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Creating equitable outcomes for climate adaptation

Creating equitable outcomes for climate adaptation
Nov 14, 2023

Climate expert Adam Parris works at the intersection of climate adaptation and equity to transform how communities thrive in the face of climate and societal change

Adam Parris climate equity - thumbnail image

“Climate adaptation is not only about minimizing the impacts of climate change, but it also presents an opportunity to help address systemic issues of injustice and inequity.” This is a belief firmly held by Adam Parris, senior consultant and ICF Climate Center senior fellow.

Adam works at the intersection of climate and equity, helping communities build equitable and just solutions to adapt to climate and societal change. In his work, he encourages active engagement in an effort to address the needs of disproportionately affected communities.

Adam's work is driven by questions like, where can we strengthen participation, particularly for people who bear the consequences of a decision, plan, or project? Are there opportunities to distribute benefits of adaptation especially to those who lack resources and already feel the impacts? What supports accountability among partners in the long run?

And with both climate and equity concerns front and center today, he’s seeing more and more opportunities to ask them.

“One of the most fulfilling aspects of working in the climate adaptation field is learning new things as the work evolves and changes. But the most enduring aspect is the positive opportunities it creates for future generations.”

Identifying climate risks and adaptation opportunities

Recently, Adam brought his extensive climate experience to develop rigorous, technical analysis for the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s (USGCRP) 5th National Climate Assessment, the federal government’s gold-standard report on climate impacts in the U.S. He co-authored the chapter on climate adaptation, and he and our climate team are now assisting USGCRP in operationalizing its work—helping the program navigate climate adaptation and resilience strategies.

Accelerating equitable climate action

With the passage of several federal legislative packages, including the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), historic levels of funding have been released to support infrastructure and climate-action projects—funds that Adam believes can move us beyond symbolic statements and catalyze crucial development. “In my mind, transformative change happens when you combine focusing events, like a large influx in funding following a disaster, with slowly built potential,” explains Parris, adding that he’s excited to apply these climate-focused funds to build on the foundational work communities have done toward improving climate justice and equity.

One of these efforts is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate-Smart Communities Initiative, a $12.7 million IRA-funded program designed to develop equitable climate resilience plans with local governments and organizations. Adam shares, “Working with federal agencies, we’re connecting professionals who support adaptation—risk analysts, designers, finance experts, and evaluators—to communities in need to help those impacted by climate-related risks and who face the double jeopardy of low income, discrimination, and other forces.”

He's also working with a local women- and minority-owned business and other climate experts to help five disadvantaged communities in Cook County, Illinois build resilience plans, centering community needs throughout.

Collaboration is key to collective action

Adam Parris presenting

Adam brings an incredible amount of real-world experience to his work. He previously served as the deputy director of climate science and services at the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency in New York City. Where he collaborated with city agencies, infrastructure providers, and nongovernmental organizations across multiple sectors and communities to ensure climate adaptation was baked into every part of the city’s planning.

He was the founding executive director of the Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay, New York, co-designing a community-driven process to advance climate action. He also directed the 11 regional centers in NOAA’s Climate Adapatation Partnerships (CAP) program (formerly named the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments program). During his time at NOAA, he received a Presidential GreenGov Award for his efforts during Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts, among other honors. And he’s co-edited two books on climate adaptation with dozens of American scientists.

“I’m proud I’ve built lasting relationships with people in all parts of the world and all parts of the climate space. Collaboration is key to collective action, and it will take all of us working together to adapt."

Adam notes that his intrinsic drive to form high-quality partnerships and work as a team naturally complements ICF’s values and culture. Being open and honest is “what makes us accountable to each other,” he says. Adding that the hallmark of strong teams is that, even when they disagree, the individual members can feel safe knowing that they still care about each other, however much they debate.

A man of many passions

Adam Parris in the kitchen

In his spare time, Adam loves to write. He honed his craft early on by writing and performing standup comedy. Today, he tinkers with nonfiction, and is contemplating a screenplay with his sister, a feature film producer. He also occasionally writes song lyrics with a musician friend who plays in the San Francisco Bay area.

When not writing, Adam enjoys skiing, hiking, and running, and dabbling with his wife and kids in cooking and even decorative graffiti.

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