Rep. Arthur Handy on Tuesday introduced the Resilient Rhode Island Act (2014-H 7904) to help the state begin planning to protect its people from the effects of climate change while stemming the state’s contribution to climate change.
According to a release, the bill builds on Rhode Island’s strengths and existing efforts to create long term economic growth and resiliency across the state.
“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,” Rep. Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), who is chairman of the House Environment Committee, said. “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 legislation was developed with assistance from a group of students, educators and policy experts based at Brown University who partnered with numerous environmental and planning organizations, and gathered input from coastal stakeholders, state agencies, municipal governments, nonprofit organizations and others. The group’s website, www.resilientri.org, offers more information and background on the initiative.
Hurricane Sandy and the floods of 2010 are highlighted in the bill as among the many impacts climate change is beginning to have on the state. Sea level rise and rising temperatures are also cited as urgent concerns. If the state does not prepare for the effects of climate change, it likely to cause, by a conservative estimate, between $2 and $6 billion in additional hurricane damage alone in Rhode Island from now through the end of the century. 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.
To increase Rhode Island’s resilience to climatic changes and reduce vulnerability, the act establishes a coordinating committee for climate change adaptation efforts. The committee is tasked with assessing Rhode Island’s vulnerability and coordinating efforts to address short-term and long-term challenges throughout the state. This process seeks to build on existing efforts around the state and create a cohesive statewide action plan to address climate change.
The act places Rhode Island’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets in line with those of other states in New England, a goal that many have seen as long overdue for the state. Massachusetts passed a bill with similar emissions-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, thus maximizing the benefits of both strategies for addressing climate change and leading the region in addressing the harms of climate change.
Frameworks for public participation and input are featured throughout the decision-making process outlined in the bill in order to integrate the wide variety of interests in the state that are affected by climate change.
The legislation builds on growing momentum in the state toward long term growth and resiliency. Cities, neighborhood groups, and individuals around the state are mobilizing toward addressing a wide variety of climate impacts around the state. Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee recently issued an executive order establishing an executive council on climate change, and earlier this week the Waves of Change website (www.riclimatechange.org) launched to educate residents about climate change and its effects on the Ocean State.
“We’ve been doing this for 375 years: weathering the storm, learning from it, becoming more competitive from those experiences, as well as exporters of new knowledge and technology,” said Paul Carroll, Director of Civic Investment for the City of Newport. Industries related to climate adaptation are predicted to double by 2020 to a $2 billion industry globally, and Rhode Island is especially well-suited to capitalize on this opportunity.
Rhode Island is already a leader in energy efficiency nationwide, with one of the lowest levels of energy use per capita. Expanding this capability will mean economic growth and savings for businesses and families, keeping Rhode Island dollars at home.
“Investments in resiliency now will mean protection of investments that may otherwise be lost to severe weather,” said Louis Gritzo, vice president of research for FM Global, a global commercial and industrial property insurance company whose global headquarters are in Rhode Island. The expertise and capacity for adaptation to climate change developed by Rhode Island entrepreneurs and workers can be exported to take advantage of rapidly expanding economic opportunities around the world for these technologies, products and services.
Cosponsors of the legislation include Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown), Rep. Donna M. Walsh (D-Dist. 36, Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), Rep. Cale P. Keable (D-Dist. 47, Burrillville, Glocester) and Rep. Eileen S. Naughton (D-Dist. 21, Warwick).