Preparing for Climate Change: Massachusetts

 Earlier this fall, Massachusetts released its Climate Change Adaptation Report. Following in the footsteps of many other states, such as Wisconsin, Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington, Massachusetts’ report analyzes strategies to adapt to a changing climate across many sectors from natural resources to infrastructure and the economy.

The Adaptation Report is organized in two parts; Part I provides an overview of Massachusetts’ changing climate and a set of guiding principles and strategies that cut across all sectors. Part II gives a more in-depth analysis of each of the five sectors that will be affected and provides strategies to increase their resilience against climate change. Massachusetts’ divides its plan into 5 different sectors:

  • Natural Resources and Habitat
  • Key Infrastructure
  • Human Health and Welfare
  • Local Economy and Government
  • Coastal Zone and Oceans

The report begins with a discussion on the changes in Massachusetts’ climate over the last 30 years, and then transitions into a discussion about the Massachusetts’ future climate: temperatures are projected to increase, precipitation patterns will shift and sea level rise threatens cities and coastal economies. Impacts of climate change are wide ranging throughout Massachusetts’ and will affect all sectors of society and the economy. 

The plan lays out specific principles and cross-cutting strategies that will guide the implementation of adaptation.  The principles that are critical in implementing Massachusetts’ plan include:

  • Broad-Based Participation: Engage a wide variety of stakeholders
  • Best Available Science and Technology: Recognize that strategies for adaptation need to be grounded in the most current science and technology
  • Strong Leadership: Strong leadership at all levels will be necessary to implement adaptation strategies
  • Coordination of Efforts: Coordinated efforts amongst the various stakeholders is essential
  • Assisting Vulnerable Populations: Protecting those populations that are most vulnerable during climate impacts
  • Cost Effective and Risk Based Approaches : Resource investments must be made strategically and concentrate on climate risks, occurrence of impacts and cost of response

The report also included twelve cross-cutting strategies that emerged as common themes amongst many, of the five key areas. These strategies and principles will work harmoniously to help implement the best, most effective adaptation strategies.

Part II of the report provides recommendations across many different areas. Each chapter in Part II includes a set of recommendations for managing water resources, with many of the recommendations paralleling each other. Nature based adaptation solutions, or green infrastructure, to combat the impacts of climate change permeated Part II of the Plan. 

In the Key Infrastructure chapter, the Plan provides a “No Regret Strategy” on the importance of facilitating natural systems through low impact development and green infrastructure. Shifting from traditional gray infrastructure, like levees, dams and floodwalls to green infrastructure, like restored floodplains and wetlands will protect economic, social and environmental values and is less costly in the long term than gray infrastructure.

This strategy, along with other “No Regret Strategies” will provide a benefit to communities and the environment no matter how significant the impacts of climate change are. Other recommendations included protecting land around susceptible cold-water streams and wetlands, as well as identifying vulnerable rivers to restore through floodplain and wetland restoration. These, along with the adaptation of green infrastructure are strategies that will make communities and ecosystems more resilient in the face of climate change.

In the world where record breaking floods and severe droughts prevail, it’s important for states to look towards new, adaptive water management strategies. Massachusetts has taken a great first step in preparing itself for these impacts, but there is more to do before the state is prepared. The state needs to take the next step and put each of their recommendations into policy and planning to ensure their continued growth toward a climate ready state.