Researchers Unveil Climate Change Action Plan for Columbus


Recommendations focus on ways city can adapt to changing weather patterns

COLUMBUS, Ohio—A task force led by researchers at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center (BPCRC) at The Ohio State University has released its final list of 43 recommended actions that can be taken to help central Ohio prepare for climate change.

The finalized Columbus Climate Adaptation Plan will be presented to Columbus City Council and Mayor Andrew Ginther on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018.

BPCRC researchers collaborated with more than 75 local stakeholders and technical experts to develop the action plan, which outlines recommendations for adapting to extreme heat, deteriorating air and water quality, flooding, and other changes that are already occurring and likely to intensify with climate change. The report also addresses considerations for emergency preparedness and protecting vulnerable populations.

The recommendations are broken into two categories: necessary and aspirational.

“The ‘necessary’ recommendations are the bare minimum the city should do,” said Jason Cervenec, education and outreach director for BPCRC and chair of the task force. “They are the highest priority actions with the fewest barriers to implementation and the biggest return on investment.”

Those necessary recommendations include establishing a better network of centers where people can find refuge from extreme heat, modernizing the electric grid, and improving education around minimizing activities that contribute to some of climate change’s most pressing side effects – extreme heat, decreased air and water quality and increased flooding. The task force also recommends the city assess its stormwater infrastructure, regulations and technical documents, and make changes to decrease the risk of localized flooding and basement backups.

“Our goal has been to cast a wide net to provide the city with a comprehensive document that can best inform its operations and planning,” Cervenec said in early 2018, when the task force started collecting public comments. “While the city will need to decide how to address each of the actions recommended in the document, we believe it’s important to empower citizens, while there is time to act, with knowledge of the climate change impacts that experts agree are likely to occur.”

The report primarily focuses on public policy changes that could help central Ohioans adapt to new weather patterns caused by climate change, but it also “includes something for everybody,” Cervenec said.

“How does climate change affect my business, my nonprofit, my home, how I garden, how I make updates to my home or how I travel throughout our city?” he said. “It’s really about determining where climate change intersects your job, your interests and your life, and then making changes to reduce your risk and increase your resilience.”

The recommendations build upon a prior report, Climate Change in Columbus, Ohio, developed in 2016 through a collaboration among the university, the City of Columbus and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessment team.

The 2016 report that informed this action plan showed that average annual temperatures in Columbus rose by 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit from 1951 through 2012—higher than both national and global averages. At the same time, Columbus precipitation totals have risen nearly 20 percent and heavy storms are happening more than 30 percent more frequently.


It’s really about determining where climate change intersects your job, your interests and your life, and then making changes to reduce your risk and increase your resilience." Jason Cervenec


Central Ohio is likely to see increasing temperatures—especially at night—along with flash-flooding and bouts of deteriorated water quality over the coming decades, according to the task force. The biggest risks come from warmer, wetter conditions for most of the year, with increased likelihood of flash-flooding and potentially more property damage in Columbus during the spring through fall.

Taken together, the projections suggest that young and elderly residents of central Ohio will be especially vulnerable to heat stress in summer. Homes and businesses will need to consume more electricity for air conditioning. And while Columbus is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation—with an expected influx of at least half a million people by 2035—construction companies will have to contend with workers laboring in extreme heat as they build new infrastructure.

Other cities around the country, including Chicago and Baltimore, have developed similar action plans. So have Toledo, Dayton, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

“Many cities are developing action plans, but I would argue that ours is one of the most comprehensive in the Midwest,” Cervenec said. “We first explored the climate impacts, risks and vulnerabilities facing Columbus and built the document to directly address those concerns.”