Environmental Protection

Adapting to Climate Change through Local and Regional Approaches

Adapting to Climate Change Through Local and Regional Approaches

Coastal communities need to know just how vulnerable they are to sea level rise. Once they understand the risks, they are in a better position to develop strategic solutions. Battelle, for example, has conducted such assessments on behalf of the U.S. Department of Defense to determine regional vulnerabilities in areas where the U.S. Navy has a strong presence.

Generally speaking, most scientists agree that we have reached the tipping point when it comes to the effects of climate change on the coastal zone. The devastating effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy have added to the debate over how much of the problem is human induced, as well as how to better prepare for and manage the impacts and outcomes.

President Obama recently called upon the U.S. EPA to develop more stringent rules aimed at reducing carbon emissions in the long term and on a macro level. As the federal policy and regulatory discussion gets underway, it is important to note that the likely effects of climate change, such as sea level rise, require innovative local and regional approaches.

Coastal Vulnerability Fuels Local and Regional Approaches

For those who call the coast home, the risks of sea level rise are all too evident. People continue to move to the coastal zone, and catastrophic events are prompting communities to adapt. The trend in the not-too-distant past gravitated toward “hard” solutions, such as building sea walls, to keep nature at bay.

But we have learned that hard structures are part of the tool kit; they are not the only answer.  Often, we have seen how they actually contribute to problems, i.e., the engineering of the Mississippi River contributed to the loss of nourishing sediments that formerly sustained wetlands along the Gulf Coast. Additionally, they can be cost prohibitive, i.e., erecting sea walls as the single solution would be beyond the affordability of local communities. Given this situation, local and regional entities are shifting to a more complete solution set.

Vulnerability Assessment 

Before developing solutions, it is important to understand the magnitude of local and regional risks. Coastal communities need to know just how vulnerable they are to sea level rise. Once they understand the risks, they are in a better position to develop strategic solutions. Battelle, for example, has conducted such assessments on behalf of the U.S. Department of Defense to determine regional vulnerabilities in areas where the U.S. Navy has a strong presence. In addition, it has been involved in an ongoing project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to examine vulnerabilities in coastal zones. These assessments provide insights that lead to better and more informed solutions.     

Natural Resiliency

A better understanding of natural resiliency can help leverage natural resources to mitigate risks. For example, strategic solutions might include protecting and enhancing existing wetland areas to minimize the impact of rising sea levels and storms. Evaluating natural resiliency as part of a vulnerability assessment on a local or regional basis can yield valuable insights and innovative solutions that are more effective and affordable. The assessment takes a comprehensive look at what the impacts might be and analyzes how best to take advantage of what naturally is available.  

Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning

Coastal and marine spatial planning is a concept that brings together a wide range of stakeholders to balance the competing demands of coastal resource use, economic development and conservation with the common goal of protecting, restoring and responsibly developing coastal communities and resources. Traditionally, many coastal planning initiatives have allocated space on a single-sector basis. Coastal and marine spatial planning addresses an entire region.  It provides the analysis and understanding of the spatial and temporal distribution of human activities to make more informed, ecosystem-based decisions to achieve ecological, economic and social objectives.

In response to the Obama administration’s 2010 National Ocean Policy, Battelle developed a comprehensive Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning curriculum for U.S. coastal managers, building on lessons learned from spatial planning processes worldwide. With funding provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Marine Conservation Initiative, Battelle is co-managing the Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning-Advancement Training Initiative, in association with the Coastal States Organization, to accelerate the use of coastal and marine spatial planning.  This concept can be applied in adapting to anticipated climate change in the coastal zone. 

In closing, there is a tremendous need for national solutions such as what we are seeing on the federal level. But what also is necessary is a diverse and integrative approach that takes into consideration the resources, knowledge and commitment of those at the local and regional level.

About the Author

Mark Curran is Manager of Battelle’s Environmental Solutions & Services business line, where he is responsible for strategic planning and management of Battelle’s environmental offerings. Prior to serving in his current role with Battelle, Mark worked for the EPA.

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