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Gov. Phil Murphy Seeks Public Input on First-Ever Climate Change Resilience Strategy

The Murphy administration is seeking public comment through May 21 on New Jersey’s first-ever climate change resilience strategy.

The strategy, which Gov. Phil Murphy issued April 22 in conjunction with Earth Day, is the result of an executive order that Murphy signed in October 2019, which appointed New Jersey’s first chief resilience officer, established an Interagency Council on Climate Resilience, and directed the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to develop a strategy for addressing climate change in the Garden State.

“Climate change is the single greatest long-term threat currently facing humanity, and our state and economy are uniquely vulnerable to its devastating effects,” Murphy said in a press statement. “Confronting climate change requires decisive and intentional action across all sectors and levels of government.”

“The Climate Change Resilience Strategy outlines a comprehensive set of actions designed to ensure that New Jersey’s communities and infrastructure are resilient against future storms and the impacts of climate change,” stated Murphy.

Over 100 Recommendations

Included in the draft strategy’s more than 100 recommendations are measures to address New Jersey’s “unique risks from sea-level rise, chronic flooding, rising temperatures, and more frequent and intense storm events.”

The “Coastal Resilience Plan”—one of six broad priorities outlined in the strategy— includes nine points aimed at protecting the state’s coastal zone, “which is at grave risk of increased flooding, permanent inundation of low-lying areas, and loss of coastal marshes,” said Murphy.

New Jersey’s coastal zone covers 3,218 square miles. The plan outlines policies and rules and calls for resources to be allocated “to reduce the impact of coastal hazards and to increase the resilience of structures and infrastructure systems” in these zones.

Shoring Up Jersey’s Shoreline

The draft plan urges strategic planning and management of beaches and dunes to reduce erosion and storm damage. It urges use of natural and nature-based means such as “living shorelines” to manage shore stabilization. Additionally, the plan calls for “consideration of movement to safer areas.”

In this area, the strategy calls for supporting buyouts of repeatedly flooding properties. Moreover, it urges requiring or incentivizing local plans “to evaluate relocation opportunities for populations in areas subject to repetitive flooding or inundation.” The strategy calls for expanding relocation programs “to encourage relocation to safer areas.”

“Action must be taken now to prepare communities for the inevitable shift that will occur as people, businesses, and coastal functions move to safer areas,” the document reads.

The document noted that New Jersey’s insurance, banking and real estate markets already have started to see shifts as conditions along the coast change and flood more often. “Some municipalities have seen bond ratings lower in the wake of Hurricane Sandy or increased in response to resilience initiatives,” according to the report.

‘Only the First Step’

“The scale of action needed to address climate impacts is unprecedented, and this Resilience Strategy is only the first step,” the strategy draft’s executive summary said.

Beyond coastal resilience, the strategy discusses five broader state priority areas, each of which includes recommendations to guide state and local efforts to protect against climate change. Those areas are:

  • Building resilient, healthy communities;
  • Strengthening the resilience of state ecosystems;
  • Promoting coordinated governance;
  • Investing in information and increased public understanding; and
  • Expanding funding and financing for climate change resilience efforts.

Funding Issue

In the area of expanding funding, the strategy urges that climate risk analysis be included in existing state asset management, capital funding, and grant programs. Additionally, the strategy calls for expanding low-cost public finance options dedicated for climate change resilience projects.

Still, the strategy document contends that public funding alone “will not be enough to confront climate change impacts.”

“Concepts such as environmental impact bonds, outcomes-based financing, and dedicated resilience resources hold promise to serve as renewable funding options. It will be necessary to embrace innovative approaches and leverage multiple funding sources across agencies to finance interventions and equitably distribute economic burdens of climate change,” the strategy said.

The draft strategy’s release follows the June 2020 issuance of the first-ever Scientific Report on Climate Change, which documents the specific impacts of climate change to New Jersey.

New Jersey Economic Development Authority CEO Tim Sullivan said the draft strategy offers innovative ideas to address “the myriad problems” that climate change poses. 

“Climate change is one of the most pressing threats our society currently faces,” he said. “In addition to the dangers it poses for communities, climate change also has the potential to do significant economic harm if left unchecked.”

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