By Diane Jung, Undergraduate Intern

6101300489_ed46866554_zOn June 19, 2014 both houses of the Rhode Island legislature passed the Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014, which addresses climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience, and establishes greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets of 10% below 1990 levels by 2020, 45% by 2035, and 85% by 2050. The bill also provides many guidelines for meeting these targets, such as a focus on improving efficiency in order to reduce its need for “energy from out-of-state sources.” It also calls for “intentional community effort that networks existing capacities in state agencies” and declares a need to establish “new capacities, purposes, goals, indicators, and reporting requirements for climate change mitigation and adaptation in public agencies.” [1] The Resilient RI Act was supported by Governor Lincoln Chafee, a number of state agencies, and academic institutions including Brown University.

With a greenhouse gas reduction target of 85% by 2050, the Resilient RI Act can claim the most ambitious mitigation goal in the nation. Rhode Island is not, however, acting alone: with the impacts of climate change increasingly tangible in the US Northeast, efforts to create and to support effective climate plans and bills have been active in many states. For instance, Massachusetts passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) in August of 2008, which is a climate bill similar to the Resilient RI Act, in that it requires reductions of greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors of the economy with targets of a 25% reduction by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050. [2] The Massachusetts government has touted that bill’s role in fostering of economic growth, as the number Massachusetts’s clean energy employers has increased by 24% since 2011. [3] Rhode Island also seeks to expand its job market with its new climate bill.

The Resilient RI Act is the latest step in Rhode Island’s efforts to make the state more equipped to deal with climate change impacts. A Climate Change Commission was created by the General Assembly in 2010, and the Commission’s report in 2012 addresses key evidence, impacts, and risks of local climate shifts. The report finds that average air temperatures in Rhode Island have increased 1.7℉ from 1905 to 2006, and in an extreme case, the surface temperature of Narragansett Bay has risen four degrees since the 1960s. Furthermore, the average rate of sea level rise in Rhode Island at Newport’s tide is 0.1 in. per year since 1930, and the rate increased to 0.14 in. between 1990 and 2009. This makes the rate of sea level rise in Rhode Island higher than the global average rate of sea level rise of 0.07 in. per year in last 100 years. [4]

This evidence of severe localized climate change impacts, combined with recent memories of Hurricane Irene’s and Sandy’s devastation and recognition of the vulnerability caused by large coastal populations, seems to be a driving force behind strong climate action in the US Northeast. In addition to setting ambitious targets for reducing emissions, many Northeastern states have been widely promoting climate adaptation and risk management plans and programs. The Resilient RI Act of 2014 adds to these efforts and sets a new bar for mitigation targets, making it a noteworthy and commendable model in state actions to combat climate change.

 

 

[1]“Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014.” Accessed July 3, 2014.

http://www.environmentcouncilri.org/bills/resilient-rhode-island-act-2014.

 

[2],[3] “Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA).” Energy and Environmental Affairs, June 3, 2014. http://www.mass.gov/eea/air-water-climate-change/climate-change/massachusetts-global-warming-solutions-act/index.html.

 

[4] “Adapting to Climate Change in the Ocean State: A Starting Point ,” May 2012.

http://www.planning.ri.gov/documents/comp/RI%20Climate%20Commission_Report2012.pdf.

 

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