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Governors' alliance offers guide for new officials to tackle climate resilience

With an eye toward potentially expanding their ranks in 2019, a coalition of 17 governors issued a guide aimed at helping new incoming governors establish climate-related resilience initiatives in their states.

A wave of new governors is taking office in early 2019, including newly elected Democratic governors in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and New Mexico who, according to National Geographic, have pledged to join the U.S. Climate Alliance.

The alliance primarily aims to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy in lieu of federal action under the Trump administration. President Donald Trump has pledged to pull the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

In addition to the New Governors' Resilience Playbook, the alliance issued playbooks prepared in coordination with the Rocky Mountain Institute and National Association of State Energy Officials that outline key ways states can grease the skids to deploy more solar and distributed generation. The recommendations for solar suggest that state and local agencies can improve policies and practices to reduce the administrative burden and transaction costs associated with solar installations, including in the areas of permitting and inspection, zoning and siting, municipal procurement and property taxes.

The resilience playbook, crafted with help from officials in 10 states and led by California and Massachusetts, contends that climate change poses a threat to state residents, economies and critical infrastructure.

"Whether you're responding to the effects of climate change or planning to withstand the next big natural disaster or utility cyber-attack, effective resiliency and preparedness efforts must be part of any governor's comprehensive plan," the playbook said.

The document lists 10 steps a new governor should take "early in his or her first year in office to kick-start long-term resiliency outcomes throughout the state," including through implementation and partnerships with agencies and the public sector.

For starters, the governor during the transition should assess whether the state has already completed a comprehensive resilience plan or climate risk assessment. If those plans or assessments have been done, the governor could build on the effort by developing a priority work plan to accelerate implementation.

Second, the governor should raise resilience issues in the first State of the State address. If governors want to start slow or do not want to raise the issue immediately, they could create a task force or ask the business community to conduct an economic study to frame the long-term scale of the problem.

Next, the governor should create a center of gravity in the state to drive the work, which could be through creating a resilience cabinet, designating a lead agency or appointing of a chief resilience officer. The governor should look to develop good data on state disasters, threats, hazards, funding needs and avoided costs and perform a risk assessment.

"You can't mitigate what you don't measure — so find out exactly what your state's climate future looks like," the playbook said.

The playbook noted that much of the actual resilience work will happen at the local level, but governors can help encourage state and local communities to work on planning and implementation.

Another key step is to leverage state spending such as local assistance funding, infrastructure expenditures and permitting to support the state's resilience goals. For example, governors can make grants available to municipalities on the condition that they undertake some sort of climate adaptation or mitigation plan or improve asset management processes, the playbook said. It noted that Maryland provides grants to help local governments incorporate consideration of sea-level rise and changing precipitation into local plans, ordinances and local programs through its CoastSmart Community Resilience Program.

Governors should never let a crisis go to waste, the playbook said. "When your state gets hit with its first resilience crisis or natural disaster, be ready to not just respond but to also build state resilience for the next disaster with an action plan in your bottom drawer," it said.

The alliance announced Dec. 12 that it is forming an Impact Partnership to work with private-sector partners to provide targeted technical assistance to states to achieve their most ambitious climate and clean energy priorities. The alliance offered few additional details about the new partnership, but conservation groups American Forests and the World Resources Institute have indicated they are participating in the new initiative.