Climate Leaders Collaboration

Understanding Climate Change impacts in the New England region is one thing, and actually working to improve vision, capability and capacity to confront climate change and make our communities more resilient is an even bigger challenge. It is a challenge that the New England states are focused on because the vulnerabilities we are facing are real. We have seen a 74 percent increase in extreme precipitation events between 1958 and 2011. Hurricanes and tropical storms are increasing in intensity and that is expected to continue. We saw our vulnerabilities come to life in our inland states after Tropical Storm Irene. We saw the coast get slammed after Hurricane Sandy. Fifty percent of New Englanders live in coastal counties, and depend on critical infrastructure there. With sea level rise, and increased extreme precipitation events, these areas are vulnerable to flooding and storm surge in ways that they have never been before.

Last November, in partnership with our states, EPA co-sponsored a New England Climate Leaders’ Summit at Johnston & Wales University in Providence, RI. We brought together local, state and private sector environmental leaders to talk in real terms about how we tackle adaptation and resilience in our communities and in our states. I challenged the group to consider how to better become resilient. Six action teams were charged to:

  • Acquire local level data and information on current and future community climate change impacts.
  • Understand the risk to your community by integrating impact information and vulnerability assessments into your existing planning processes.
  • Increase communication on impacts and reasons to act now, customize the information for your community, engage and educate both citizens and decision-makers.
  • Set community-wide priority actions and set realistic goals.
  • Coordinate with regional, state, and federal agencies.
  • Identify priority actions for resiliency and integrate them into existing community planning processes.

Making Climate Adaptation actionable for communities jumps to the top of our list because municipalities are the ones that will implement on the ground adaptation efforts. We have to come up with ways for local officials to understand impacts for individual communities so that they can affect change.

It’s clear that communities need more localized and consistent data to better understand their vulnerabilities. They need information that will help them communicate with their citizens, community groups and businesses to elicit their buy-in and desire to execute an adaptation plan. They also need plans and examples for assessing vulnerabilities and then implementing adaptation planning – often by including it in already existing plans.
There is a need for models that will help estimate and communicate economic risks that were listed as vital for communities. We have to look at how we can spend smarter on building more resilient infrastructure, and explore how we can soften watersheds. Building this sort of “green infrastructure” will soften watersheds to absorb water into the ground, reduce stormwater and flood risk, and decrease the likelihood sanitary and combined sewer overflows.

EPA New England, the six New England states, municipal representatives, NGO’s and private sector entities have been working together since the November conference to develop these six big ideas to get needs met and make climate adaptation a real action item. Check out our Climate Leaders webpage as we continue our work http://www.epa.gov/region1/climateleaderscollaboration/index.html

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