Attendees covered a variety of topics to provide an overview of social equity related to the Mississippi River and flooding and shared examples from local rural and urban community experiences. Discussion themes included better understanding of risks and impacts along the river, the critical need for data accuracy to support local planning, partnerships with underrepresented communities in the planning process, and improving awareness of NOAA data, products and services. Participants represented the City of Davenport, IA, levee and drainage districts,  emergency management agencies from Shelby County, TN and Tunica County, MS, the University of Iowa, the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative and the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association.

Talking Story about Equitable Resilience in Light of a Climate Emergency in Hawai’i

Aftermath of flooding with a car wedged between a house and debris
A car is wedged between a house and debris in Anahola, Kauai, after the Anahola River broke its banks in the pre-dawn hours and flooded the community downstream. (Dennis Fujimoto/ The Garden Island via AP)

On September 23, NOAA’s Pacific Islands Regional Collaboration Team hosted a roundtable focused on equitable resilience. The roundtable event was constructed in the traditional way of sharing knowledge, also known as “talk story.” This format allowed the  panelists to impart their knowledge of climate change and how it exacerbates existing social inequities that can threaten public health, employment, and economic stability through storytelling. Panelists, representing different Hawaiian islands and who work with various federal, state, county agencies as the ‘boots on the ground,’ shared the voices of underserved communities and spoke to the issues of equity & resilience, the climate emergency, and community capacity building. Participants represented included: Kupaʻāina o Lānaʻi; Keaukaha - Pana'ewa Farmers Association- Department of Hawaiian Home Lands; Kīlauea, Kauaʻi, The University of Hawaiʻii Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, University of Hawaiʻi  SeaGrant, and Kūokoʻa Initiative; He'eia National Estuarine Research Reserve; and The City & County of Honolulu, Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resilience.

Inundation and Flooding in Louisiana

Imagery shows damage to buildings and homes in Houma, Louisiana, following Hurricane Ida
NOAA National Geodetic Survey emergency response iNOAA National Geodetic Survey emergency response imagery shows damage to buildings and homes in Houma, Louisiana, following Hurricane Ida.

On October 6, NOAA’s Gulf of Mexico Regional Collaboration Team hosted a virtual roundtable discussion on climate and inundation impacts with partners in Louisiana. This session was rescheduled due to the impacts of Hurricane Ida to the state in late August, and the storm became a backdrop for several parts of the conversation. Partners provided case studies and examples of what Louisiana and Gulf of Mexico communities experience, including many climate-related impacts, such as sea level rise, extreme rainfall, and hurricane impacts including storm surge, rapid intensification, and post-storm hazards.  Partners also discussed state and local adaptation and resilience planning, impacts on fishing communities, and compounding effects of multiple natural disasters in a community.  They shared perspectives on the spectrum of causes and impacts of coastal and inland inundation.  Some discussion themes brought up independently by different speakers included the opportunity for climate resilience and equity focus in smaller communities, investment in the people that are invested in their communities’ futures, and the importance of developing trust. Participants represented the State of Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe, United Way of Southwest Louisiana, Louisiana Sea Grant, the Louisiana State University Coastal Sustainability Studio, and the Foundation for Louisiana. 

Urban Flooding in Southeast Michigan/Detroit

Great Lakes roundtable meeting
Regional Coordinator Jennifer Day meets with NOAA Administrator Dr. Rick Spinrad, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory and Terry Campbell from Senator Debbie Stabinow’s office during the in-person portion of the Roundtable to discuss and tour issues addressed during the roundtable.

On October 12, NOAA’s Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Team hosted a virtual roundtable discussion on climate and urban flooding impacts. Partners provided case studies and examples from Detroit and southeast Michigan of what large urban communities across the Great Lakes are experiencing after increasingly heavy rains and neighborhood and basement flooding due to climate change, aging infrastructure, lake levels, and disinvestment. They shared challenges stemming from climate-related urban flooding,  ongoing activities to address impacts to communities, and ways NOAA can partner in southeast Michigan and across the Great Lakes region to complement these efforts. Participants represented the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, local leaders and activists, Detroit Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Wayne County Homeland Security, City of Detroit Office of Sustainability, National Coastal Resilience Fund Grantee (NOAA-OCM Grant), EcoWorks Detroit, and the University of Michigan.

Heat Resilience in the U.S. Southwest

Heat risk roundtable meeting in Las Vegas Weather Forecast Office
NOAA Administrator Dr. Rick Spinrad and National Weather Service Deputy Assistant Administrator Mary Erickson participate in the heat risk roundtable from the Las Vegas, NV Weather Forecast Office.

On October 20, the NOAA West Regional Collaboration Team hosted a virtual roundtable discussion on heat resilience in the U.S. Southwest. Partners provided case studies and examples from Arizona and Nevada.  Urban heat is a chronic environmental and health challenge for U.S. southwest residents, communities, and visitors, and is deadlier than nearly all other U.S. weather-related hazards combined.  Extreme heat is particularly detrimental for vulnerable populations, including the homeless, elderly, communities of color, and those in low income areas.  Arizona and Nevada partners suggested  supporting regional scale coordination among partners working in extreme heat management and mitigation; increasing surface temperature readings in urban heat islands; and/or scaling data products to support community-level evaluation of heat impacts.  Participants represented the Arizona Heat Resilience Workgroup; the Arizona Interfaith Network; Arizona State Department of Health Services; ABC15 News Arizona; the City of Henderson, NV; Help of Southern Nevada; the City of Las Vegas, NV; City of Tempe, AZ; Chispa Arizona; and the University of Arizona.