ABOUT THE REGION
The collaborative represents the six New England states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. These states have a combined area of 72,000 square miles, making the region slightly larger than the state of Washington. Maine comprises nearly one-half of its total area, although it is only the 39th largest state in the US. The other states are among the country’s smallest.
According to the US Census Bureau, New England had an estimated population of 14.6 million in 2010. Most of the population is located along the coast, where sea level rise and storm surge are major concerns. In watersheds across New England, increased precipitation levels and an uptick in both the frequency and severity of storms is causing increased river flooding and erosion. The region is also grappling with climate issues related to the spread of invasive pests and plants that pose risks for healthy forests, increased incidence of Lyme disease and other public health threats, and an increasing risk in some areas of episodic droughts that could affect water supply and agricultural yield from farms.
New England includes three metropolitan regions with populations exceeding one million (Boston MA, Providence, RI, and Hartford, CT), as well as many smaller cities, towns, and villages. In New England, towns are the basic unit of local government across all six states. They are fully-functioning municipal corporations with powers similar to cities in other states, and many use an annual town meeting open to all residents to support decision-making. County government in New England states is typically very weak or nonexistent.
ABOUT THIS COLLABORATIVE
The New England Climate Leaders Collaborative is a recently organized group of New England governmental and nongovernmental leaders that seek to partner across state borders in order to help communities across the region become resilient to the impacts from global climate change. The collaborative is united by a shared determination to offer support and assistance to cities, small towns, and villages as they learn how climate change will affect them and as they take practical steps to become better prepared.
The collaborative creates an opportunity to share resources and ideas and scale-up activity across a small region more rapidly than could be accomplished by the individual states working alone. The genesis of this effort was an invitational Climate Leaders’ Summit organized by EPA Region I in November 2013, in Providence. The 140 attendees from federal, state and local government agencies, regional and local nonprofit organizations, and businesses spent the day discussing the challenges to building climate resilience across New England. By the end of the summit, there was a strong consensus that an ongoing New England-wide initiative could help tackle those challenges and foster changes at all levels of government to support the region’s long term climate preparedness and resilience.
The following winter, EPA followed up on the event by establishing six action teams. Each team is led by two champions who indicated their interest in leadership at the November summit and by an EPA representative. EPA also formed a steering committee made up of climate and sustainability program managers from the six New England States. So far, this initiative does not have explicit statutory authority and it may not be needed in this planning phase. The collaborative may develop a memorandum of understanding that would make this effort a project and partnership under the New England Committee on the Environment, which is a committee under the Coalition of Northeastern Governors (CONEG) made up of our New England environmental commissioners. The intent is to develop collective plans, services and actions that will advance the region’s resilience to all climate impacts, with a special focus on the biggest climate risks in New England: riverine flooding, coastal sea level rise, and coastal storm surge.
The collaborative has developed the following broad goals (or tracks) as a way to describe organization of work and ultimate goals: increase vulnerability assessments and resilience (direct support track), resolve policy obstacles (policy track), and develop new tools (resources track). This work plan will be taken to potential funders and be used to guide efforts over the next one to two years.
PROMISING PRACTICES AND INNOVATIONS
As the New England Climate Leaders Collaborative is an emerging effort, it has not yet pursued any collective adaptation projects. The New England states do, however, have a history of successful collaboration with respect to climate change as each is a participant in the successful Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and the more newly formed Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI). The New England Climate Leaders Collaborative builds on that history but expands into the resilience and preparedness side of the climate change issue.
Already, under this new effort, EPA Region I has launched an inventory of work across New England related to vulnerability assessment and resilience planning. The information collected has been used to build a New England-wide database, which will come online this fall. The database can be used to search for successful communication plans, utilized and needed data, best practices, case studies, funding sources, partnerships, and tools used by communities.
THE CHALLENGES AHEAD
In addition to hearing how other more mature collaboratives have navigated organizational challenges, the New England Climate Leaders Collaborative would like to learn how others have effectively shared information, efficiently assessed vulnerability community by community, and implemented policy changes at the state level in order to promote resilient communities and infrastructure in the face of substantial risks from flooding and sea level rise. In New England, because land use decisions are made at the municipal level and county government is weak or nonexistent, state agencies have an opportunity to play a critical role through the creation of the incentives, establishment of regulations, and provision of technical and financial resources necessary to support community-scale action.
As the collaborative is growing, some of the greatest challenges relate to:
- Making a well-constructed and compelling case about the value of the collaborative to governmental and non-governmental decision makers across the region.
- Developing an organizational structure that will be sustainable over time and that provides an avenue for channeling recommendations for collective action to the six Governors.
- Working efficiently and effectively together when members cannot often meet in person.
- Developing a budget and hiring a staff person who can coordinate work among and between teams.
- Organizing and sequencing the work from different teams so efforts are mutually reinforcing and not duplicative.
- Raising funding from state government and private foundations to support work plan goals.