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Law Center Helps Communities Deal with Climate Change

Polar bears

Global warming has implications for wildlife and brings with it both floods and drought. Now local and state communities dealing with the effects of climate change can access policy proposals, emergency responses and other resources from an online database developed by the Georgetown Climate Center.

November 18, 2011 – An online database that helps state and local communities to respond to the results of climate change has been created at Georgetown’s law school.

Adaptation Clearinghouse, developed by the Georgetown Climate Center, offers policy proposals, legal analysis, legislative tracking, emergency responses and other resources to communities faced with flooding, drought and other conditions associated with the warming of the planet.

“The country may not be able to pass a climate bill at this moment, but states and communities can start planning for the inevitable consequences of climate change,” said Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the center. “We can help communities prepare for rising sea levels and storm surges, for example, by providing planners with greater access to existing policy tools and information that they can use to meet this challenge.”

Tool Kit

In addition to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, the Georgetown Climate Center has issued the Adaptation Tool Kit: Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Land Use, a report that explores 18 different tools for responding to the threats posed by rising sea levels to both public and private coastal development and infrastructure.

Jessica Grannis (L’12), a fellow at Georgetown’s Harrison Institute for Public Law Fellow, created the kit with other students in the institute. The kit includes everything from information about building codes to floodplain regulations.

“Based on current scientific consensus, the Tool Kit offers a menu of generally used legal devices that can reduce future harms,” write Arroyo and Georgetown Climate Center faculty director Peter Byrne in a foreword. “Although some approaches may require the cooperation of state or federal government … a strong theme of the Tool Kit is that local governments have significant legal authority and tools now to plan for future changes.

Empower Not Judge

“It also recognizes that not all tools are available in or suitable for all communities, and so anticipates and supports choice of approaches by each local and state government,” Arroyo and Byrne explain. “It seeks to empower, not direct or judge.”

The Climate Center has also released Adaptation Case Studies in the Western United States, two case studies that examine water shortages in the West.

The studies cover Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Wildlife Management

Among other issues, the case studies address a strategy to protect the Greater Sage Grouse, an endangered ground-dwelling bird.

“There is one key limitation with respect to climate adaptation that is common to existing state and federal policies and authorities regarding wildlife management.” The report states, “the assumption that wildlife habitat will be static. The fact that habitat may change in character or geography under climate change has serious implications for both state policies and federal authorities.”

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