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Local Support Overview
 

Summary of State Agency Action

This page provides an overview of the steps Massachusetts is taking to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

In 2011, the state finalized the Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report (“2011 Report”). It includes approximately 255 discrete goals related to climate change adaptation. These goals cover the following sectors: agriculture, biodiversity, coasts and oceans, emergency preparedness, forestry, infrastructure, public health, and water. This page describes some of the progress Massachusetts agencies are achieving related to each of these sectors. Much of the progress Massachusetts has made in implementing its 2011 Report has come through state policies and programs that support local adaptation.

Agriculture

The 2011 Report includes goals related to agriculture focused on: controlling pests that could increase vulnerabilities in the agricultural sector to climate change impacts; reducing runoff and increasing water storage capacities for irrigation; assessing and investing in markets to diversify the selection of hazard-resistant crops; and providing state funding to support these and broader educational initiatives.

To implement these goals, the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture administers two programs: the Agricultural Climate Resiliency and Efficiency Program, a grant program which provides funding for projects to improve resilience on farmland, and the Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program, which purchases farmland so that it can be used for conservation purposes. These programs are discussed in more detail on the Supporting Local Action page.

Biodiversity

Goals in the 2011 Report related to biodiversity include identifying, restoring, protecting, and where applicable, acquiring priority or high value ecosystems, with a focus on wetlands in riverine or coastal floodplains and habitats high in species richness and diversity, adjacent migration corridors, and buffer zones; and creating and updating tools, resources, and information-sharing systems necessary to inform these decisions.

To implement these goals, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife established the Wildlife Climate Action Tool, which provides information on the climate vulnerabilities of state species and habitats and adaptation strategies and actions based on user-selected location and interests. In 2015, the division also finalized a State Wildlife Action Plan that presents the Commonwealth’s 570 “Species of Greatest Conservation Need,” the 24 types of habitat that support these species, and actions the division can take to conserve both in response to climate change and other environmental threats.

 

Coasts & Oceans

Goals in the 2011 Report related to coasts and ocean overlap with those related to biodiversity and include identifying, prioritizing, and protecting undeveloped upland areas in order to facilitate inland migration of coastal wetlands; expanding the use of ecological (compared to hard, engineered) solutions to sea-level rise; and providing local governments with guidance and tools to implement these objectives and monitor climate impacts in coastal environments, including erosion and rising sea levels.

To implement these goals, the state is evaluating risks to its coasts and ocean and potential strategies to address those risks. In 2014, the Massachusetts legislature established the Massachusetts Coastal Erosion Commission to research and document levels and impacts of coastal erosion in the state and provide recommendations to reduce, minimize, or eliminate these impacts to coastal features, like beaches and dunes, property, and infrastructure. The commission, in its 2015 report, recommends that the state adopt new building codes, development standards, and regulatory review criteria to account for sea-level rise in coastal development and permitting decisions. In addition, Massachusetts’s 2015 Ocean Management Plan sets a vision for how the state will balance current and future ocean uses and economic development with resource protection in the face of threats like climate change.

The Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management’s StormSmart Coasts Program provides coastal management decision makers and communities with information, strategies, and tools to address the impacts of weather and climate hazards on coastal development and resources. The StormSmart Coasts Program and other coastal-sector guidance, funding opportunities, and tools for local governments and communities are discussed in more detail on the Supporting Local Action page.

Forestry

Goals in the 2011 Report related to forestry include securing, restoring, and protecting large, unfragmented forest blocks and financially incentivizing strategies to accomplish these objectives.

To implement these goals, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation administers two programs, the Forest Stewardship Program, which provides forest managers with technical and financial support to manage forests in a manner that maximizes environmental benefits, and the “Forest Tax Program Chapter 61”, a preferential tax program for landowners. These programs are discussed in more detail on the Supporting Local Action page.

Infrastructure

Transportation related goals in the 2011 Report include updating standard maintenance reviews and procedures to evaluate climate change impacts; assessing risks of existing infrastructure, such as current life span; modernizing building codes; and investing in innovation across different modes of transportation.

As of 2020, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is undertaking more transportation infrastructure vulnerability studies in accordance with Executive Order 569 and the Global Warming Solutions Act. Perhaps chief among these is the Phase One Vulnerability Assessment currently underway (as of July 2020) for the MassDOT Statewide Climate Change Adaptation Plan. Through the study, the state aims to assess which assets are most at risk of future inland flooding and/or most likely to be impacted by future extreme heat events. In addition, MassDOT is working on a Coastal Transportation Vulnerability Assessment to evaluate how to use and build out a flood risk model developed for Boston Harbor to evaluate future climate impacts, including flooding from storms and sea-level rise, for the state’s entire coast and islands. The Statewide Climate Change Adaptation Plan and Vulnerability Assessment will build on one another. In 2013-2015, MassDOT and the Federal Highway Administration also commissioned a pilot project to assess the climate change vulnerability of the Central Artery and Tunnel System for the City of Boston. Through sea-level rise and storm surge modeling, the study found that this critical transportation system is highly vulnerable to flooding. The pilot team developed adaptation strategies for current and future implementation, and initiated an emergency response plan for tunnel protection.

In 2014, the Massachusetts Port Authority (MassPort) began the Massport Resiliency Program to protect MassPort transportation facilities from flooding hazards caused by extreme storms and rising sea levels as a result of climate change. The program seeks to better prepare for the impacts of climate change by incorporating resilience principles into MassPort’s business strategy and operations. As a part of this program, MassPort created a Floodproofing Design Guide that will help make its critical infrastructure resilient to sea-level rise and major flood events.

Other infrastructure sectors targeted in the 2011 Report include waste management hazard assessment and contingency planning; and the development of laws and policies to make the built environment more resilient, such as mandating or incentivizing adaptive flood measures in new construction or major updates to existing structures and when to abandon vulnerable properties.

The Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency produced a State Resilience Master Plan that will serve as the foundation for the state to implement resilient building strategies for the development or redevelopment of state-owned facilities. The plan can also serve as a model or guidance for municipalities as they revise their own local codes or plans. The plan was the result of a one-year process intended to reduce the vulnerability of state facilities to climate change impacts and avoid or mitigate service interruptions for end users.

Public Health & 

Emergency Preparedness

Public health-related goals in the 2011 Report include evaluating state planning and management strategies for how to incorporate climate vulnerabilities into local health plans; and improving statewide education and research on climate-propagated or influenced diseases, such as vector-borne diseases and asthma.

To implement these goals, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health instituted a Climate and Health Program “to strengthen local health responses to climate change.” The program works with state agencies through the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act Adaptation Subcommittee, local health departments, federal agencies, and new partners to support data/information-sharing, joint training opportunities, and adaptation planning strategies. The department identified these priorities after the 2011 Massachusetts Climate Adaptation Report and a 2014 survey supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Climate and Health Program found that local health departments are unprepared or lack the capacity to address increasing climate-driven impacts to public health. Additional public health-sector guidance and tools for local governments and communities are discussed in more detail on the Supporting Local Action page.

Goals in the 2011 Report related to emergency preparedness include educating state and private employees about occupational health and safety risks exacerbated by climate change; reviewing and updating state and local hazard mitigation plans to account for the increasing severity and frequency of hazard events, like storms; integrating climate change adaptation into the state’s hazard mitigation plan; and promoting state, local, and other land conservation and development plans that reflect future climate risk projections and post-storm emergency response and decisionmaking.

To implement these goals and Executive Order 569’s requirement to develop a statewide climate adaptation plan, the state is writing a joint State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan. That plan is expected to be completed in September 2018.

 

Water

Goals in the 2011 Report related to water include improving overall water quality monitoring, especially related to extreme weather events and flooding, and encouraging the implementation of stormwater management best practices, such as reducing the amount of impervious surfaces and constructing onsite water filtration systems with ecologically-based strategies, like green infrastructure.

To implement these goals, the state is emphasizing these climate change adaptation objectives through its State Revolving Fund Program, which provides low-interest loans to municipalities to finance water projects.

(Research last updated: July 21, 2020).

 

 
 
 
 

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