Image: Rafi A+U + DLAND Studio for RPA’s 4C initiative

Funding for resilience measures falls well short of need, and often comes too late

The scope and scale of actions needed to protect all of our vulnerable communities from climate change require more money than federal, state, or local budgets—or philanthropy—can currently provide. What’s more, current funding mechanisms for resilience and adaptation are sporadic and unpredictable, often not becoming available until after a major disaster occurs, making it difficult for municipalities to rebuild and plan for the future. And government funding is often focused on rebuilding what existed before the natural disaster.

The need to adapt and protect our communities against climate change is an ongoing challenge, but the funding mechanisms we have today do not allow communities to plan for the long term.

More than $27 billion of the region’s resiliency needs have gone unmet—a figure likely to continue increasing as natural disasters become more frequent and funding sources dwindle with every passing disaster declaration.

Given changing federal priorities, it is imperative the region lead in the areas the current federal government is weakening its environmental and climate-related research: regulation, funding, and policies. Undertaking these priority initiatives will require resilience, and resources exceeding the current funding and governing paradigm.

Establish state-level trust funds to supplement and leverage existing sources

Each of the three states should establish Adaptation Trust Funds (ATFs) to finance critical adaptation projects, prioritizing regional infrastructure for transportation, energy, and water. ATFs should be capitalized by a surcharge on a limited number of regulated lines of insurance and managed by a public benefit corporation with bonding authority, created in each state, and subject to state oversight.

Building off of a long history of public trust funds, ATFs would provide the resources to incentivize collective action and policy coordination, and stimulate a range of activities from local adaptation planning and vulnerability assessments to gap financing and infrastructure development. These resources would include a range of products, such as grants, non-recourse loans, below-market loans, and prime-rate permanent loans. Resulting projects could include, but would not be limited to buyouts, contaminated-site remediation, vector borne diseases, community protection, regional infrastructure protection, adaptation planning studies, and local municipal staff training.

ATFs would provide the cash flow for the proposed RCC, and be independently managed on a state-by-state basis. The authority to underwrite, approve, and allocate funds, however, would rest with the RCC, which would also implement projects and programs that seek to advance resilience and adaptation in coordination across all three states. While each state ATF should have minimum in-state allocations, residual allocations could be prioritized for projects and programs whose impacts extends beyond jurisdictional boundaries. In particular, priority would be given to projects that work to reduce exposure of insurable assets in a manner that reduces the cost burden of premiums.

Beyond disaster-risk-reduction, the ATF could also fund both capital expenditures and ongoing programs that deliver health, equity, and environmental benefits, along with climate resilience. Examples could include restoration projects that help advance stormwater management, or local planning efforts that build and maintain social networks as a backstop to community preparedness. The underwriting of these wide-ranging interventions would be subject to a rigorous analysis by the RCC that accounts for up-to-date science, vulnerability assessments, adaptive management protocols, and community engagement.


Adaptation Trust Funds would provide the region with consistent and reliable funding for adaptation and resiliency projects. Such funding, in coordination with a Regional Coastal Commission, would enable coordinated and sufficient investments into high-priority projects to lower flood risks for the greatest number of people and the most infrastructure. With a stable and predictable source of funding, each state can plan for and implement projects before disasters strike or permanent flooding from sea-level rise affects communities, thereby reducing risk and shortening recovery periods following natural disasters, while reducing the cost burden we already pay for in energy bills, transit passes, property taxes, and other expenses that embed infrastructure upgrades and other costs that would be supported by the trust funds.

Paying for It

ATFs would be capitalized by instituting a surcharge on property-casualty insurance premiums for lines that could include homeowners, commercial, farm owners, fire, inland and ocean marine, boiler and machinery, earthquake, and private-crop products. The surcharge could be set to sunset after 10 years. Using estimates for unmet financial needs for resiliency in New York City, New Jersey, and Connecticut that were calculated by each state following Superstorm Sandy, over $27 billion was used as a starting point for needs ATFs could have met. Without utilizing leverage in the bond market, estimated insurance surcharges for the average consumer of $1 per month in Connecticut, $5 per month in New York, and $15 per month in New Jersey were used to pay for the identified unmet needs of each state over 10 years.

The added costs would be borne by those who pay the insurance premiums on the lines described above, including homeowners, landlords, commercial business owners, and farmers, among others. Under this scenario, renters would not be directly affected, though landlords could be expected to recapture additional expenditures through higher rents.

Alternatively, a relatively small surcharge of between 0.5 to 1.5 percent could be leveraged by bonding in each state to develop revenue for ATFs. A 1.5-percent surcharge leveraged by bonding over the course of 20 years could cover around 25 percent of New York City’s, 10 percent of New Jersey’s, and all of Connecticut’s unmet needs.

1. Keenan, J.M., “Regional Resilience Trust Funds: An Exploratory Analysis for Leveraging Insurance Surcharges. Environment Systems and Decisions,” 2017