Massachusetts can’t lag on climate change

The longer we wait the more it will cost

Last week, President Obama met with leaders from small island states at the UN Climate negotiations in Paris. 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.” Sadly this sentiment is not shared by the Massachusetts Legislature.

Countries around the world are being forced to adapt to rising sea levels. In the past two decades we have seen sea levels rise 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. Christopher Loeak, prime minister of the Marshall Islands, spoke of the need for action and the dire straits his country currently faces. “Everything I know, and everyone I love, is in the hands of those of us gathered here today,” he said.

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 1 per cent of global greenhouse gases, yet they suffer disproportionately from the climate change that global emissions cause.”

During the climate negotiations in Paris, US leaders are looking to negotiate an accord that would address the rising threats of climate change both abroad and at home. Flooding and extreme weather threatens up to 3.7 million homes in the US. By 2050, sea levels could be 19 inches higher, putting more than 2,000 communities and up to $28 trillion in assets at risk.

But back in Massachusetts, leaders are failing to protect the key infrastructure on our coastlines and our local economies. Over 69 percent of GDP activity is on the coast. If a major storm knocked out any of the 170 coastal electrical-generating facilities, it would have dire effects for local businesses.

Massachusetts has been named one of the most at-risk areas to sea level rise and extreme weather events. Heavy snows and stronger hurricanes have already started hurting our economy. This past winter alone cost Massachusetts businesses over $1 billion in revenue as a result of heavy snowfall. As climate trends begin to compound, we can expect to see more extreme weather events like last winter for years to come. Studies have shown that over 57 percent of small businesses have no plan when it comes to climate change. In order to protect local businesses and our economy, we need swift action from our state lawmakers.

Meet the Author

Michael Green

Executive director, Climate Action Business Association
Sadly, state legislators have been dragging their feet on  legislation that would tackle this issue. “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” said Sen. Marc Pacheco, the sponsor of a bill that would establish a comprehensive adaptation management plan for Massachusetts. The measure was unfortunately gutted earlier this year, leaving many local business owners fearful that winter losses like last year will become the norm.

With over 190 miles of coastline in Massachusetts, there are many opportunities to improve our roads, bridges, and dams to manage future threats. Engaging businesses on how to plan for extreme weather can help keep small businesses open during the winter. The Commonwealth has aging infrastructure along our coastal community, so smart planning for future threats needs to be prioritized in any coastal zone project as we begin to upgrade these critical areas. Building new seawalls, levees, and restoring culverts can create jobs as well as mitigate future risk to Massachusetts’ key coastal tourism centers and communities.

“Innovative climate policy will strengthen our environment, economy, and infrastructure. If gone unchecked, severe weather will wreak immense havoc on current and future generations,” said Pacheco. While climate action is certainly a tough sell to the Legislature, the longer we wait the more it will cost. Massachusetts can not lag behind on this issue.

Michael Green is the executive director of the Climate Action Business Association.