Climate-related health impacts are disrupting US communities. As the risks of climate grow increasingly clear, communities across the nation are looking for tools to fight back in their own ways. Recently, a new network of scientists and experts on local government have banded together to release a science-based report to help communities “accelerate climate change action” and assist in identifying how they can combat the causes of climate change as well as manage its associated risks.
The group, called the Science for Climate Action Network (SCAN), is made up of most of the members of a federal climate change advisory committee that had been created during the Obama Administration, but then dismantled after Donald Trump became president. SCAN was later reconvened at the behest of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo with the support of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, the American Meteorological Society, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
Going forward, SCAN will help local government officials and community leaders tap the latest climate science to make decisions about planning for droughts, floods, wildfires, heat waves, severe storms, and rising sea levels due to climate change impacts. SCAN will also help communities use science-based data to address the risks resulting from the changing climate so that climate science becomes part of the “routine decision making” during capital improvement planning and zoning. Ultimately, the goal is to develop “science-based pathways to address climate threats to local economic growth, infrastructure, and public health.”
Their first report, “Evaluating Knowledge to Support Climate Action: A Framework for Sustained Assessment,” acknowledges that communities need more support to better prepare for dealing with the burdens climate change creates. It makes 3 main recommendations to achieve this objective:
- Establishing a nonfederal network to assess how to use science to make and implement on-the-ground decisions.
- Focusing these assessments on the challenges faced by those responsible for mitigating climate change locally, such as city and county sustainability managers.
- Advocating for using artificial intelligence and other new analytical tools to identify the best ways to manage climate risk.
“Local governments and communities need help to use climate science to evaluate how mitigation and adaptation opportunities interact with their broader goals,” said Richard Moss, the lead author of the report and the former chairman of the advisory committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment. The National Climate Assessment, while providing valuable information on how quickly climate change is occurring and the serious consequences it’s having, did not provide ongoing guidance to the community officials who bear the brunt of responsibility for limiting climate change consequences.
SCAN intends to do just the opposite. The Network will team state and local officials with scientists and climate experts to identify best practices for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and make specific recommendations for dealing with what the group calls “now-unavoidable climate impacts.” Areas of focus could include the threats climate change poses to local economic growth and public health, and identify needs such as strengthening infrastructure and transitioning as quickly as possible to clean, renewable, non-fossil fuel energy.
In fact, providing communities with the research they might need to sequester carbon in soil or to determine how to juggle prioritizing greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide vs. methane are also priorities.
One interesting recommendation of the report is to support the “building and training of a workforce that understands and uses climate information, especially in small and rural communities,” so they can become more effective and strategic as the specter of climate catastrophes grows. The report also advocates engaging the public in “two-way communication” to build support for climate mitigation solutions throughout a community. To that end, another strong recommendation detailed in the report is to launch a “rigorous citizen and community science initiative” so that even those who are not trained as scientists can participate in this effort. Much the same way citizens join in backyard bird counts to monitor bird populations or analyze local water quality by measuring contaminants in streams, the report’s authors see a role for citizens to help track the impact of climate change on air and water pollution, exposure to toxic waste, urban heat islands, and flooding.
The report concludes by acknowledging that the responsibility for dealing with climate change is the responsibility of the public, private interests, and local governments, as well as the federal government. It urges “a range of partners to join forces,” and as soon as possible.