Sep. 4—Connecticut, like the rest of the world, is reckoning with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report detailing a bleak future for humankind and the environment, barring a concerted effort to change course.
The report, which warns of wildfires, droughts, rising sea levels, heat waves and more frequent severe weather events, outlined in depth what climate scientists already knew, experts and advocates say. Anji Seth, a professor and the interim head of the geology department at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, did point out a significant departure from past reports.
"Some of the key outcomes of the report are that there's really no doubt anymore that humans are the cause of warming. They're using this term, 'unequivocal,'" Seth said. "In past reports that term was reserved for the fact that earth is warming. The earlier report said the warming is 'unequivocal' and the human cause is likely or very likely. Now there is so much more evidence and near certainty about this that they can use the term 'unequivocal' regarding the human cause of the warming."
He added that the scientific community has been trying to educate the public about warming and climate change for the last 30 years.
"We have known that humans are the cause of climate change since 1995, and we have been very clear that CO2 is increasing and that is causing the warming," Seth said. "This new report also tells us if we stop emitting CO2, temperatures will stop increasing. It's that simple. It really is about the fossil carbon we're putting in the atmosphere. We know if we stop doing that, temperatures will stop increasing."
Terri Eickel, the director of development for Avalonia Land Conservancy based in Stonington, said she found the report "extremely motivating." Avalonia is "a land trust dedicated to conservation through the acquisition of open space," according to its website.
"Some folks I work with on various levels kind of wanted to just lie down on the floor for a day or two," Eickel said. "Nothing in it is a big surprise, but each time you see it printed by a large, trusted, peer-reviewed scientific body, it's definitely sobering."
Seth and other researchers worked on the Connecticut Physical Climate Assessment report, released in 2019, that reaches many of the same conclusions of the IPCC report but focuses on Connecticut. The state is looking at rising air temperatures, less snow falling in the winter, more precipitation in certain areas, a longer growing season and rising sea levels.
Juliana Barrett, extension educator for the Connecticut Sea Grant program at UConn Avery Point, also said the IPCC report "is nothing we don't already know, but what it does is emphasize some of the impacts that will be felt for hundreds if not thousands of years."
"I think it's just a push to act, and southeastern Connecticut is a very active community," Barrett said. "Many of the areas there have had vulnerability assessments, action plans and the municipalities are working on what they can do in terms of planning, regulations, getting out of flood plains, or decreasing building in floodplains, as well as taking sea level rise into account in any new development that could be impacted."
For example, as part of the UConn report, researchers studied New London in an attempt to "mitigate negative impacts of sea level rise while spurring economic growth along South Water Street." In looking at Long Island Sound tide gauge data, researchers found that "The preliminary data on sea level rise ... indicates that the 1%, or 100-year storm events will likely be 20 inches higher in 2050. Trends ... estimate that approximately 68 buildings along the Thames River will be vulnerable to flooding in 2050. This is a significant increase when compared to current 100 year flood projections, which estimate only 12 buildings in danger."
Seth said Connecticut's average temperatures have already increased more than the global average — about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. She added that projections show an increase in extreme rainfall, or, conversely, the potential for more drought in the summertime.
Barrett and Seth both said Connecticut could improve in eliminating fossil fuel emissions. Barrett pointed to the infrastructure bill, currently before the U.S. House of Representatives, and how it could bolster public transportation in the state. And Seth brought up the Transportation Climate Initiative, or TCI, a plan supported by Gov. Ned Lamont that ultimately was not passed by the state legislature in last year's regular session.
Originally in the state budget, the TCI was removed following backlash, mostly from Republicans, because starting in 2023 the program is projected to drive up gas prices by about 5 cents per gallon. The measure is meant to reduce the state's carbon emissions by capping carbon pollution from transportation. Money generated from gas suppliers buying carbon credits would then go to certain Connecticut communities affected by pollution, as well as more environmentally friendly transportation initiatives.
The state legislature is expected to hold a special session this month, where the TCI may come up.
"The state is pretty progressive and there have been a number of legislative efforts to limit CO2 emissions, but (the TCI) failed to get enough support primarily because of misinformation by the media," Seth said. "The TCI didn't make it through because people were calling it a gas tax. We need to do a better job of communicating to people and helping them understand, this is too urgent a problem to be playing these kinds of games."
In responding to the climate report, Lamont and state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes issued a joint statement in August, in which they urged implementation of the TCI.
"Transportation remains the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in Connecticut and across the United States," their statement reads. "In the long term, enacting programs like the Transportation and Climate Initiative will be critical to drive down emissions in our state and region, create green jobs for a thriving economy, and clean our air, making healthier and safer communities for all."
Eickel emphasized the importance of the TCI and said she expects it to be voted on in special session. She said it would be one of the most progressive climate policies in the state. Connecticut would participate with Massachusetts and Rhode Island, if enacted in all three states.
"It's a regional approach to decreasing our carbon emissions, producing revenue for areas overburdened by air pollution. The positive health impacts will be significant," Eickel said. "The state adopted our climate goals of reducing 45% of our greenhouse gases by 2030, which is not that far away. We can't abandon legislation that will move us into that realm. Especially participating as a regional partner, we have to make a commitment to do that, we can't back away."