Policy Changes Needed To Confront Climate Change Risks
Two reports issued on Monday call for new policies and a more coordinated statewide effort to plan for the effects of climate change and respond to future disasters.
The reports underscore the importance officials are placing on the idea of resiliency.
They were issued jointly and together they represent a call that climate change – and the prospect of future floods – should inform policy and planning decisions across many state agencies and down to local governments.
They focus on a better coordinated response to natural disasters and new policies that minimize the destruction caused by those disasters.
The first report, Vermont’s Roadmap to Resilience was prepared in partnership with the state by the Montpelier based global organization, Institute For Sustainable Communities.
The institute developed its recommendation based on feedback from state and local officials and organizations and business leaders.
Among the points it stresses is elevating the role of emergency management in Vermont.
It suggests creating a position in state government to coordinates flood resilience planning across all state agencies.
The lessons of Irene have been a constant refrain in state government for nearly 2 ½ years but Institute for Sustainable Communities President George Hamilton says the policy recommendations in his organization’s report represent a step toward institutionalizing what has been learned.
“The worst thing that can happen is we get a severe weather event five or six years from now and we look back and we say, ‘I wish we had done that before’ and it would have meant less loss of life and less damage,” Hamilton says.
"If you had asked me before August of 2011 what the Department of Environmental Conservation had to do with flood response and flood resilience, I don't know that I would have had very much to say." -DEC Commissioner David Mears
The second report called Vermont State Policy Options was written by Gavin Smith of the University of North Carolina and the Executive Director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Coastal Hazards Center for Excellence.
Smith says there’s a lot of variation in the way development is controlled in Vermont. In his report he suggests basing policies on the impact of local development on regional watersheds.
“Choices made at a community level are going to ultimately affect those downstream. Even an individual’s choices, while modest, does have an effect,” he explains.
Smith says the nature of Vermont’s rivers and streams and the fact that many communities are located along them, present a challenge for mitigating the impact of flooding.
Among the recommendations in his report are changes to land development policy at the state and local levels, including to Act 250.
Brian Shupe, executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council welcomed the reports recommendations.
“What this report calls for is learning to live in harmony with the rivers; giving them room to roam where they can. That’s one of the things that we’re excited about and that we’ll be advocating for,”says Shupe.
Officials say a number of the recommendations in both reports are already being implemented.
To underscore the point that disaster preparedness has become a priority for many state agencies since Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, a number of state officials attended an event on Monday to publicize the two reports.
“If you had asked me before August of 2011 what the Department of Environmental Conservation had to do with flood response and flood resilience, I don't know that I would have had very much to say. I’ve had an incredible and very steep learning curve over the last two years,” said David Mears, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation.