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Will Record Heat Push Cities Toward Climate Resilience Tech?

As global heat waves continue, focus increases on ways to ease the pain of all those extremely high temperatures. But will cities and states actually spend more money on climate — and how can tech sellers respond?

Two children playing in a large spraying fountain.
This summer’s sizzling air in the U.S. — part of an extraordinary global heat wave — has put the spotlight on climate resilience technologies, all those tools meant to protect residents from the immediate pains of unhealthy temperatures and related punishments from Mother Nature.

Optimism grew this summer, at least among those working in climate resilience technology, that the heat and the media coverage of it would lead to more spending in this particular part of the government technology space. Even so, they maintain serious concerns that the money meant for climate resilience won’t find its mark, or that the best tools won’t gain enough funding.
That’s important because decisions made now about climate resilience technology will shape reactions to future heat waves and their life-or-death stakes.

Backers of more deployments of climate resilience technology — cooling centers, minigrids that protect against large-scale power outages, sophisticated building and paving materials, software that determines at-risk areas with neighborhood precision, and other tools — should feel encouraged, says Joyce Coffee, president at Climate Resilience Consulting, which works with governments.

That’s because the ongoing heat waves are sparking relevant conversations about such deployments among many public officials, including at the state level, and especially in “blue” states. After all, she told Government Technology, elected officials don’t want to be held responsible for, say, hundreds of heat wave deaths in their communities.

“The interest will increase because of the heat wave,” she said. “There is no question.”

Interest doesn’t always guarantee action, though, nor does climate funding always follow its expected path.

Sure, on one hand, the Biden administration in July — the hottest month on record, according to climate scientists — highlighted its plan to spend $50 billion on climate resilience. On the other hand, a report from the Washington Post just days later showed how federal money earmarked for resilience and related activities is regularly shifted to other uses.

The global heat waves — happening even in parts of South America, where it is winter — have indeed created a fresh sense of urgency, though it is unclear how much business that will produce for sellers of climate resilience technology, according to Tomer Shalit, founder of ClimateView, whose SaaS platform is designed to help cities plan for the changing climate.

“The way in which cities are spending funds on climate resilience technology has not changed,” he told Government Technology via email. “The U.S. federal government has made addressing the climate crisis a national priority, as shown by the Inflation Reduction Act; however, this hasn’t translated to state and city governments seeing it as such.”

Politics plays an increasing role in that, he said. And so could human nature in the months to come.

“Once weather events ease, like the current heat waves, we risk losing momentum,” Shalit said. “Sadly, this risk is well evidenced by the lack of any action in the wake of bad hurricanes and tornadoes in recent years.”

Cities that are trying to make progress with climate resilience — that is, tools meant to provide relatively immediate relief — seem to be most interested in flood protections and reducing urban heat islands via tree canopies and painting roofs white, according to conversations his company has had with U.S. municipal leaders.

Other forms of gov tech are needed, according to other experts — and are being tested.

In April, for instance, San Antonio began a $1 million pilot of a cool pavement program. The pavement is supposed to reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat than traditional materials. The test stems from the city’s 2019 climate action plan.

“The advantage to these coatings is that they can be strategically deployed to areas where there is a particular concern about disproportionate heat impacts,” Alexis St. Juliana, an associate at Abt Associates, which researches climate response and other issues, told Government Technology.

Another trend, though smaller, is what she called “cool wall solutions,” which mirror the technology behind cool roofs. She said she can foresee communities offering rebates or incentive programs for cool walls and roofs.

“My sense of where local governments are really focused now is better understanding the problem,” St. Juliana said. “Many cities have conducted local-level heat mapping initiatives and just now are starting to use this data to inform how and where they deploy solutions in their communities.”

No matter what happens, or how long it takes, gov tech sellers that want a bigger part of this business need to have a broad vision, at least according to Ken Dircks, EY’s public sector infrastructure and transportation solution leader.

That means not only having a deeper understanding of relevant federal funding but “grant application expertise,” he told Government Technology.

“The past several years has seen an uptick in the funding available for climate resiliency programs, and often clients need additional capacity to secure and win funding competitions,” Dircks said.

Gov tech sellers also need to know the strategic plans of public agency clients “inside and out,” and find ways to expand their networks and working relationships, even as the heat waves give way to cooler temps.

“Sellers can collaborate with other climate change organizations in their clients’ ecosystems,” he said. “There are established nonprofit organizations, research institutions, and coalitions that are already on the scene, plugged in, and have incredible expertise.”
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in Wisconsin.