Title 23
Health and Safety

Chapter 84
The Rhode Island Climate Risk Reduction Act of 2010

R.I. Gen. Laws § 23-84-2

§ 23-84-2. Legislative findings.

It is hereby found and declared by the general assembly as follows:

(1) Climate change impacts have already arrived in Rhode Island. Average temperatures in the state have increased by one point five degrees Fahrenheit (1.5° F) since 1970 and mean winter temperatures in the state are up by four degrees Fahrenheit (4° F). The annual mean surface temperature of Narragansett Bay has increased two point seven degrees Fahrenheit (2.7° F) since the 1960s. Droughts are becoming longer and more frequent, storms cause worse flooding, and the sea level is measurably rising over eight inches (8") since 1930 at an accelerated rate. Gases released by the consumption of fossil fuels explain most of these trends very well; since these gases stay in the atmosphere and trap heat for decades, the residents of Rhode Island are being locked into serious disruptions in their way of life.

(2) If emissions continue at the current high rate, the annual number of days over ninety degrees Fahrenheit (90° F) is expected to grow sharply from about five (5) per year today to about fifty (50) to sixty (60) per year at the end of the century. Rhode Island is expected to experience roughly twenty-five (25) days over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit (100° F) every summer if we continue on a high emissions pathway. Under these scenarios, Rhode Island’s summer heat index in 2100 will resemble Georgia’s current summers. Such scenarios could see Rhode Island seas rise three (3) to five (5) feet by 2100. Increased flooding and droughts are widely recognized in climate models to dominate Rhode Island’s expected weather patterns as the potential for more intense storms increases.

(3) Rhode Island’s residents and the ecosystems that sustain us face three (3) main types of increasing risks: (i) Rising temperatures (which put stress on human health and ecosystems); (ii) More extreme weather (bringing more frequent heavy thunderstorms and flooding, heat waves and more intense coastal storms and hurricanes); and (iii) Flooding and damage to homes, businesses, public infrastructure and coastal habitats along the state’s over four hundred (400) miles of coastline by storm surges and rising sea levels.

(4) While Rhode Island has taken leadership in developing and adopting a sea level rise policy and draft guidelines, identifying climate issues within the state’s coastal program and its special area management plans and compiling existing research on various trends associated with climate change, there is no comprehensive state-wide assessment of projected impacts of climate change to human health and safety, economic and natural resources of the state. Many states in the region have begun to develop commission and statewide strategies for climate change.

(5) Communities around the United States and the world are beginning to address these increased risks by adjusting their building codes, improving and updating their emergency plans, identifying their greatest vulnerabilities and prioritizing actions to address them and incorporating climate change projections in planning for long-term infrastructure investments. Rhode Island can learn from and build upon these efforts. Some communities are even discovering opportunities in this crisis to address longstanding vulnerabilities, and the potential to develop new industries to supply adaptation technology and advice to communities.

(6) Natural ecosystems and habitats, both coastal and upland, provide critical ecosystem services including, fisheries habitat, drinking water, and flood protection. These resources play an important role in minimizing risks and hazard exposure to climate change impacts such as coastal and riverline flooding. Forested watersheds provide increased protection from the impacts of both flooding and droughts, absorbing water during storm events, and releasing it slowly over time.

(7) Tree canopy cover is a cost-effective adaptation to climate change, particularly in the urban environment. In particular, increasing urban tree canopy cover has been found to reduce summer high temperatures, reduce energy consumption, have a positive impact on stormwater management and air quality, and improve groundwater quality. Increasing tree canopy cover will also help the state achieve its goal of mitigating carbon dioxide emissions by enhancing biotic sequestration and reducing energy consumption.

(8) An October 2008 study by the National Research Council found that some of the benefits of green infrastructure include a reduction of stormwater runoff, surface water discharge, stormwater pollution and stormwater flows.

(9) While increasing the urban tree canopy is critical to reducing the urban heat island effect, strategies incorporating other forms of green infrastructure, including green roofs and walls, hold significant cooling potential; a 2007 study in Bioscience revealed that if the city of Toronto greened fifty percent (50%) of its roof space, the temperature of the entire city would drop by two degrees Fahrenheit (2° F), and because there is more wall space than roof space, green facades and living walls are ideal supplements.

(10) Existing federal programs and potential federal climate change legislation may provide significant funding and other resources to help states and localities begin planning and taking adaptation actions. To receive these funds, state governments may be required to complete climate change response plans; this chapter seeks to assist the state in beginning the process of preparing such a plan.

(11) This chapter seeks to protect the historic culture, heritage, economy, public infrastructure, natural resources and the current and future well-being of the population of the State of Rhode Island while helping move the state to an active response to climate change impacts by identifying some of the most critical issues that will have to be addressed, and by investigating and implementing cost-effective solutions and/or adaptation strategies for the state and its municipalities.

History of Section.
P.L. 2010, ch. 119, § 1; P.L. 2010, ch. 304, § 1.