MICHELE S. BYERS / NJ CONSERVATION FOUNDATION – A landmark report just released by the world’s leading climate scientists had sobering news for New Jersey, a state with hundreds of miles of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay.
The consequences of global warming – including sea level rise and weather extremes like droughts, floods, heat waves and wildfires – are coming much faster than previously anticipated.
The report, issued by The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warned that “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” will be necessary to avoid the worst damage from climate change. In other words, humans must cut greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible, as fast as possible.
To avoid catastrophe, the rise in the Earth’s average temperature must not go over 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial temperatures. That’s significantly lower than the limit discussed only three years ago when the Paris climate agreement was signed.
In 2015, the scientists thought the most severe climate change impacts would be triggered if the Earth reached 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the pre-industrial levels. But more recent research found global warming impacts will happen much sooner at lower temperatures.
Although the report is alarming, the good news is that New Jersey is already working toward lowering emissions in this state we’re in. New Jersey’s Global Warming Response Act requires that we reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
David Robinson, New Jersey’s state climatologist, says the state’s emissions targets are “a worthy goal”.
He advocates a combination of energy efficiency – that is, using less energy – and a transition to clean energy. “If we can reduce our energy consumption and emissions, we set an example and create a healthier environment,” he said.
“What we do or don’t do now will have a noticeable impact in the second half of this century,” Robinson added.
No matter what happens with emissions, Robinson said New Jerseyans will need to adapt. They will need to take practical measures like elevating homes in flood-prone areas, moving utilities away from vulnerable areas, expanding coastal marshlands, and preserving wetlands and natural dunes that protect coastal communities.
Catherine R. McCabe, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, recently launched an effort to make coastal areas more resilient to the impacts of severe storms and sea-level rise. The plan should recognize the important role of natural solutions, such as protecting and restoring wetlands and forests along our coast that provide buffers against flooding.
“It’s going to be tough in Jersey,” said Robinson. “We’re so densely populated. And we cherish our coast; it’s part of our identity.” He hopes New Jerseyans will take the report seriously and support changes to prevent further warming.
The report states that the next 12 years will be especially critical.
New Jersey, under the new Murphy administration, is addressing climate change and has taken a number of important steps, including joining the U.S Climate Alliance and taking steps to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. New Jersey already has ambitious targets for reducing our state’s greenhouse gas emissions, and now needs solid plans and policies to reach those targets.
Governor Murphy proposes to get 100 percent of our power from clean energy sources by 2050, and is taking steps to ensure the continued growth of solar energy and make New Jersey a leader on offshore wind. It’s critical, however, to put the brakes on unneeded fossil fuel infrastructure – such as gas pipelines – that will only add more harmful emissions.
New Jersey is a coastal state at the forefront of climate change, and has a lot at stake.
To read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report – written and edited by 91 scientists from 40 countries who analyzed more than 6,000 scientific studies – go to http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/.
For the website of the New Jersey state climatologist, go to https://climate.rutgers.edu/stateclim/. For a special report on how New Jersey is being affected by climate change, go to https://statesummaries.ncics.org/nj.
Michele S. Byers is executive director of the NJ Conservation Foundation.