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Portland prepares for a changing climate

Whether you realize it or not, you are taking action to prepare for climate change every day. When you recycle, leave your car at home, clean the gutters for that impending winter storm or empty standing water to limit mosquito breeding — you are taking small steps to prepare. And at a much broader level, Portland City Council unanimously adopted the Climate Change Preparation Strategy and associated Risk and Vulnerabilities Assessment in early October. This strategy identifies how climate change will affect our region and what actions are needed to protect communities.

“Preparing our community for the impacts of a changing climate is simply good, responsible management,” said Mayor Charlie Hales, City of Portland. “We’re fortunate that Portland doesn’t face the same scale of threats that many coastal cities must deal with, but we do expect real impacts and take them seriously. At the same time, reducing carbon emissions remains a crucial component of Portland’s climate work.”

The strategy and background report explore the impacts of climate change on various sectors, including people, infrastructure, and natural systems likes rivers and wetlands. Potential impacts to food production, climate migrants, energy systems and the economy are also briefly explored in the strategy.

Portland’s climate future is expected to be characterized by warmer winters with heavier rainstorms and hotter, drier summers with an increased frequency of high-heat days. The strategy identifies five distinct risks:

Hotter, drier summers with more high-heat days

Risk 1: Increased temperatures (both and day night) and frequency of high-heat days.

Risk 2: Increased frequency of drought.

Risk 3: Increased wildfire frequency and intensity.

Warmer winters with the potential for more intense rain events

Risk 4: Increased frequency and magnitude of damaging floods.

Risk 5: Increased landslides.

Climate change will affect our most vulnerable communities

“This plan is about fairness,” said Chair Deborah Kafoury. “People who are going to be most vulnerable to the heat are older adults, our homeless population, people of color and low-income community members who don’t have the means to adapt or get out of town. Multnomah County is committed to helping prepare this community to protect their health.”

Where possible, the strategy recommends prioritizing preparation actions in communities such as low-income populations and communities of color where people face current and historical disparities that may be exacerbated by climate change impacts, particularly increased temperatures, poor air quality and flooding.

Carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and from land use changes, including deforestation, are the primary drivers of the climate change we are experiencing today and expect to see in the future. Reducing carbon emissions remains a crucial component of climate change preparation work.

Developed by the City of Portland and Multnomah County, the strategy and background report were informed by advisors from the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, Oregon Department of Geology & Mineral Industries and the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission.

Next steps

To implement the Climate Change Preparation Strategy, City and County staff will build on existing efforts to reduce risks from climate change impacts through implementation, capacity building, research, monitoring and evaluation.

The strategy and assessment are linked to the City of Portland and Multnomah County Climate Action Plan, which integrates City and County work to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change while also preparing for the impacts that we will experience. Portland and Multnomah County are currently in the process of updating the Climate Action Plan, the first version of which was adopted in 1993. 

BPS will soon release the updated Climate Action Plan for public comment, and staff will integrate the main recommendations from the Climate Change Preparation Strategy.

Visit Portland’s Climate Action website to learn more about the Climate Action Plan update project and other related climate efforts.