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Part 3: Recommendations for Proactive Climate Resilience in Appalachia

In the decades to come, the world will be transformed by the effects of climate change, which will be mitigated or exacerbated depending on how society responds. That response includes forward-looking actions that must be taken today to be effective. The same is true in Appalachia; the region’s economy and residents will be shaped by a variety of climate driven externalities and patterns that are already emerging, creating an entirely new calculus for community development efforts, and for life and livelihoods in general. Simply put, there is no option of “business as usual.”

There are myriad challenges that will face the region as a result of climate change, and many of them we cannot fully understand or predict at this point. However, the known challenges identified in this report must be taken into full consideration in development, policy, and capital investment strategies, with the recognition that the climate crisis will inevitably present unknown and compounding challenges at our feet.

The issues and opportunities outlined in this analysis demand aggressive and proactive engagement on large-scale and comprehensive strategies. Unprecedented future challenges require unprecedented visioning, innovation, and action. The process for developing these responses should be thoughtful, collaborative, and dedicated, and we hope that this report offers a starting point for a sustained and committed dialogue across the broad variety of institutions, organizations, and communities that have a stake in this future.  We also want to offer a place to start, and ways to take action now.  

These recommendations focus on concrete steps that can be taken right now to directly mitigate future climate impacts and begin the process of adapting our region to be as climate resilient as possible. The outline below includes a variety of capital investment, research, policy, and community engagement recommendations. Each of these provides some resource, capacity, policy, or infrastructure that can help empower Appalachian communities to chart their own path towards an equitable, inclusive, and sustainable future.

Capital Investment Recommendations

  • Establish a federally funded, regionally managed resource pool for funding climate resilience in tandem with other regional economic development projects similar to that of the National Coastal Resilience Fund. Specifically, exploring the potential allocation of resources such as the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) to seed this necessary infrastructure. This model should be informed by and/or work in alignment with the utilization of the state-based Safeguarding Tomorrow Revolving Loan Fund Program which provides low-interest capital for adaptation and hazard mitigation projects.
  • Engage national philanthropy to encourage a place-based understanding of climate resilience, appropriate resources for bottom-up resilience, and locally/regionally-led strategies to bolster sustainable, inclusive, and equitable economic development. This recommendation is in contrast to the dominant trend in climate resilience and climate justice focused philanthropy and impact investment, which prioritizes top-down, technology-based, and nationally intermediated “climate solutions” that have little dialogue with or accountability to the “frontline communities” they purport to serve.

Research Recommendations

  • Develop additional research to better understand the likely impacts and implications of climate change in Central Appalachia. Potential partners in this effort include academic institutions, public agencies, think tanks, and other research-focused organizations.
  • Pursue commitments from EDA, USDA, ARC, and other relevant agencies to utilize climate impact research to inform their own work and grantmaking strategies in the Appalachian region. This should include but not be limited to:
    • Regional asset and resource mapping focusing on hybrid strategies mitigating ongoing environmental degradation and value added product development. Notable opportunities include:
      • Responsible processing of rare earth metal in mine wastes including coal ash, acid mine drainage, and coal refuse for the development of semiconductors, technological hardware, and a plethora of value added products that are essential to advancing a just energy transition.  With diminishing and increasingly restricted reserves of rare earths globally and projected exponential demand for these resources in the coming decades, this an area of particular interest for investment and community accountability. With the development of research and technology in this space, we encourage regional partners and policy makers to ensure associated tax revenue and other profits be overwhelmingly reinvested in communities from which the minerals were originally sourced.
      • Strategically and diligently utilizing coal ash and industrial by-products for infrastructure and construction materials like concrete, gypsum board, etc. Utilization of these by-products must be done in conjunction with health and safety regulations.
      • Creation of other products such as paint pigments from mine runoff (TruePigments, Southeast Ohio)
    • Development of climate informed guidance on the deployment of IRA, ARPA, and other large scale federal funding for infrastructure.
    • Increasing regional agricultural production with collaborative partnerships cutting across local food systems and agri-tech partners to develop cropping techniques that are resistant to drought and excessive rainfall.  Explore native species cultivation practices that are central to preserving the region’s biodiversity.

Public Policy

Revise mapping of regional floodplains based on best available data which takes into account up to date climate change modeling projections as opposed to historical climatology alone. Flood maps which are inclusive of areas vulnerable to flash flooding are also needed in mountainous regions such as Central Appalachia.

  • Continue and expand clean energy tax credits and other incentives, including flexible place-based deployment of Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund resources, that facilitate the necessity to transition to a renewable energy system.
  • Expand public investment and incentives for affordable housing, including retrofitting existing housing to accommodate extreme weather and rising sea levels. Consider mechanisms to buffer lower-income households  against climate-driven rural gentrification that is likely to force economically distressed populations into the most at-risk areas.
  • Encouraging the funding of the RECOMPETE Act that could support comprehensive community and economic development efforts in distressed communities.

Community Engagement

Support strategies for revitalization and protection of community centers, specifically historic downtowns, by incorporating climate-smart design in redevelopment and new development and building in disaster preparedness and emergency response resources and capabilities (e.g. backup energy sources, shelters, food/equipment storage).

  • Create a Rural Resilience Corps to engage emerging leaders in rural communities to:
    • Train residents on how to prepare for and respond to climate shocks at the local level
    • Share strategies for adapting their built and natural environment through sustainable design practices. This should also include community engagement and accountability in the development of any large-scale energy and adaptation projects (hydroelectric projects specifically).
    • Adapt, expand, or establish workforce development program(s) to train and employ Appalachian residents  in the resilience workforce as a means of embedding sector expertise and leadership within the region, while providing necessary capacity to address disaster response and adaptation efforts nationally.

Supporting Resources


Nicholas Shanahan

Report Lead Author
Outreach and Engagement Specialist
NC Institute for Climate Studies
Baylen Campbell
Report Secondary Author
Director of Community
Impact Invest Appalachia
Andrew Crosson
Report Contributing Writer and Editor
Chief Executive Officer
Invest Appalachia

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