NEW JERSEY – The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has launched a new climate resilience toolkit that will help municipal and county governments take actions to protect their communities from adverse climate impacts through sustainable land use planning, according to acting Commissioner Shawn LaTourette.
LaTourette announced the launch of the Resilient NJ: Local Planning for Climate Change Toolkit during the opening plenary session of the New Jersey Planning and Redevelopment Conference, a two-day virtual conference hosted by New Jersey Future and the New Jersey chapter of the American Planning Association. The keynote session, “All Boats Rise: Investing in Climate Resilience and Communities,” addressed New Jersey’s opportunities to promote climate-informed economic development as the state confronts the present and increasing risks of climate change.
“New Jersey faces some of the nation’s most profound impacts from climate change, including sea-level rise and chronic flooding,” LaTourette said. “Our cities and towns on the front lines of this crisis need support, and DEP is eager to partner with our local governments, each of which faces unique vulnerabilities. The Resilient NJ: Local Planning for Climate Change Toolkit provides valuable resources for developing community-specific, science-based strategies and actions that will protect homes, businesses, critical infrastructure, and natural resources.”
The toolkit has been developed as part of Resilient NJ, DEP’s local government resilience planning assistance program. The toolkit guides municipalities through the process of creating a climate change-related vulnerability assessment and developing local climate resilience strategies as required by changes to New Jersey’s Municipal Land Use Law signed into law by Governor Murphy in February.
“Decisions by local governments and regional planning agencies about zoning, redevelopment, housing, open space, and capital investment will have dramatic implications for the vulnerability of the natural and built environments,” said Chief Resilience Officer and Assistant Commissioner for Climate and Flood Resilience David Rosenblatt. “Integrating climate change into these decisions and all planning efforts will ensure investments anticipate the conditions of tomorrow, making it easier to adapt as climate continues to change and sea level continues to rise.”
The toolkit is also designed to guide communities through implementing a robust public process that will be key in setting a clear vision appropriate for each community. It also stresses the importance of assessing the needs and integrating the voices of socially vulnerable populations to ensure that the resilience measures identified are equitable in their consideration and impact.
The intended outcome is the creation of local strategies with specific resilience actions tailored to each community’s needs. Strategies may include enhanced building and construction standards; retrofitting, elevating, or replacing existing structures and infrastructure; construction of more resilient structures and infrastructure; and many other potential actions.
In recognition of the critical need for climate science to inform land use planning, on February 4, 2021, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law P.L. 2021, c6. This law requires municipalities to incorporate a climate change-related hazard vulnerability assessment into any Master Plan Land Use Element adopted after the signing.
According to the law, these vulnerability assessments must rely on the most recent natural hazard projections and best available science provided by the DEP. They must also consider environmental effects associated with climate change, including, but not limited to, temperature, drought, and sea-level rise; and contain measures to mitigate reasonably anticipated natural hazards, such as coastal storms, shoreline erosion, flooding, storm surge, and wind.
Communities that utilize this new toolkit can meet their obligations for the Municipal Land Use Law requirements and climate resilience-related Plan Endorsement requirements adopted by the State Planning Commission in October 2020. However, it is recommended that all municipalities across the state make use of the Resilient NJ program to advance their understanding of climate change and how to enhance their resilience.
Although all New Jersey residents are affected by climate change, the state’s more vulnerable populations are already facing disproportionate climate risks and are likely to face greater adverse outcomes if equity and justice are not prominent and consistent features of climate adaptation efforts. This toolkit contains worksheets to help communities integrate equity considerations into their local climate resilience planning and meet the needs of the entire community.
The toolkit builds upon numerous efforts under Governor Murphy that have established New Jersey as a national leader in reducing and responding to climate change, including the 2021 release of the New Jersey Draft Climate Change Resilience Strategy, the 2020 release of the New Jersey Scientific Report on Climate Change, the New Jersey Global Warming Response Act 80X50 Report, New Jersey’s 2019 re-entry into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and aggressive actions to electrify the transportation sector, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state.