In Delaware, one way that climate change manifests is in higher temperatures leading to heavy precipitation and intense storms. These changes raise the sea level, which occasions flooding and the destruction of infrastructure, land, and property.

Over the years, flooding has become more frequent and more intense. As the lowest-lying US coastal state, Delaware is among the states worst hit by flooding and hurricanes in recent years. This created the urgent need to come up with strategies to keep the state safe.

A screenshot of former Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s Executive Order no. 41.

Former Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s Executive Order No. 41 has since provided a road map to reduce the human contribution to climate change and decrease the impacts of extreme weather. Let’s look at the solutions that have since been implemented to keep citizens safe and alleviate the severe impacts of extreme weather.

The Delaware Education Program

The DNREC, Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control has a climate, coastal, and energy division which has planned a series of ZOOM workshops this fall to gather public feedback on the various actions the state has taken or is considering in its efforts to combat climate change.

The Delaware Climate Action Plan has been around from as early as 2000. It was a strategic plan aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions to reduce the state’s contribution to global warming. One of the main pillars of the plan is educating and engaging the local communities in curbing global warming.

The Delaware Education and Outreach program comes with a series of periodic workshops. The communities are encouraged to participate in the workshops to learn about climate change, its causes and effects, and how to alleviate the severe impacts of harsh weather. In addition to greenhouse gasses, the workshops also give information on how to maximize resilience to high temperatures, flooding, and rising sea levels, among other topics.

The program also ensures that communities have easy access to information about climate change. The information is compiled into reports, fact sheets, and technical papers among other forms of publications both online and offline. These educational materials are developed to target two groups: the general public and children. Climate change is now a part of Delaware’s school educational structure.

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Climate change affects Delaware, bringing higher temperatures, rising sea levels, and increasing rainfall. Average temperatures in Delaware have increased over the past century, and are expected to continue rising.

The CEEP 1995, dabbed Delaware Greenhouse Gas Inventory, is a report that shows the sources of greenhouse gases in Delaware by the economic sector. This report formed the basis of the strategic plan to reduce emissions per industry by involving the sector players. According to the Delaware Climate Change Consortium (DCCC), the aim was to reduce emissions below 1990 levels by about 25% by 2010, and 60% by 2050.

According to the CEEP 1995 report, all economic sectors play a role in greenhouse gas emissions. As such, the first step to curbing these emissions is to formulate and implement effective policies. This brought about the cooperation between communities as well as public and private entities including USEPA and DSEO. The partnership ensures that all parties are educated on how they contribute to greenhouse emissions and how they should change their operations to reduce emissions.

As a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Delaware is one of the states in the region committed to promoting a cleaner environment. This trade and market program aims at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electric generators, as well as promoting energy efficiency.

Reducing Carbon Dioxide Gas Emissions

Carbon dioxide is one of the major greenhouse gasses whose molecules can on average reside in the atmosphere for around 200 years. However, 7% of the carbon dioxide released today is likely to still be in the atmosphere in 100,000 years!  It is the most widely emitted greenhouse gas and one of the longest-lasting greenhouse gas molecules.

The Delaware Climate Action Plan outlines strategies to reduce CO2 emissions in industrial, residential, commercial, transport, and electric utility sectors. The plan shows how energy efficiencies in the aforementioned sectors can lower carbon dioxide emissions, thereby reducing the overall greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

Use of renewable energy sources, especially in the electric utility sector, will significantly lower CO2 emissions regardless of whether it is under Major Commitment, or Modest Commitment scenarios. Land-use changes, which include increasing the state’s forest cover, are projected to increase the loss of carbon storage by nearly 260,000mt.

Plans to Safeguard Delaware Infrastructure

The Indian River Inlet Bridge from the southeast, Delaware, USA. The Climate Framework for Delaware has 150 recommendations on how the state can address the impacts of climate change on the infrastructure, as well as public health and safety. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Climate Framework for Delaware, which was released in 2015, details the state’s preparedness for climate change and its impacts. It was developed following the Executive Order number 41 of 2013 aimed at preparing Delaware for the impacts of an emerging climate. The CFD addresses 3 key issues - greenhouse gas mitigation, flood avoidance, as well as climate adaptation and resilience.

The framework outlines current threats to the state’s resources, the threats that come with climate change and the resultant extreme weather conditions. There are 150 solid recommendations on how the state can address the impacts on infrastructure, public health and safety.

The Climate Framework for Delaware outlines the possible impacts of climate change on various sectors including emergency response. The framework develops actionable, agency-specific recommendations, and tasks state agencies with implementation to improve climate resilience. It also authorizes state agencies to access legislation, funding, and involvement of stakeholders in implementing strategies to prepare the state in the wake of severe climate change impacts.

Periodic progress reports have been released since 2015. Over time, state agencies have had to revisit some of the strategies to adapt to the changing circumstances. DNREC holds periodic public meetings in different counties to get feedback on the implemented plans and develop appropriate climate action plans.

Delaware Climate Change Funding

The Transport Infrastructure Act of 2019 authorized $287 billion to be set aside for maintaining and repairing the surface transport infrastructure for five years. It is the largest highway legislation in history aimed at enhancing roadway resilience in extreme weather.

Delaware gets more than $1billion to maintain the roads and bridges, with a further $15.53 million set aside to build the resilience of surface transport infrastructure against severe climate. Nationwide, $2.7 billion has been set aside to fund carbon emission reductions, $11.85 million of which will fund Delaware’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. $9.88 million will go towards increasing safety on Delaware roads, part of which will be used to construct pedestrian and bike lanes.

More than $1 billion is held by DelDOT as Transport Infrastructure Investment Fund and is available for issue as competitive grants. The grants program funds projects aimed at upgrading the current infrastructure to withstand extreme weather.

Conclusion

While the steps Delaware is taking to combat climate change should be commended, they remain largely subdued. This is especially significant when you compare it to other states that are taking big strides to deal with climate change. With just 36% of Delaware residents seriously concerned about climate change, according to a recent Responsive Management survey, it is not all that surprising that the leadership of the state has not felt the pressure to do more.

That said, state government officials are showing a willingness to change this. At the beginning of this year, they committed to rolling out a new climate action plan. It will be interesting to see how they will follow this through.

Augurisk is a risk assessment platform for Climate Change, Natural Hazards and Societal Risks. We help people and businesses assess climate risks associated with their properties, so they can better prepare for the future.