Kate Johnson

At the end of a hike along the Kumano Kodo, Japan in 2015.

Kate Johnson
Program Analyst
Department of Energy and Environment
Washington, DC


Like other cities, DC has experienced more severe weather events in recent years, featuring dangerous heatwaves and flooding. It wanted to get ahead of the curve.


In April 2014, the city announced a grant to prepare and adapt to climate change. Seeking a rigorous assessment of hazards and vulnerability, as well as strong recommendations for priorities, it created a robust team: Kleinfelder engineering, Area Research, Perkins + Will urban planners and commercial architects, and academics like leading climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe.

In October 2016, Mayor Bowser released a plan called “Climate Ready DC, enumerating 77 actions that DC would aim to take in the short-term (defined as 3-5 years), medium-term, and long-term (10 years or longer).

To be led by the Department of Energy and Environment, the plan’s four general objectives include making critical infrastructure like transportation and energy utilities more resilient, upgrading the resilience of existing and prospective buildings, working with neighborhoods and communities on preparedness, and coordinating governance and implementation with the private sector.

Much of the work involves integrating analysis of climate risks into planning, such as in the local building code. Fortunately, DC was already taking a number of recommended actions, eg, it’s a leading city in the area of stormwater management, investing in “green infrastructure” like trees, rain gardens, and bioswales (landscaping to remove pollution from runoff water).

But it’s also undertaking many new actions such as creating a “green bank” to leverage public money and private investment, removing upfront government costs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and advancing renewable energy and resilience.

Kate is the point person for Climate Ready DC, working with agencies and universities, infrastructure owners like utilities and transit operators, and builders and developers. She is also focused on creating performance metrics to measure how DC is doing. Unlike cities that have faced large natural disasters, DC doesn’t have significant recovery funds, so it’s also exploring innovative ways to finance needed changes.

Kate’s Background

Grew up in St. Charles, IL (pop 33,000, 40 miles due west of Chicago). Became major sports fan, loving Cubs (and therefore developing “an innate desire to root for underdogs”), and Bulls in the era of Jordan (an exception to her underdog rule). Went to Penn (communications major), then Columbia for master’s in urban policy.

Came to DC 12 years ago to work for environmental non-profits, doing federal advocacy work. Tried to push climate legislation through US Congress, eventually saw cities as being more dynamic in that arena, so joined DC government three years ago.

Startling Fact

Back in her adventurous days, sky dived once—“not something I’d do anymore, now that my husband and I have an 18-month old son.”

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