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Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont have joined the growing number of states taking climate adaptation into their own hands in lieu of federal action.

Policy & Politics

Hawaii, Rhode Island, Vermont Take Serious Climate Adaptation Action

Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont have joined the growing number of states taking climate adaptation into their own hands in lieu of federal action.

Three more American states have joined the growing number of local governments taking climate action into their own hands in lieu of federal leadership.

Over the past month Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont have all either established climate adaptation laws or created long-term plans to tackle the increasing impacts of climate change.

These new initiatives mirror ambitious climate action efforts announced by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and remind skeptics once again climate resiliency isn’t just an environmental issue, it’s also an economic imperative.

New research shows that an offshore wind farm could have weakened Hurricane Sandy, shown here on Oct. 28, 2012. Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data provided by Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS).

Assessing Climate Change In Vermont

vermont mapVermont led the most recent charge by releasing the Vermont Climate Assessment (VCA) in early June. The report, compiled by multiple climate scientists and researchers, claims to be America’s first state-level climate assessment. “We are small, but we’re trying to be a role model for the other states,” said Gillian Galford, VCA lead author.

By compiling local data from 175 scientific studies and multiple observational authorities like the National Weather Service, the VCA aims to help governments and businesses prepare for the impacts and opportunities of climate change while estimating potential costs of failing to act.

Unfortunately, the VCA outlines a radically different climate future for Vermont. Average annual temperatures in the state have increased 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1960, with 45% of this increase coming since 1990 and temperatures forecast to rise up to an additional 3.6 degrees F by 2050. Precipitation has also increased, with 5.9 inches of average additional precipitation since 1960, primarily coming as rain instead of snow.

This sober accounting of climate change impacts portends a mixed bag for the state’s economy. Winter tourism and sports are expected to taper off within 40 years while net energy demand and extreme weather occurrences are expected to increase as forests become more susceptible to invasive species. However, these losses may be somewhat offset by extended growing seasons for agriculture and more demand for renewable energy.

Planning Climate Adaption in Hawaii

Meanwhile, halfway around the globe, Hawaii joined the action by passing a law to direct state climate change adaptation efforts through 2050. Hawaii’s initiative centers on the creation of an interagency climate adaptation committee responsible for developing a sea level-rise assessment, model framework to help communities address specific impacts, and facilitate action by local and state governments with federal agencies.


While Hawaii has become one of America’s fastest-growing markets for solar power and energy storage, the legislation noted the growing threat of climate change impacts as an imperative for action, stating “beach erosion, drought, and rising temperature are already having measurable impacts…it is time to ensure Hawaii adapts to the effects of climate change before they grow beyond our ability to prevent the worst impacts on our economy, environment, and way of life.”

The climate adaptation committee is scheduled to start work in January 2015 and deliver its reports no later than December 2017. Governor Neil Abercrombie previously released a report assessing Hawaii’s approach to climate adaptation in December 2013, noting “one thing was apparent despite our vast geographic, topographic, and community differences – today’s climate change are warning bells signaling the necessity for preparedness now.”

Cutting Emissions In Rhode Island

Last but not least, one of America’s smallest states established one of its’ biggest emissions reductions targets. Rhode Island passed the Resilient Rhode Island Act in late June, mandating a 45% reduction in emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2035 and 80% compared to 1990 levels by 2050.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island sign via Shutterstock

Interestingly, the act had been introduced almost annually since 2008, but continually died in legislative committees due to economic concerns. But as extreme weather impacts piled up, state legislators repositioned the bill as an economic imperative instead of an environmental concern – and it passed overwhelmingly.

Similar to Hawaii, Rhode Island’s law also establishes a climate change council to coordinate adaptation action among state and local governments, but goes one step beyond to set carbon budgets every five years to determine if emissions reductions targets can be increased.

The act also establishes clean energy goals such as purchasing alternative and electric vehicles for state fleets, increasing energy efficiency at government buildings, boosting renewable energy generation, and developing green infrastructure. The council’s first report is expected no later than May 1, 2015.


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Written By

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate policy public relations company based in Oakland, CA.


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