25 for 25: Responding to Climate Change
By Thomas Burack, DES Commissioner
Over the past 7 years, New Hampshire has seen a number of extreme weather events, which left us without electricity for days or weeks and many millions of dollars in damages. We have all been affected by those events, which have included three 100-year floods, an ice storm, a wind storm, and two hurricane-type storms. In addition, the state has experienced erratic winters, record breaking high temperatures and several summer droughts. These weather extremes have prompted a state-wide discussion about how a changing climate can affect New Hampshire and our many natural-resource-based sectors. Since the mid-1990’s, DES has been engaged in up-to-date scientific research, and has taken part in educational forums, and led planning efforts pertaining to climate change.
As part of this effort, DES led the Climate Change Policy Task Force, established by Governor Lynch in 2007 to address New Hampshire’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which contribute to climate change, as well as prepare our communities for climate change impacts. The New Hampshire Climate Action Plan: A Plan for New Hampshire’s Energy, Environment, and Economic Development Future was released in March 2009. The Climate Action Plan identified climate change action goals and a set of recommendations that outline the regulatory, voluntary and policy actions that can be taken to achieve these goals. Many recommendations focused on strategies to reduce our GHG emissions while other strategies were put forth to assist communities in becoming more resilient to the impacts of a changing climate.
Since the release of the Plan, DES staff have been engaged in efforts related to the Plan’s recommendations. These include supporting the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiaitve, which is reducing GHG emissions from the electricity sector, as well as the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which is helping to support the transition to more clean, renewable sources of energy located in New Hampshire. DES staff are also engaged in the work of the Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Energy Board, which is considering how the state can better improve its energy policy to support integrated approaches to achieving the state’s economic, energy and environmental goals. In addition, staff have assisted the Local Energy Working Group, which is developing the tools and resources to help the state’s cities and towns manage their own energy through energy efficiency and renewable energy measures.
DES has also been helping communities to prepare for the impacts of climate change. The NH Coastal Adaptation Workgroup has supported coastal watershed communities’ efforts to prepare for the impacts of coastal-storm surge and sea-level rise. The Upper Valley Adaptation Leadership Workgroup has been engaging communities in the Upper Valley of New Hampshire and Vermont to focus on the public health impacts from a changing climate.
As we move into our next 25 years of service to our state, climate change will be a factor that must be considered in all of our programs. We have the technology and know-how to help reduce the causes and impacts of climate change. And we have addressed other big challenges like this before! Forty years ago we were very concerned about smog. The solution was to require catalytic converters on our vehicles. Smog was reduced by 1/3 to 1/2. Twenty five years ago we were concerned about the hole in the ozone layer. The solution was to phase out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). CFCs were chemicals used in refrigerants and hair sprays. CFCs have been virtually eliminated, and the ozone layer is slowly rebounding. Twenty years ago acid rain was a huge concern for our northern forests and lakes. The solution was a cap-and-trade system for regulating industrial and power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide, which cause acid rain. These emissions have been cut by 1/3 and our forests and lakes are slowly rebounding.
As we look to the future, DES will take steps to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases while also protecting our communities from the impacts of a changing climate. We need to continue to improve our energy and economic security and build a strong economy while increasing our preparedness and resiliency to sustain our quality of life. With households, industry and government working together, we can ensure that a healthy environment and a strong economy have and always will go hand-in-hand in New Hampshire.
Author’s Note: In recognition of the NH Department of Environmental Services’ 25th Anniversary, I am highlighting 25 agency activities, programs, and accomplishments of the past 25 years. This article, 25th and final one in the series, discusses DES’s efforts to address climate change. This series of anniversary editorials are available at http://des.nh.gov/organization/commissioner/25th-anniversary.htm.
# # #