North Carolina Climate Change Initiative
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Posted byRachel Gregg
The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ, formerly the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources) has prioritized climate change as a primary goal. Efforts to incorporate climate change mitigation and adaptation measures into state planning were initially focused under the North Carolina Climate Change Initiative. Efforts stalled with the passage of state legislative bills prohibiting the integration of climate change in land use planning. However, in 2018, climate efforts at NCDEQ were reinvigorated by an Executive Order declaring the state’s commitment to climate adaptation and to transitioning North Carolina to a clean energy economy.
In its 2009–2013 Strategic Plan, the NCDEQ prioritized climate change as a primary goal. The plan asserted that both mitigation and adaptation strategies should be used to prepare for and respond to the projected impacts of climate change on North Carolina. Mitigation strategies cited in the 2009–2013 Strategic Plan included greenhouse gas emissions tracking, regulation, and reduction, and carbon sequestration. The adaptation strategies identified included those that address sea level rise, water management, public health, emergency preparedness, and land use planning and development.
The agency has engaged in a number of adaptation activities:
- North Carolina Sea Level Rise Assessments. The Division of Coastal Management’s Coastal Resources Commission released a report in 2010 on projected sea level rise rates through 2100. These assessments are intended to be updated every five years.
- North Carolina Coastal Habitat Protection Plan (CHPP). This plan is designed to protect and enhance habitats important to coastal fisheries. The 2016 report cites climate change and ocean acidification as primary threats to coastal species and habitats, and recommends undertaking activities that increase the resilience of species to ecosystem changes. As part of the 2018–2020 CHPP Implementation Plan, priorities on sea level rise include providing technical assistance to local governments and collaborating with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Effects of Sea Level Rise Program. The CHPPs undergo five-year reviews and updates.
- North Carolina Interagency Leadership Team. In 2010, the Interagency Leadership Team (ILT) hosted the Planning for North Carolina’s Future: Ask the Climate Question workshop with over 400 attendees. Following the workshop, the ILT published Climate Ready North Carolina: Building a Resilient Future. This document focused on climate impacts of concern to the state’s interests as well as potential adaptive responses, such as encouraging collaboration between state and local agencies to better leverage resources.
Progress on climate change action in the state was significantly halted with the passage of House Bill 819 in 2012, which effectively mandated that state agencies and local governments ignore the broad scientific consensus that accelerated sea level rise has devastating effects on coastal communities. The bill was heavily favored by state business interests, particularly real estate developers, and was a direct response to the 2010 Sea Level Rise Assessment Report, which projected an increase of up to 39 inches of sea level rise by 2100. An assessment published in 2016 used a shorter 30-year timeframe to project a 6–8 inch rise in sea levels—an estimate viewed more favorably by H.B. 819 supporters. The next updated assessment led by the Coastal Resources Commission will again use the 2100 timeframe for sea level rise projections.
Although H.B. 819 stalled progress, the combination of several extreme weather disasters and the election of Governor Roy Cooper in 2016 reinvigorated climate action in the state. Between 2011 and 2020, North Carolina experienced seven hurricanes (Irene – August 2011, Sandy – October 2012, Matthew – October 2016, Harvey – August 2017, Irma – September 2017, Florence – September 2018, Michael – October 2018, and Dorian – September 2019) and four severe winter storms, causing over 600 deaths and millions of dollars in damage to the state’s coastal properties and ecosystems.
In 2018, the state’s governor signed Executive Order No. 80, reinstating North Carolina’s commitment to implementing climate change adaptation and to transitioning to a clean energy economy. The order calls for:
- A statewide commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 2005 levels;
- Increasing the number of zero-emissions vehicles to a minimum of 80,000;
- The creation of a North Carolina Climate Change Interagency Council comprising representatives of each cabinet;
- A North Carolina Clean Energy Plan developed by the NCDEQ;
- A North Carolina Risk Assessment and Resiliency Plan developed by the NCDEQ; and
- Integration of climate adaptation measures into agencies’ operations and policy and planning efforts.
The NCDEQ’s Division of Coastal Management (DCM) has launched a coastal adaptation and resilience initiative. The North Carolina Coastal Communities Resilience Guide was created by the DCM to help users identify how to assess vulnerability and risk, identify and prioritize adaptation options for implementation, and evaluate and communicate progress and success. The Guide also shares case study examples from coastal communities, including those that participated in the 2016–2018 pilot Resilience Evaluation and Needs Assessment (RENA) process. Each pilot community—Duck, Edenton, Oriental, Hatteras Village, and Pine Knoll Shores—generated local vulnerability assessments, maps, and resilience options.
Outcomes and Conclusions
The NCDEQ launched the initial Climate Change Initiative to assist in creating a statewide coordinated response to climate change. While the Initiative has morphed into several different efforts, the NCDEQ continues to promote both mitigation and adaptation strategies to address climate change across North Carolina.
Gregg, R. M. (2021). North Carolina Climate Change Initiative [Case study on a project of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: https://www.cakex.org/case-studies/north-carolina-climate-change-initiative (Last updated October 2021)