[Paris, France] On Tuesday morning, the President of the United States met with leaders from small island states at the UN Climate negotiations in Paris, France. During his opening speech Obama reconfirmed his international commitments saying, “…tomorrow, we’ll pledge new contributions to risk insurance initiatives that help vulnerable populations rebuild stronger after climate-related disasters.” The meeting further highlights the challenges for countries around the world who are being forced to adapt to rising sea levels. In the past two decades we have seen a sea level rise of more than two and a half inches worldwide. By 2050 most of the global coastlines and small island nations will be at risk of being underwater. During the meetings, Obama showed he is willing to highlight the desperation and much needed action for these countries.
Christopher Loeak, prime minister of the Marshall Islands, spoke of the need for action and dire straits his country currently faces saying, “Everything I know, and everyone I love, is in the hands of those of us gathered here today”. UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner drove home this point in a UN Foresight Report earlier this year, “[Small island nations], home to over 62 million people, emit less than one per cent of global greenhouse gases, yet they suffer disproportionately from the climate change that global emissions cause.”
It is not only small island states in the Pacific ocean that are facing the challenges of rising sea levels. Here at home, state governments are looking to take action to deal with this rising threat. State legislators in Massachusetts have been sending legislation back and forth that would create a comprehensive plan for Massachusetts to prepare for rising sea levels and extreme weather events.
“We must work on local, state, regional and global levels to make our communities more resilient to the worst effects of severe weather,” said Senator Marc R. Pacheco, President Pro Tempore of the Massachusetts State Senate and founding chair of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change. “Climate change adaptation management plans can codify the goals, priorities and principles for the resiliency, preservation, protection, restoration and enhancement of built and natural infrastructure, using data around existing and projected climate change impacts. These include temperature changes, drought, inland flooding and sea level rise.” Senator Pacheco is a sponsor of a bill that would establish a Comprehensive Adaptation Management Plan for Massachusetts. The measure has unfortunately been stalled in the legislature pending action next year.
Here in Paris, leaders are looking to negotiate a global accord to address the rising threats of climate change. Flooding and extreme weather threatens up to 3.7 million homes in the US. By 2050 sea levels could rise to 19 inches putting over 2,000 communities at risk. Sea level rise would put at risk up to $28 trillion in assets to a 100-year storm event according to a report. For Massachusetts this means threats to key infrastructure on our coastlines and our local economies. For example, over 69% of GDP activity is on the coast. If a major storm knocked out any of the 170 electrical generating facilities on the coast that could have dire effects for local businesses.
With 192 miles of coastline in Massachusetts, there are many opportunities to improve our grey and green infrastructure to manage future threats. Degradation of coastal marshes offer a great opportunity to clean the environment, create a more resilient shore line and also are great sinks for dangerous greenhouse gases. Projects such as Greenovate Boston and Deer Island waste treatment plant have already been shown to have public support and multiple benefits. But with aging infrastructure along our coastal community, smart planning for future threats need to be considered in any coastal zone project. Building new seawalls, levees and restoring culverts can create jobs as well as mitigate future risk to Massachusetts key coastal tourism centers and communities.
While climate change poses massive risks to our coastal communities and small businesses, there is also an opportunity. “Innovative climate policy will strengthen our environment, economy and infrastructure. If gone unchecked, severe weather will wreak immense havoc on current and future generations. We must be proactive in protecting our communities.” Senator Pacheco concluded when reached for comment.