The inner harbor of Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Climate change is a global phenomenon, and it is changing the world as we know it. The situation is getting worse the longer we wait. Carbon dioxide levels are currently 419 parts per million, which are the highest they’ve ever been!
The 6th IPCC report was published on August 9, 2021, and its findings are also grave. The report revealed that the last 5 years were the hottest on record since 1850. It also disclosed that the rate of sea-level rise has nearly tripled and determined human influence to be the main cause of the global retreat of glaciers, as well as compound extreme weather events.
Even more alarming, the report states that in almost all emissions scenarios, global warming is expected to hit 1.5 degrees C in the early 2030s.
A report from the World Bank warns that climate change could put more than 100 million people in extreme poverty by 2030 if necessary actions are not taken. Many countries are now taking urgent steps to tackle climate change and its effects. The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) is set to take place in November 2021 in Glasgow and will be attended by nearly every country in the world.
In the United States, the new administration brings new hope. The President has appointed John Kerry as the first-ever Special Presidential Envoy for Climate and proposed a federal budget of over US$36 billion to tackle climate change.
Notwithstanding federal programs, various states have their own ambitious climate change programs. Some states are more advanced than others, and Maryland is one such state that has several climate change initiatives.
81,000 people are at risk of coastal flooding in Maryland, and that number is expected to increase by another 38,000. The state also experiences heatwaves—nearly 110,000 people living in Maryland are vulnerable to extreme heat, and research shows that by 2050, the number of heatwave days in Maryland is projected to increase from more than 10 to 50 days due to the increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
Given these vulnerabilities, the state of Maryland has put in place many different plans and initiatives to reduce the negative effects of climate change. In 2009, Maryland adopted the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act (GGRA), which requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% from a 2006 baseline by the year 2020.
In the fall of 2019, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) released the 2030 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Plan, which calls for a goal of 50% reduction of greenhouse gases by 2030.
The Maryland Commission on Climate Change (MCCC) was established in 2007 and officially codified into law in 2015. The Commission was tasked with developing an action plan to handle the consequences of climate change, and it was their action plan that became the catalyst for the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2009.
Other strategies and programs implemented by the state include the Clean Truck Initiative and the Ocean Acidification Action Plan. The Clean Truck Initiative is an agreement between 15 states and the District of Columbia to increase the number of electric medium-duty and heavy-duty vehicles — pursuing a goal of all sales of these vehicles being zero-emission models by 2050.
The Ocean Acidification Action Plan was developed in 2020 to combat ocean acidification. The plan outlines what is at risk for the state, as well as priority action areas to reduce ocean acidification. Maryland has also been a part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cooperative effort by 10 states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, since 2007.
Maryland has a Wetland Restoration Initiative as well, developed in 1997, which aims to restore, create or enhance 60,000 acres of wetlands to make up for those lost in the 1940s.
Maryland’s efforts have been quite successful so far. According to a report by the World Resources Institute published in 2020, Maryland leads the nation in the amount of emissions reductions (38%) and simultaneous growth of GDP (18%) in a 12-year period.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) status report from 2016 stated that member states of the RGGI have seen a greenhouse gas reduction 16% deeper than that of non-RGGI states during the same period.
Maryland’s air quality has also been continually improving for the past 30 years, with 2020 being the cleanest air ever recorded in the state. Maryland’s Wetland Restoration Initiative has also protected and restored many wetlands, which play a substantial role in protection against floods.
The Maryland Department of the Environment had a budget of US$455 million for FY 2021 and will have a budget of US$495 million for FY 2022, which is an 8% increase.
The current administration has proposed:
• US$280 million for environmental infrastructure projects statewide;
• US$57.2 million in funding for the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays 2010 Trust Fund;
• US$2.5 million over two years to shore up funding for MDE’s Air and Radiation Administration activities; and
• US$1.6 million for the agricultural sector.
However, Maryland is only spending 2% of its budget on natural resources and the environment, and should be spending much more!
Opportunities exist to further collaborate with the private sector, which would encourage a greater exchange of knowledge, skills, technology and funds to develop new climate change initiatives and generate greater support for existing programs.
Another benefit of strengthening public-private partnerships would be to share, transfer, and diversify existing risks in the development portfolio. For example, if a program or initiative experiences cost overruns, the private sector would assume the financial risks rather than taxpayers.
Climate change is one of the most serious threats to humanity with very real and visible impacts unfolding before our eyes. The 6th IPCC report paints a bleak picture for the future of our planet, and bold decisions need to be taken to change our circumstances.
We are witnessing more frequent and devastating flooding, glaciers are retreating, droughts are increasing in severity and duration, and the polar caps are melting which are causing sea level rise so many populations and countries are at immediate risk.
This will affect people’s livelihoods having the potential to trigger mass migrations. However, climate risks and impacts can be mitigated if nations choose to develop and grow in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. This is a global threat which requires all countries to collaborate for a better future. After all, Earth is the only home we have, and we do not get a second chance or have the luxury of a fallback option.
About the Author: Taalya Khan is a senior at Walter Johnson High School in Maryland, USA. She works with advocacy groups among her peers and is an avid reader and artist who loves to write about issues of interest. She has been a strong advocate for protecting our planet and the environment since an early age. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org