The Nature Conservancy Releases Groundbreaking Report on Defending New York City from Climate Change Impacts

New analysis shows mixing natural and built solutions will protect vulnerable, urban communities.

New York, NY | October 21, 2013

The Nature Conservancy released to the public today, two weeks before the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, a groundbreaking case study that provides a preliminary, comprehensive evaluation of how natural defenses, in conjunction with built solutions, can effectively be used to protect communities in New York City and around the globe from the impacts of climate change. 

The highlights of “Integrating Natural Infrastructure into Urban Coastal Resilience,” the first-ever analysis of its kind, are that: 

  • Natural features can be successfully used in a dense urban setting, in combination with “built” defenses, to provide efficient and cost-effective protection from sea level rise, storm surges and coastal flooding, and;
  • Innovative financing options are available to bring these hybrid approaches to reality. 

When Hurricane Sandy struck last year, it changed New York City forever,” said Bill Ulfelder, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in New York. “Sandy left a wake of destruction, and revealed just how vulnerable we are to climate change, how much is at stake, as well as how nature—wetlands, dunes, parks, forests and barrier islands — can play a critical role in helping protect us.”  

The Nature Conservancy prepared the report by request from The New York City Special Initiative for Rebuilding to undertake a project evaluating the role of nature and natural infrastructure in protecting communities from some of the impacts of climate change. The community of Howard Beach, Queens, was selected as a conceptual model for the project because this neighborhood, hit hard during Sandy, is low-lying and densely populated. Although Howard Beach was used in the analysis, the study methodology is applicable to coastal communities across the City and around the globe. 

The study found that a mix of natural and built defenses could result in avoided losses in this one neighborhood of between $348 million and $466 million from the current 1-in-100 year storm event. Demonstrating the benefits of a hybrid approach in terms of future cost-avoidance provides a strong basis for making investments that use both nature and built systems in community resiliency that are critically needed today. 

“The Nature Conservancy is using a science-based approach to demonstrate how investments in natural defenses, often combined with built infrastructure, can provide the most significant benefits.  These aren’t only reduced disaster risk benefits, but also clean water, clean air, recreational opportunities and access to shorelines and open space,” Ulfelder says. “New Yorkers now have the opportunity to talk about resiliency—and we now have the analyses that demonstrate nature is an essential part of the solution.” 


The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the web at To learn about the Conservancy’s global initiatives, visit To keep up with current Conservancy news, follow @nature_press on Twitter.

Contact information

Rachel Winters
(267) 210-2189


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