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It’s Smart Business to Develop a Climate Change Strategy

Climate action plan info-graphic to illustrate Kate Gaertner's blog

Climate Change Threats Are Real, Not a “Hoax”

The threats and impacts from climate change today and for the future to communities urban and rural, large and small, and both Republican- and Democratic-leaning are very real.  Being a non-believer does not omit you from climate change’s repercussions.  Negative impacts are happening, intensifying and becoming more frequent, and present intense challenges to people’s health, productivity, and ongoing livelihoods, as well as the stability of an economy as untold and incalculable damage is done to buildings, transportation infrastructure, municipal services and centralized energy grids.

How U.S. States Prepare for Climate Change Impacts

While nations develop their own climate change assessments collecting observed changes in weather, air and ocean temperatures, frequency of weather events and the like by making projections of what is likely to occur in the near, medium and long-term future, these observations are grouped by region so as to provide meaningful and implementable guidance to sub-regions within a country.  But every country as well as every particular region has unique climate conditions that interact with climate change impacts.  As such, sub-regions within a country would benefit from creating custom climate plans that address their particular vulnerabilities based on their particular climate types, unique geological and hydrological attributes, population needs and agricultural requirements, and the availability and type of natural resources available to them.  One main instrument that is being effectively implemented at both the state and local levels in the U.S. is a ‘Climate Change Action Plan’.

‘Climate Change Action Plans’ Are Roadmaps to a More Sustainable Future

A Climate Change Action Plan is a comprehensive strategy that details the key areas and steps a region or community will take to reduce its contribution to climate change.  Namely, the plan focuses on specific areas a community will take action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere, the most significant driver of continued climate change on the planet. These actions are myriad from promoting the use of renewable sources of energy, to incenting public transportation commuting, to decreasing landfill and incineration waste through recycling efforts, to supporting and promoting local agriculture and sustainable farming practices, to reducing carbon emissions from long transports of products, to creating strategic zoning requirements to limit greenfield[1] development, to offering tax incentives for green building development, to promoting new technology development through pollution cap-and-trade schemes.  The plans are actionable, measurable, and forward-looking and usually include declining carbon emission targets based on some baseline year (i.e., 1990 GHG emission levels).

Who is Involved in Creating Climate Action Plans and How Are They Assessed?

Climate Action Plans are usually developed by a diverse committee of community stakeholders that include politicians, citizens, business leaders, activists, and environmentalists to name but a few.  Once a comprehensive climate action plan is developed, it is approved by a state or municipal legislature and becomes an entity governed and enforced by state or city law.  Action plans are often reviewed and assessed yearly, every fifth year and each decade.  Assessment reports detail progress made; goals met, not-met and exceeded; and work remaining to be accomplished.  These regular assessments are also used to inform and build progressively future-forward looking reports.

U.S. States With Operable Climate Change Action Plans

In the U.S., states, cities and towns hold the primary responsibility to develop and implement a climate change action plan. Given the size of the U.S., the natural variability of climate change impacts to various sub-regions, and that governing authority is held most critically at the state and local levels of government within the 50 United States, U.S. States have led the charge in developing Climate Action Plans for their jurisdictions.  Today, just 21 of the 50 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia have developed and/or enacted into law a formal Climate Change Action Plan.  Those states include (with year the Climate Action Plan was formalized):

  • California: 2009
  • Colorado: 2011
  • Connecticut: 2013
  • Delaware: (Governor established committee to develop action plan in 2015 but no formal statewide action plan approved)
  • Florida: 2008
  • Hawai’i (expected to have been completed by end of 2017)
  • Maine: 2010
  • Maryland: 2008
  • Massachusetts: 2011
  • Minnesota (inter-state-agency led effort since 2008 but lacking a formal statewide action plan)
  • Michigan (Michigan Department of Health released its first Climate Action Plan in 2011)
  • New Hampshire: 2009
  • New York: 2010
  • North Carolina (inter-state-agency led effort since 2012 but lacking a formal statewide action plan)
  • Oregon: 2010
  • Pennsylvania: 2011
  • Rhode Island: 2014
  • Vermont: (State-agency led adoption of Climate Action Plan by Governor Executive Order of 2012)
  • Virginia: 2008
  • Washington: 2012
  • Washington, District of Columbia: 2013
  • Wisconsin (ad hoc network assessing climate change impacts and developing climate preparedness strategies. No formal state action plan developed)

What Do These Four (Republican-leaning) States Have in Common?

Of the above states, all but four (i.e., Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin) were Democratically-leaning in the last national election of 2016.

Water-Battering in Florida and North Carolina

It is interesting to dissect why these four Republican-leaning states may be the only ones to date, that have pursued some form of climate policy, even without force of state law to implement.  The state of Florida and its many coastal communities both on the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico are deeply vulnerable to rises in sea level and flooding from extreme storm events. North Carolina juts out into the Atlantic Ocean and often bears a large brunt of hurricanes and tropical storms that move northward up the eastern coast of the U.S.  North Carolina’s Outer banks –  an island chain – are highly vulnerable to extreme storm events that have become more frequent and intense over the last several decades and are expected to continue. It is safe to assume that for the Republican-leaning states of Florida and North Carolina, sea level rise, extreme storm destruction, and flooding are the main climate change impacts driving thoughtful action plan development.

Water Availability in Wisconsin and Michigan

The climate change issues facing water resources are slightly different for Wisconsin and Michigan.  These two U.S. states are seriously concerned about their Great Lakes.  Wisconsin borders two:  Lake Superior and Lake Michigan.  Michigan is shaped by four of the five great lakes:  Wisconsin’s two along with Lake Huron and Lake Erie.  The great lakes are one of the world’s largest freshwater reserves.  Their aesthetic and recreational appeal are not to be underestimated.  More important is their combined essentialness in supporting municipal water supplies to citizens in both the U.S. and Canada (since the Great Lakes share a border with both countries), industrial production as well as necessary agricultural irrigation.  The Great Lakes Basin spanning more than 1,200 kilometers (750 miles)  supports 25 percent of Canada’s and 7 percent of America’s agricultural production and supplies freshwater to more than 30 million people (10 percent of the U.S.’s total population, 30 percent of Canada’s)[2].  Impacts to the deterioration, degradation, and contamination of these critical freshwater resources from climate change are and should be taken very seriously.  Lives and livelihoods literally depend on these Great Lakes.  It comes as no surprise that Michigan’s ‘Climate and Health Adaptation 2010-2015 Strategic Plan’ focuses on three main priority areas including:

  1. Improving emergency planning for heat events,
  2. Monitoring air quality,
  3. Monitoring health impacts of water quality and quantity[3].

Wisconsin also has three main focus areas of its “Climate Change and Emergency Preparedness Plan” including a) collaborating and coordination emergency strategies with other public partners, b) supporting infrastructure areas of potential impact from climate change such as water management, energy efficiency, and public health safety, and most comprehensively, c) build a ‘resilient’ watershed strategy to prevent further fresh water pollution and contamination through agricultural runoff (i.e., pesticides and fertilizers) and flooding events while restoring ecosystem functions that support high water quality[4].

Climate Change Is Not a Political Story (Sorry to Disappoint)

What’s the take-away?  Climate change is not and should not be political.  Just because one particular political party is more inclined to not accept most or all of scientists’ observations about global climate change and their projections about the likely impacts to water, land, air and ocean, and communities does not mean that because one is politically-inclined towards one direction, deny climate change you must.  The bigger truth is when climate change is recognizable through individuals actually experiencing its impacts within their respective communities, it is necessary and directionally correct to take action to reduce those impacts and to develop a forward-thinking plan to ensure that the impacts do not take more of a negative toll on a community than it otherwise would.  That is called planning for impacts that are likely to come.  In IPCC lingo, climate change impact planning is called ‘adaptation’ and building ‘resiliency’.

What Does an ‘Action Plan’ Look Life for Everyday Decision-Making?

This type of forward-looking planning is utilized by individuals, families and communities for all types of recognizable scenarios and events.  We plan on what we will cook for Thanksgiving day, which necessarily means we must pre-order our Turkey or Ham, pre-buy the food stuffs to make our particular side-dishes, ensure we have the right amount of dishes and that they are washed and ready to be used.  We anticipate the needs we have for Thanksgiving and we make sure they are fulfilled so that Thanksgiving goes off without much of a hitch and meets the needs for all participants.

A similar planning process goes into applying for college. We don’t just select a school to attend by its zip code.  And we don’t begin our studies by sitting in a random class on the first Fall semester day.  No, attending a higher-education institution requires planning, study, a strategy for writing your application, sitting for a required standardized test, as well as seeking out personal or professional recommendations to accompany an application to be reviewed by the school’s administration.  Most individuals are looking to get into the best school they can attain or the school with the best reputation for a particular path of study.  This endeavor requires research, self-awareness of what will be best personally for one’s fulfillment and professional goals, setting a plan in place to complete all the necessary requirements of an institution, application of study and work, to hopefully reach the end goal of being accepted.

The Importance of Developing an Action Plan for Climate Change

New towns and cities that don’t strategically think about and plan for their long-term growth become disadvantaged.  Municipalities must think about their infrastructure needs, housing requirements, employer base, energy requirements, as well as how and where development should go.  Without careful consideration of where a municipality wants to be 10, 25 even 50 years from now, unplanned growth brings congestion, inefficient housing capacity, air pollution, long commutes, and an economy vulnerable to suburban flight.

U.S. States with No Climate Change Action Plan

To date, 34 U.S. States have yet to implement a Climate Change Action Plan that acknowledges climate change impacts will affect their particular State.  Those 34 States have not yet taken individual responsibility to work with other states or countries to be part of the solution toward mitigating the main driver of climate change and to thoughtfully detail a course of action that is practical and measurable to reduce GHG emissions from a diverse set of tools within their grasp.  Those states include:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah (although Salt Lake City has developed a 2015 city plan)
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

That the majority of U.S. states has yet to fundamentally acknowledge their individual roles in combating climate change nor taken any concrete action towards mitigating GHG emissions and developing adaptation strategies to protect their citizens from the highly likely impacts of climate change, is at a minimum, reactionary, and at best, reckless.

Action Plans Support Adaptation and Resiliency to Climate Change Impacts

Action plans are maps that lead us toward an ideal future we would like to realize.  Having no plan usually means that forward-momentum towards wanted goals is haphazard, chaotic, and ultimately, lacking the necessary steps to reach a desired state.    It also means that these 34 states are not supporting the rest of the globe in supporting a primary mandate for all inhabitants on this planet earth:  significantly reducing GHG emissions into the atmosphere so as to ultimately arrest climate change by the next century:  2100 and beyond.  The New York Times reported that CO2 emissions will grow dramatically for the year 2017, roughly two percent over the previous year’s levels, erasing total global emission reductions for the last three years[5].  This is not the direction we need to be heading.  Now, in all fairness, this rise in CO2 from industrial production is mainly due to the rapidly developing economies of both India and China.  Total GHG emissions for the U.S. has been in decline for nearly five years straight.  The problem, however, is that starting in 2017, that rate of GHG emission decline has begun to de-accelerate, and is expected to continue de-accelerating over the coming years in somewhat direct response to the Trump administration’s roll-backs of domestic climate protections, denial of environmental safeguarding funding measures, and granting of new oil and mining drilling rights on formerly protected lands – decisions that fuel the release of greater GHG emissions.  Every year that goes by that more GHG emissions are introduced into the atmosphere versus less, makes future year impacts from climate change more certain, more extreme, and more detrimental to the human condition.

 

Contact Kate Gaertner today to see what Triple Win Advisory can do to help your business and industry increase sustainability to result in a “triple win” for company profit and long-term competitive advantage, societal well-being, and successful environmental pollution mitigation.

 

[1]Greenfields are lands that are currently, untouched by development.  They are land in their natural state and which provides valuable environmental ecosystem services that would otherwise be degraded or destroyed through human development of the land.

[2] EPA. (2017).  Great Lakes Facts and Figures.  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

[3] Adaptation Clearinghouse.  Preparing for Climate Change in Michigan.  Georgetown Climate Center.  Retrieved from http://www.georgetownclimate.org/adaptation/state-information/overview-of-michigans-climate-change-preparations/overview.html

[4] Adaptation Clearinghouse.  Dane County, Wisconsin Climate Change and Emergency Preparedness Plan.  Georgetown Climate Center.  Retrieved from http://www.adaptationclearinghouse.org/resources/dane-county-wisconsin-climate-change-and-emergency-preparedness-plan.html

[5] Plumer, Brad and Popovich, Nadja. (2017, November 13).  CO2 Emissions Were Flat for Three Years.  Now They’re Rising Again.  New York Times.

*Climate Action Plan image is taken from the Portland-Multnomah County 2009 Climate Action Plan.

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