Climate change threatens North Carolina in a variety of ways. As a coastal state we are particularly susceptible to a rise in the sea level. In addition, increases in droughts and extreme heat events will affect public heath, our natural environment, and our agricultural economy. We can also expect to see an increase in the competition for water, as climate change, population growth and changes in how we use our land lead to a decrease in water availability. Finally, climate change increases the chance that stronger hurricanes strike along our coast.
Climate change is already being felt in North Carolina, and predictions for the future are for global impacts to strengthen, with related risks to our state.1 The 2013 U.S. National Climate Assessment warned the Southeastern United States that:
1) Sea level rise poses widespread and continuing threats to both natural and built environments and to the regional economy;
2) Increasing temperatures and the associated increase in frequency, intensity, and duration of extreme heat events will affect public health, natural and built environments, energy, agriculture, and forestry;
3) Decreased water availability, exacerbated by population growth and land-use change, will continue to increase competition for water and affect the region’s economy and unique ecosystems.2
While confidence in future climate impacts improves, it is still harder to predict specific future climate outcomes for smaller geographic areas like North Carolina.3 Nevertheless, in an effort to ensure against and prepare for future climate impacts, the NC Interagency Leadership Team—a working group representing a broad cross-section of government—found five climate conditions most likely to impact the state: More frequent droughts; Rising sea-level and accompanying storm surge; More intense hurricanes; Increased heavy precipitation events; More extreme heat.4
North Carolina should move systematically and forcefully to improve for long-term resilience to natural disasters and to help communities adapt to a changing environment.
North Carolina needs to be prepared for these types of natural disasters so that we can limit their impact and be ready to help our citizens recover during the aftermath. Even with federal assistance, natural disasters such as these could cost our state billions of dollars.
To help save money, time and – most importantly – lives, North Carolina should develop a preparation-and-response plan that approaches the threat of climate change from all angles. In particular, North Carolina should establish a high-level position that is responsible for interagency coordination of resilience strategies, and is responsible for providing tools and expertise – such as hazard mapping and long-term planning capacities – to local governments. In addition, our leaders should ensure that critical state investments in buildings, transportation, and energy and water infrastructure do not increase our vulnerability. As we work to put these changes in place, we should develop a process for monitoring, measuring, and reporting on our progress toward improving the resiliency of our state.
1 North Carolina Interagency Leadership Team. (2012). Climate Ready North Carolina: Building a Resilient Future.
2 2014 National Climate Assessment. "Southeast." U.S. Global Change Research Program.
3 North Carolina Agriculture and Forestry Adaptation Work Group. (June 2015). Keeping North Carolina’s Farms and Forests Vibrant and Resilient. Solutions from the Land.
4 North Carolina Interagency Leadership Team. (2012).