Cleveland’s growth potential as a city of climate refuge

As a result of climate change, Cleveland could experience a surge in commercial and residential development over the next several decades, caused by climate-driven migration and capital market geographic climate risk mitigation. Regional leaders should consider taking a more proactive view of the dynamics caused by this phenomenon.

The Great Lakes region is projected to be one of the most resilient areas in the world when it comes to the adverse effects of climate change. The region’s access to fresh water and low risk of climate-driven natural disasters are key.

Freshwater reserves

Sitting on the coast of Lake Erie, Cleveland has access to one of the largest freshwater sources in the U.S. The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater, more than 5,400 cubic miles, and more than 90 percent of the surface freshwater in the U.S. That easy access to fresh water is slated to increase in value, as the World Health Organization estimates that, as early as 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas.

The U.S. is no exception, and the effects of climate change are beginning to show in starker relief . As recently as Aug. 16, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation declared an unprecedented water shortage on the Colorado River, prompting restrictions on usage that may become more common as climate change limits access to fresh water.

As climate change and associated water shortages take greater tolls, populations in the worst-affected areas will be increasingly uprooted. The Western U.S. has begun to see some of the more devastating effects of climate change in the increased frequency of forest fires, and hurricanes ravage the lowlands of Florida and the eastern coast.

These pressures are expected to push migration out of these areas as they become increasingly costly and risky for investors and would-be residents. Once property and casualty insurance rates surge or certain areas are declared uninsurable due to climate risk, rapid migration will begin to more resilient markets like Cleveland.

Climate resilience

Cleveland has a temperate climate and plentiful groundwater from the Great Lakes watershed. It is also called the Forest City, as it has plentiful tree cover and a large proportion of parks and green space that facilitate the absorption of rainwater. As a result, it and its surrounding areas have not seen the groundwater depletion that may place the Great Plains regions at risk.

The American West and Sun Belt have also been hard hit by extremes of drought, heat and flooding as the average temperature rises and the soil dries and hardens, becoming less porous. Hotter air can also hold more moisture. As a result, the amount of rain falling during the heaviest storms in the Southeast U.S. increased by almost a third between 1958 and 2016, according to the most recent National Climate Assessment.

On the other hand, Cleveland is relatively insulated from risks posed by climate change-driven natural disasters. Recent studies confirm that more people are taking into account the risk of natural disasters in connection with their relocation decision.

Unless climate change forecasts suddenly change, Cleveland could experience climate-fueled migration that could drive economic growth and a surge in commercial and residential development over the next several decades. I would encourage our region’s leaders to start preparing now and take into consideration the impact of climate change as they develop regional planning models for the future.

Jon J. Pinney is managing partner at Kohrman Jackson & Krantz