Gov. Cooper is taking major steps to start addressing climate resilience. Executive Order 80, signed in October 2018, calls for a “40% drop in statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 2025,” and directs state agencies to report on our state’s vulnerability to climate change.
The 2020 North Carolina Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience Plan (PDF) was released on June 2, 2020, and outlines actions to reduce emissions and strengthen our state. DEQ, higher education institutions, and many other stakeholders created the plan to “support communities and sectors of the economy most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and to enhance the state government’s ability to protect human life and health, property, natural and built infrastructure, cultural resources, and other public and private assets of value to North Carolinians.” This collaborative approach between the government and business, academic, nonprofit, and community partners recognizes climate adaptation as a complex issue requiring interdisciplinary, cross-sector action.
The following summarizes the report’s key findings:
- North Carolina Climate Science Report (NCCSR, Section 3 of the Resilience Plan): “our scientific understanding of the climate system strongly supports the conclusion that large changes in North Carolina’s climate, much larger than at any time in the state’s history, are very likely (90–100% probability of outcome) by the end of this century…”
- Any solution will require a highly integrated response over time, involving all levels of government and both internal and external stakeholders.
The report provides five main outputs:
- Our best understanding of climate change projections, non-climate stressors, and hazards facing NC (1.2-1.11)
- “Very Likely” that sea level and summer heat indexes will continue to rise
- Likely that annual total precipitation and hurricane intensity will increase, severe droughts will intensify, and increase in precipitation will lead to an increase in inland flooding
- Climate justice considerations and recommendations for implementation by cabinet agencies, state government, and research (1.12-1.17)
- Importantly, this report calls for the General Assembly to raise funding for “climate science specific to North Carolina and for resiliency programs, policies, and interventions that support our shared efforts to prosper into the twenty-first century and beyond.”
- Key Observations and Recommendations: State Agency Assessment
- The changes in climate combined with other climate hazards (wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, etc.) will have critical impacts on key aspects of North Carolina including agriculture, business, infrastructure, culture, public health and safety, ecosystems, housing, transportation, and energy.
- Preliminary actions currently underway or which could be taken to reduce the risk, as outlined by three example vulnerability areas
- Recommendations for nature-based solutions to enhance ecosystem resiliency and sequester carbon in the state’s natural and working lands (1.18-20)
- Nature-based solutions refer to restoring and conserving ecosystems while also embedding the environment within our society to take full advantage of the natural offsetting measures the environment provides to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions.
- Along with offering 25 areas that nature-based solutions could be effective in North Carolina, this section highlights the urgency to protect, restore, and properly manage the state’s forests, floodplains, and coastal estuaries to maximize resiliency.
Guiding Principles for the Path Forward:
- Act quickly and decisively to reduce the most harmful impacts of climate change: flooding, drought, landslides, and wildfires
- Act thoughtfully and collaboratively to develop equitable solutions for the most socially challenging effects of climate change
- Invest in safe, affordable, and connected communities
- Strengthen regional economies
- Support healthy communities, local identity, and recreational access to nature
- Implement resilience best practices
Key Observations and Recommendations by Issue (1.6-1.11):
Agriculture and Forestry
Climate change, specifically rising temperatures, will negatively impact crops, livestock, forestry, and endangered native plants. Threats include: inland flooding, heat, drought, and wildfire.
- Focus on retaining experienced personnel, maintaining equipment, and building adaptive capacity within the agriculture and forestry industries
- Fund research and development on adaptive varieties and species for crops, livestock, and poultry that are more resistant to extreme heat
- Educate stakeholders on adaptive, rather than reactive, capacity for drought and wildfire
- Protect NC’s endemic species (those unique to our state), especially endangered native plants
Coastal Resources and Infrastructure
More intense storms, floods, and extreme tides, magnified by sea level rise, severely affect land use, public infrastructure, and natural resources along the coast of North Carolina.
- Immediate focus: develop priorities for public and natural infrastructure improvements
- Integrate climate resiliency into agency operations, disaster recovery programs, public investment/asset decisions and long-term planning
- Implement state monitoring, funding, research, education, and leadership on adaptive strategies for coastal habitats, fisheries, and increased local resiliency
Commerce and Business
The greatest impact of recent climate hazards was business interruption. Getting people back to work and transitioning to a more resilient economy are critical.
- Education, training, resources for rural economies
- Build resilience into infrastructure will help lower risks for small businesses
- Include resiliency training in NC Main Street and Rural Planning programs
Historic sites, parks, and state museums cannot be moved or replaced. As a result, they are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, extreme storms, and other growing hazards and will require cross-sector solutions, involving federal, state, local, and private interests.
- Build resilience into existing cultural assets
- Develop and enhance cross-boundary partnerships
Ecosystems with the highest risk support a high concentration of rare species and have a low tolerance for environmental variation, yet continue to be affected by climate and land use changes.
- Conserve land for key ecosystems: create large and connected nature preserves
- Manage land: prescribe fires and restore wetlands/other areas along rivers and streams
- Establish natural recreation areas (parks, trails, etc.) to increase resilience, public health, and community value
Health and Human Services
Increases in heat and flooding frequency will adversely impact environmental health, which directly impacts the health of all people, especially those that face disproportionate amounts of environmental health exposures.
- Along with continuing to offer medical and public health services to residents impacted by climate hazards, North Carolina should provide more staffing during hurricanes for emergency services and additional support for the Department of Health and Human Services for resilience efforts
- Resilience strategies should address existing toxic exposures, specifically in low-income communities and communities of color
Housing, Buildings, and Support Services
Flooding will cause major damage to our aging infrastructure.
- Detailed, quantified risk assessments at the local level are necessary to protect these critical infrastructures
- All solutions will likely be costly and take time to implement. State-managed recovery is imperative to achieve any solution
- The Departments of Veteran Affairs and Waste Management, specifically, must promote building resilience strategies into their future planning
North Carolina must continue to be a nationwide leader for public safety by implementing a permanently funded resiliency office in the Public Safety agency.
- Correctional facilities will require substantial upgrades to protect inmates and juveniles from climate hazards
- Immediate focus: work with local governments to build resilience into critical infrastructure and long-term master plans
The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s core goal of connecting people, products, and places safely and efficiently is heavily impacted by a growing number of climate-related hazards. Storm-related damages threaten public safety, create economic disruptions, and cause budgetary shortfalls.
- Immediate focus: maintain critical connections and access to modes of transportation, which are at risk due to major storms, heavy precipitation, and landslides
- Long-term: assess all modes of transportation for resilience in transportation planning, individual project planning and design, and operations and maintenance
Water and Land Resources
Clean water and water availability affect all sectors and are essential to human and ecological health. Growing populations and climate change put these resources in danger, especially considering current funding limitations and high demand.
- Water infrastructure (i.e. dams) and water quality are under threat due to impacts from flooding, landslides, sediment runoff
- Assess stormwater requirements and design specifications for future needs and revise as needed
Energy is a key driver in almost every sector of the economy and as such, should be designed in the future to contain resilience metrics to measure the human and economic costs of power outages that will likely increase with changes in climate. The ever-evolving nature of the industry creates the opportunity to incorporate resilience measures through modernization of energy supply and infrastructure.
- Diversify our energy supply to avoid great disruptions due to different climate hazards
- Modernize energy grid and infrastructure for improved management during climate hazards
The remainder of the report details Vulnerability, Risk, and Resilience Strategies (Section 5) relating to the issues above and further recommendations from the Natural and Working Lands Action Plan (Table 6-3). Section 7 expands on the “guiding principles,” summarizes previous reports, and presents cross-sectoral resilience strategies.
We hope this summary of the 2020 North Carolina Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience Plan helps highlight potential short- and long-term adaptation, resilience, and restoration projects. Actions to plan, implement, and grow these solutions must begin now to fully reap the benefits in future decades.