NEW CASTLE — Delaware is on its way to carbon neutrality.
Gov. John Carney released Delaware’s Climate Action Plan on Thursday, which outlines do-or-die measures the state must implement to avoid a disastrous future due to weather impacts.
“Climate change is a threat,” Gov. Carney said during the announcement in Battery Park. “It threatens our $3.5 billion tourism industry and the 44,000 jobs that go with it. It threatens our $8 billion agriculture industry and the several thousand family farmers that make it go. … More than 17,000 Delaware homes, nearly 500 miles of roadway and thousands of acres of wildlife habitat are at risk of flooding.”
Gov. Carney said recent legislation will increase Delaware’s renewable portfolio standard to 40% by 2035, and the plan presented Thursday detailed the path to reach that goal and others.
The document itself lacks concrete instructions, but Shawn Garvin, secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said that is because it is meant to be more like a GPS than a road map.
“It constantly gives us the ability to change when we have more information and resources that we can put into things,” he said. “And so we’re constantly going to have to build. … It is important that we all have a piece in this.”
Funding for these measures will be decided year by year in state and local budgets, but officials will likely look to the federal level to pay for bigger coast-resiliency projects that come with larger price tags.
“The strategies in the plan can be implemented over time as resources, data and partnerships develop,” Gov. Carney said. “This has to be an ongoing, long-term commitment.”
The flexibility and development that Mr. Garvin and Gov. Carney mentioned are pivotal to the success of reaching the state’s climate goals. Recent research from University of Delaware professor Dr. A.R. Siders concluded that evidence of risk reduction is crucial to evaluating adaptation measures and creating strategies to adjust to future weather patterns.
Dr. Siders surveyed over 48,000 articles, trying to answer the global question: How much climate adaptation is occurring and is it enough to curb the effects of climate change?
Ultimately, the answer is uncertain. Only 1,682 articles, less than 5% of the total, included reports on implemented adaptation responses. Dr. Siders’ report said authors often assumed or implied risk reduction, but there was no actual evidence of it.
“So for a lot of these, it’s the absence of evidence, not evidence that it’s not working,” she said. “But this is a bit concerning because some of the things we want to know are not only if it is working but for how long it might work and how much it can help.”
The United Nations Adaptation Gap Report 2021, also released Thursday, said a lack of consensus on definitions and varying approaches to assessments makes it impossible to directly measure how effective current adaptation planning is. However, relevant elements like comprehensiveness, inclusiveness, implementability, integration, and monitoring and evaluation of planning instruments can be indirectly analyzed instead. These indicators show positive trends compared to 2020, according to the Gap Report.
However, the level of adaptation strategies and measures implemented needs to pick up the pace to keep up with effectively managing climate risks.
“While the level of adaptation implementation is rising, there is still scarce evidence of climate risk reduction as a result of adaptation actions,” the report said. “Although planning instruments are maturing, several indicators of effectiveness and adequacy, such as for vertical integration and incentives for increasing implementability, are mixed.”
The cost of adapting to climate change is growing, and adaptation funding is projected to stabilize or possibly even decline due to the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic, the report added.
Dr. Siders said many adaptation strategies are focused on one part of a system rather than everything it is connected to. Beachfront homes, for example, can have stilts or a seawall to protect it from floodwaters, but Dr. Siders asks, “What about the roads?
“Can an emergency vehicle get to you in case of an emergency? Can you get out to the grocery store? Can you get to work?” she said. “It is not enough to just think about if the house is safe. We have to think about whether the whole system is safe.”
Dr. Siders’ research found that the depth of most adaptations are “minor adjustments to business as usual” rather than transformative. Additionally, short-term responses to extreme weather events are more prevalent than long-term, proactive changes.
More proactive strategies will be especially necessary for Delaware when it comes to sea level rise. The state has already experienced over 1 foot of sea level rise at the Lewes tide gauge since 1900, according to the climate plan. In addition, a 2020 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study projects that Lewes could face 50 to 135 high-tide flood events per year by 2050.
But climate change is not just affecting beach towns. By midcentury, sea levels are projected to rise another 9 to 23 inches and as much as 5 feet by 2100, resulting in a sharp increase in high-tide flooding, the report said.
“We are the lowest-lying state. … It affects all of us,” Mr. Garvin said.
High cost of adapting
Even more concerning is who will be left in the dust or, in Delaware’s case, left underwater.
While communities that have done the least to contribute to climate change will be the most affected, the solutions as they stand now are also out of reach for poor communities. Electric vehicles and home improvements rack up a significant bill that poverty-ridden residents cannot afford.
Gov. Carney said that leaders are hopeful and confident that the cost of electric vehicles will go down; nearly every car manufacturer is working on a hybrid or electric version to put on the market, a “good indication of where we’re going,” he said.
Delaware’s Climate Action Plan includes goals to increase outreach about climate change through strategies like developing targeted messages, increasing availability of educational programming and providing resources to businesses to help them build their resilience.
Mr. Garvin said many of DNREC’s programs have already gotten a start on these goals.
“From January through September this year, our Green Energy Program approved more than 360 solar and geothermal grants, totaling more than $2 million; our Energy Efficiency Investment Fund has ordered 76 individual projects that will save businesses a combined $2.8 million in energy costs; and our Weatherization Assistance Program, which helps low-income families make their homes more energy-efficient and reduce energy bills, has helped almost 100 Delaware families this year,” he said.
Transportation is currently the largest in-state source of greenhouse gas emissions, so Delaware is targeting a stronger consumer adoption of electric vehicles, expanding charging infrastructure and improving accessibility of low-carbon transportation.
Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary Nicole Majeski said that over 309 vehicles of its gasoline-powered paratransit fleet have been converted to 100% propane, and 10% of fixed-route buses deployed in densely populated areas will be all-electric by next year.
“We’ve already reduced greenhouse gas emissions by over 25,000 metric tons, but this is just the beginning,” she said.
Delaware State University will also be reaching out to more communities of color to ensure that they have a seat at the table in discussions about climate change.
“We know the reasons why we need to get better: because things like the flooding in Wilmington are directly impacting families’ ability to be successful, to take advantage of the next logical steps for their students and to make sure that they are well cared for,” said DSU President Dr. Tony Allen. “So when we think about this particular effort, we look at it through the lens of our own mission.”
Still, Dr. Siders said the United States isn’t really focused on people when it comes to building resilience.
“Right now, our response (in the United States) is focused very much on preserving property value and preserving economies. It is not focused on helping people, and that’s a huge problem,” she said. “We need to change the way we make decisions in the United States to help people rather than to preserve property, but that requires changing a lot of the ways people make decisions at tons of different levels.”
The full Climate Action Plan for Delaware can be found here.