North Carolina Asks the Climate Question

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March 2nd and 3rd, 2010 marked a significant step forward for North Carolina on dealing with the challenges and opportunities posed by climate change. For the first time in North Carolina’s history both state and federal agencies came together to discuss how to craft and adopt policies that would prepare the state for both immediate and future impacts of global warming.

The workshop titled “Planning for North Carolina’s Future: Ask the Climate Question” drew roughly 300+ federal, state and local decision-makers, academics, planners and environmental advocates.  Invited speakers from as far away as Utah covered nearly every topic under the umbrella of climate adaptation, providing the participants with an idea of how other states and agencies use climate science to prepare for the future.

The primary host for this workshop was the N.C. Interagency Leadership Team; further demonstrating that the Tarheel State is taking global warming very seriously.  This Team is made up of six state agencies, five federal agencies and other partners.  Their mission is “to successfully balance mobility, natural and cultural resource protection, community values, and economic vitality at the confluence of our missions”.  It was very clear by the end of this workshop that incorporating climate science into each agency’s decision-making process is now a top priority and will possibly be included in any future revisions of their mission statement.

Sunset on Ocracoke Island

What follow are a few of the questions that this workshop challenged the audience to consider:

*  How will North Carolina begin to adapt and plan to protect its natural resources, local communities and economies in the face of a changing climate?

*  How will climate change impact public health and well-being of society as a whole?

*  How will the state adapt or diversify its energy portfolio, infrastructure and usage in a warmer world?

*  How will developers, city planners and transportation experts incorporate climate science into their decision-making process?

*  How can this information be more effectively communicated to the public?

To begin answering these questions,  panels of expert speakers discussed projected climate change impacts to key sectors.  While their topics were different, they all emphasized the need for comprehensive integrated planning that take climate science into account.  Other invited speakers discussed real-life examples of how to begin developing climate change adaptation strategies.

One of the most impressive presentations was given by Zoe Johnson with the Office for a Sustainable Future at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.  She discussed the process of preparing phase one of Maryland’s comprehensive strategy to reduce vulnerability to climate change.  Zoe shared a prime example of what it would take to develop an adaptation and response strategy for all states facing significant impacts of global warming.  Maryland is on the forefront of sea level rise (as is our entire Southeast region) and have led on these issues for over a decade.  In fact, the State produced a “Sea Level Response Strategy” in 2000.  Our region can learn a great deal from our northerly neighbor, Maryland.

There were many interesting and informative presentations that would be useful for any and all local and state governments who are beginning to “Ask the Climate Question”.  You can view them all here.

Governor Perdue Values Climate Adaptation Effortsgovernorperdue

Although Governor Bev Perdue did not attend the conference, she did send along her sentiments through a letter to participants thanking them for being bold enough not to just ask the climate question, but to find solutions to protect North Carolina and its people.

“In this difficult time, we have to be strategic, creative and flexible to effectively leverage our limited resources. We know that we must work together to make North Carolina strong and resilient in the face of climate change, and this conference offers us an excellent model of cooperation and collaboration.”

A Model for the Southeast

In addition to the Governor’s statement I’d offer that this workshop really provides an excellent model for the rest of our region.  The Southeast, with its 2,000 miles of low-lying and subsiding shoreline, is one of the most vulnerable places in the world to the impacts of climate change.  We simply cannot afford to keep our heads in the sand any longer on climate mitigation and adaptation.  I urge all who read this blog to ask your elected officials to “Ask the Climate Question”.  Send them information about the strides that North Carolina is taking to ensure that the state is prepared for the changes to come.  These conversations must happen in a meaningful and public way all throughout the Southeast, and soon.

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