The federal report issued last week raising the alarm about rising temperatures and rising seas predicts serious threats along the New England coast. The report points to impacts on the region’s tourism, agriculture and fishing industries, as well as the need for coastal communities to take action to increase resilience in the face of rising seas and the accompanying storm surge.
The Baker administration issued its own detailed plans in September about things that state departments, in league with local communities in some cases, must do in the coming years to adapt to climate change and educate the public about ways to adapt.
The State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan includes an “action tracker” spreadsheet, broken down by state agency or department, with goals to be achieved in less than three years, from three to five years, and in a period of more than five years.
The goals include the bean-counter practical, such as moving state computer data to the cloud to eliminate the need to maintain and protect on-premises computer servers and strengthening the environmental public health tracking network in the Department of Public Health. The Mass. Department of Transportation is tasked with “identifying road stream/wetland crossings that are vulnerable to climate change, storm damage and flooding,” among many other things.
The sprawling Department of Conservation and Recreation is incorporating predicted climate change impacts into all of its planning efforts, according to the document.
The role of the Department of Environmental Protection in the list of goals is particularly important. The DEP’s goals include creating a statewide river hydraulic model that would help the Federal Emergency Management Agency do a better job projecting the effects of higher river levels and flood mapping along rivers throughout the state. The DEP’s goals also include a detailed mapping of public water resources and facilities statewide that “aids in identifying system vulnerabilities and local climate change planning, improves emergency preparedness and response capabilities.”
Even MassWildlife, which mainly oversees hunting and fishing in the state, is included in planning and goal setting. The document said, “Climate change is likely to shift habitats that support common species as well as angler and hunter behavior.”
The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife is already looking at the rate and extent of changes to ecosystems in its planning. “The division is already considering these shifts in management decisions. For instance, emphasis has fallen away from purchasing areas that will likely be lost to sea level rise (e.g., salt marshes).”
The Mass. Emergency Management Agency has a long list of short and long-range goals, as the agency at the point of the spear in emergencies. On paper, at least, every state department is involved in strategic planning for the coming climate and sea level changes.
That’s great planning on the administration’s part, but the Legislature must be on board to consistently monitor progress on these important goals. Lawmakers must be knowledgeable about the necessary funds for myriad projects now and for years in the future, and must hold state agencies to account for these clearly enumerated goals. This type of planning by Charlie Baker’s administration is meant to far outlast his time in office and it’s essential that it does.
Future administrations will be even more acutely aware of the changes we face in the Bay State and beyond. The risks we face require a war-room kind of effort by lawmakers to address funding, accountability and the need to get the public involved in addressing and adapting to climate change and sea level rise.
To read the Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan: www.mass.gov/files/documents/2018/09/17/SHMCAP-September2018-Chapter7.pdf