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Friday, March 21, 2014

Preparing for the future

Resilient Act Designed to Address Climate Change

By News staff
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PROVIDENCE — The devastating floods of March 2010 and Superstorm Sandy created a new awareness among emergency responders and state and local officials that Rhode Island can’t wait for the next disaster to begin preparing for the impacts of climate change.

On March 11, Rep. Art Handy, D-Cranston, introduced the Resilient Rhode Island Act to help the state begin planning to help prepare the state from the effects of climate change.

“Rhode Island is particularly vulnerable to climate change, and well positioned to become a global leader in expertise and technology to help communities and businesses become resilient to the changing world,” said Handy, who is the chairman of the House Environment Committee. 

“If we act now, it will both bring more certainty to families and businesses that their homes and investments are safer here than elsewhere, and it will spur the kind of entrepreneurship that can lead to the technological innovations humanity will need to respond to climate change.”

The bill builds on growing momentum in the state toward long-term growth and resiliency. 

Communities, organizations, neighborhood groups and individuals are mobilizing to address a variety of climate impacts around the state. Gov. Lincoln Chafee recently issued an executive order establishing an executive council on climate change, and a website was launched to educate residents about climate change and its effects on the Ocean State.

Several recent severe storm events in Rhode Island, namely Sandy and the floods of four years ago, are highlighted in the bill as among of many impacts climate change is beginning to have on the state. 

Sea-level rise and rising temperatures are also cited as concerns. If the state doesn’t prepare for the effects of climate change, Rhode Island will likely spend between $2 billion and $6 billion in additional costs through the end of the century to recover from the increased intensity and frequency of major hurricanes alone, according to the bill’s sponsors. A lack of action on climate change is already costing the global economy $1.2 trillion annually, a figure projected to increase greatly if steps are not taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they said.

To increase Rhode Island’s resilience to climatic changes and reduce vulnerability, the bill would establish a coordinating committee for climate change adaptation efforts. The committee would be tasked with assessing Rhode Island’s vulnerability and coordinating efforts to address short-term and long-term challenges. The act seeks to build on existing efforts to create a cohesive statewide action plan to address climate change.

The act places Rhode Island’s greenhouse gas emission-reduction targets in line with those of other states in New England, a goal many say is long overdue. Massachusetts passed a bill with similar emission-reductions goals in 2008, and other states have already begun to act on similar targets. However, this bill differs from neighboring states’ bills in that it integrates efforts to mitigate climate impacts with adaptation strategies that would protect the state from the effects of climate change, according to Handy.

Frameworks for public participation and input are featured throughout the decision-making process outlined in the bill in order to integrate a variety of interests. The bill’s writing process mimicked this focus: a previous draft of the bill was circulated for comments, and listening sessions with faith leaders, nonprofits, coastal stakeholders, state agencies and municipal governments were held in order to incorporate a variety of concerns into the legislation.