DEP sounds alarm over revised climate change predictions

Coastal flooding (Courtesy of FEMA/NJ Spotlight)

Coastal flooding (Courtesy of FEMA/NJ Spotlight)

This article originally appeared on NJ Spotlight.

In a new sobering report on climate change, the state Department of Environmental Protection on Thursday suggested the impact of rising seas could be much more dramatic along the New Jersey coast than previously projected, and twice as severe as elsewhere on the globe.

The study, commissioned by DEP and prepared by Rutgers University and leading climate-change experts, portrayed a scenario that might force state policymakers to take more aggressive actions to deal with rising ocean levels.

Whether that includes potential limits on building in coastal areas — as advocated by some conservation groups — remains to be seen. But the increasing likelihood coastal areas will be flood-prone in the future may boost those prospects.

‘’New Jersey has much to lose if we do not act quickly and decisively to adapt to the realities of climate change,’’ said DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe. “These projections now serve as important baselines for developing policy directions, including changes to land use regulation that New Jersey adopt to address these challenges.’’

The report examines a variety of scenarios, based on differing greenhouse-gas emission rates. The highest — consistent with current global greenhouse gas-emission scenarios — projects a rise in sea levels ranging from 2.3 feet to as much as 6.3 feet by 2100, under the most aggressive carbon-pollution scenario.

Perhaps more worrying, McCabe suggested so much greenhouse gas has already been spewed and baked into global warming predictions that severe effects by mid-century are inevitable.

“This isn’t really now a guesswork between now and 2050,’’ she said.

Unlike past projections, this set of potential scenarios affecting greenhouse gas emissions adds a “moderate” prediction. But even a more moderate analysis projects sea levels rising between 2 feet and 5.1 feet by the end of this century. And if the goals of the Paris climate accord are met, sea levels are still projected to rise from 1.7 feet to 3.9 feet over that time span.

“Up to 2050, sea level rise is going to be what it is,’’ agreed Jeanne Herb, executive director of the Environmental Analysis and Communications Group at Rutgers University’s School of Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

Sunny-day flooding

The Rutgers study found the expected number of high-tide flooding days — sometimes described as sunny-day flooding — could exceed 240 by 2100 under a moderate emissions scenario.

According to the study, over the last 40 years, sea level in New Jersey rose an average of 0.2 inch per year compared to a global average of 0.1 inch per year, said Nick Procopio, chief of DEP’s Bureau of Division of Environmental Assessment.

As part of its evaluation, Rutgers determined that the sea level at Atlantic City from 1911, when gauge record-keeping began, has risen by 17.6 inches, compared to 7.6 inches globally. Part of that is attributed to land levels in New Jersey sinking.

The Murphy administration has adopted policies to address climate change, identifying a goal of 100% clean energy by 2050. It has promoted a number of policies to lessen impacts of carbon pollution, setting more aggressive goals for solar and offshore wind energy and subsidizing nuclear power plants, among other steps.

At the same time, though, a legislative initiative to create a comprehensive plan to electrify the transportation sector, the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions, remains stalled in the lame-duck legislative session.

Asked if the latest report lends urgency to getting the bill passed, McCabe answered simply, “I hope it does.’’

Meanwhile, the report was issued on a day when the Legislature approved a bill to fund the Rutgers Climate Resource Center with $500,000, a sharp cutback from the original $2 million appropriation.

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