Coastal resilienceNorth Carolina to accept findings of new sea-level rise scientific report
Reversing a previous State General Assembly law prohibiting state agencies and communities from using the findings of a 2012 climate change report as a basis for zoning and infrastructure planning regulations, the government of North Carolina has now moderated its opposition to further scientific findings concerning climate change. Under public pressure, legislators relented, agreeing to allow the Science Panel of the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commissioner (CRC), subject to some limitations, to write a new report on sea level rise along the state’s coast.
Reversing a previous State General Assembly law prohibiting state agencies and communities from using the findings of a 2012 climate change report as a basis for new zoning and infrastructure planning regulations, the government of North Carolina is now moderating its opposition to further scientific findings concerning climate change.
As North Carolina Public Radio reports, the Science Panel of the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commissioner (CRC) has completed a new report, which is based on 30-year predictions of sea-level rise for the state’s coast. The new report replacesa 2012 report which factored in a 100-year forecast, and which included a scenario of possible 39-inch sea-level rise along a portion of the coast.
Land managers and real estate developers vehemently opposed the original report. They hired high-priced lobbying firms to persuade Republican legislators in the Assembly to vote to outlaw any reference to climate change, or any inclusion of scientific findings about climate change, in state and local agencies’ zoning or infrastructure planning decisions.
Comedians were quick to lampoon the state for outlawing climate change.
“I think this is a brilliant solution,” comedian Stephen Colbert famously said of the incident. “If your science gives you a result that you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved.”
N.C. considering regulations to cope with sea-level rise, 28 January 2015
Responding to public pressure, the state government rewrote the scientific panel’s mandate, limiting its sea level rise forecast to thirty years, and requiring the panel to revisit its forecast at least once every five years. The new report is also more nuanced, referring to different levels of sea rise along different parts of the state coast.
Many who opposed the original 2012 report have now relaxing their stance.
“We believe that the report before you today is a much better and thorough report that encompasses not only a scientific approach but just plain common sense that is applicable in today’s development world,” said Heather Jarman, a lobbyist for real estate and development in Wilmington to the Coastal Resources Commission.
“It was just a few years ago where North Carolina was the punch line of a lot of jokes regarding this particular topic,” added Neal Andrew, a member of the CRC. “And I think the report that was done most recently by the science panel was very through, very professional, and is something we should all be proud of.”
The shorter forecast window – thirty years rather than 100 — was not the only change made to the report in an effort to diffuse the politically charged situation. Frank Gorham, the chairman of the CRC, successfully lobbied for two out-of-state peer reviews – and also successfully resisted calls to put climate-change deniers on the Science Panel,
“The process worked perfectly,” Gorham said. “Politics was not involved in this decision. We recognized the value of the science panel and they recognized the value of our peer-review group and they respected each other and we got the results in.”
The air of compromise in the state capitol notwithstanding, many infrastructure and urban planning experts argue that a 30-year forecast window is too limited for the purpose of helping guide the decisions on location and planning of large-scale public projects such as bridges, tunnels, highways, hospitals and more – as these structures are typically designed to last much longer than thirty years. Since the rule of thumb for such project is that they should last at least seventy-five years, planners must consult and take account of forecasts about climate conditions, sea level, and other environmental conditions for the next eight or nine decades at a minimum.
Still, Gorham hopes that the report will mostly equip local communities with the barest essentials to then make their own planning decisions.
“Because the tide gauges showed us emphatically that there’s a difference between the north and south part of the state,” he said. “So I don’t know how we come up with a statewide regulation that addresses those differences.”
The new sea-level rise report will now go through a public-comment period before reaching the General Assembly in 2016.