North Carolina’s New Outlook on Climate Resilience

Aerial drone footage of flooding caused by Hurricane Florence in Ringlewood, NC, September 17, 2018.

Photo: North Carolina National Guard

Two catastrophic hurricanes hit North Carolina between 2016 and 2018. These storms and the devastation they caused prompted Governor Cooper to initiate a comprehensive assessment of the state’s vulnerability to climate change and the increasing frequency and magnitude of disasters that are resulting.

Hurricane Florence was a slow-moving storm that caused an estimated $24 billion in damage in 2018. The vast majority of damages happened miles away from the coastline due to torrential rains, not from the winds that hurricanes are most known for. In 2016 Hurricane Matthew caused a similar level of devastation. Floods also hit the state in 2017. People and communities were still recovering from these events when they once again found themselves underwater and wondering how they would put their lives back together again. They also had to come to grips with the reality that the “new normal” may include major flooding on an all-too-regular basis.

In 2012, North Carolina had become something of a climate change punchline when the legislature passed “A new law in North Carolina [that] will ban the state from basing coastal policies on the latest scientific predictions of how much the sea level will rise,” according to ABC News. The joke was that the state legislature had tried to make sea level rise illegal. 

Governor Cooper is changing those perspectives and deserves a lot of credit for issuing Executive Order 80, which (re)established the state’s “Commitment to Address Climate Change and Move to a Clean Energy Economy.” An important component of that executive order directs the state’s agencies to, “integrate climate adaptation and resiliency efforts into their policies, programs, and operations.” The state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is leading this effort and, in accordance with the executive order, will also be conducting a climate risk assessment and a statewide resilience plan.

NRDC has been excited by DEQ’s efforts to develop the Climate Risk Assessment and Resiliency Plan. We have shared information with DEQ about similar efforts in other states and we will be developing additional information to share, which we hope the state will find useful to creating this important plan. North Carolina is a critical place to be doing this work—it’s a state that is no stranger to natural disasters and its vulnerability to the impacts of climate change is quite high.  

For NRDC, it’s also important to support elected officials, like Governor Cooper, who recognize the need to make the state and the people who live there better prepared and better able to cope with the impacts of climate change.

About the Authors

Rob Moore

Senior Policy Analyst, People & Communities Program

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