New Jersey Climate Change Resilience Strategy and Coastal Resilience Strategy

In October 2021, New Jersey released its statewide Climate Change Resilience Strategy (Strategy), which also includes a Coastal Resilience Strategy. It is the state’s first example of both a statewide climate adaptation plan and a comprehensive coastal resilience plan. Both were required by Executive Order No. 89 in 2019. New Jersey has been affected by climate change-driven impacts, such as flooding events, storms, rising sea levels, and increasing temperatures. The state developed the Strategy to address these impacts. The Strategy also addresses building resilient and healthy communities, strengthening the resilience of ecosystems, promoting coordinated governance, investing in information and increasing public understanding, and promoting climate-informed investments and innovative financing.

Climate Change Resilience Strategy 

On October 29, 2019, Governor Phil Murphy executed Executive Order No. 89, which created the Interagency Council on Climate Resilience and established a Chief Resilience Officer. With support from the Interagency Council on Climate Resilience, the Chief Resilience Officer was responsible for developing New Jersey’s first statewide Climate Change Resilience Strategy and Coastal Resilience Plan. On October 12, 2021, the Chief Resilience Officer released the Strategy, which provides a framework for policy, regulatory, and operational changes that New Jersey’s executive branch can consider implementing to promote resilience to climate change. 

The Strategy includes main six resilience priorities:

In the Strategy, each resilience priority contains information that explains the priority and its importance. The state also lists specific strategies for each resilience priority, as well as action items to implement the priority. In total, there are 125 recommended actions across the six resilience priority areas.

For example, as strategies to build resilient and healthy communities, the Strategy identifies: integrating resilience into local and regional planning; increasing technical assistance programs to address community resilience; modifying regulatory programs to address climate change impacts and encouraging adaptation over time; decreasing the vulnerability of existing infrastructure and development; incentivizing sustainable growth and redevelopment that incorporates resilience and investment in safer areas; and integrating public health into community resilience planning and activities. 

Then, specific actions items are listed for each of these strategies. For example, the action items for integrating resilience into local and regional planning are: integrating climate change into state, county, and regional planning documents and initiatives to help guide local actions; promoting local resilience and plan integration through state planning criteria; integrating climate change into multi-jurisdictional multi-hazard mitigation planning; providing clear actionable guidance on integrating climate change into local planning; expanding grant funding to support integrating climate resilience into local and regional planning efforts; and supporting and incentivizing inclusive, equitable, and transparent planning processes.  

In addition to the resilience priorities, strategies, and actions, the Strategy also has two sections called Next Steps and Shore Protection Fund Projects.

The Next Steps section includes details on what steps the Interagency Council on Climate Resilience can take in the next six to 12 months to implement the Strategy. This includes developing a work plan and agency climate change action plans, and working and meeting with the state’s Environmental Justice Interagency Council, local government officials, stakeholders, and the public. 

The Shore Protection Fund Projects section is in the Strategy’s appendix. In 1993, the Shore Protection Fund was created to help protect the state’s coastal zone as part of the state’s 1981 Shore Protection Master Plan by funding shore protection projects. Listed in the appendix are all the shore protection projects funded by the Shore Protection Fund, as well as current project funding requests. The appendix also presents a plan for how the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection will use the Shore Protection Fund over the next five years. 

Importantly, one common theme throughout the entire plan is how the state can center equity into all of its adaptation plans, actions, and processes. To that end, the strategy states that New Jersey's approach to promoting equity through climate resilience is: ensuring climate change and resilience planning includes and is responsive to the entire community; making sure that the state’s resilience planning efforts are transparent, accessible, and responsive; directing resources to build capacity in lower-resourced communities and foster local planning and resilience efforts driven by community leaders; and monitoring resource distribution and outcomes to ensure that the state sees appropriate reductions in risk and measurable increases in resilience within all communities across the state. 

Coastal Resilience Plan

The Coastal Resilience Plan is identified as Priority 6 of the six priorities included in the Strategy. New Jersey’s coastal areas are important for the state’s economy and culture, but climate change is making coastal areas more vulnerable. The Coastal Resilience Plan is the state’s first step to developing a long-term strategy for climate change resilience and adaptation for its coastal zones. 

The strategies for this priority are: incentivizing and supporting community resilience planning; updating New Jersey’s coastal management regulations and policies to reflect sea-level rise and other climate change projections; sustaining and strengthening tidal marshes to provide ecological and community resilience; managing shoreline stabilization with nature-based features; managing coastal beaches and dunes to reduce erosion and storm damage; reducing flood risk to existing buildings and infrastructure; making smarter and more coordinated investments in coastal resilience; sharing financial responsibility for resilience; and supporting and incentivizing movements to safer areas. 

For supporting and incentivizing movements to safer areas, the Strategy elaborates that sea-level rise increases storm surge and tidal high tide flooding, which can create permanent inundation in certain low-lying areas. Thus, communities may have to move to safer locations. As such, the state emphasizes a need to think about getting people out of harm's way that is aligned with the ongoing work of the New Jersey Blue Acres Buyout Program. This explicit focus and goal-setting around buyouts and relocation assistance together is unique and noteworthy among other states’ adaptation and resilience plans nationally. 

In general, a buyout is a flood mitigation strategy where a government purchases a property from a willing seller, demolishes existing structures on the property, and prohibits future development and allows the property to naturally revert to open space in perpetuity. Buyout participants are usually paid the pre-storm or -flood appraised fair market value of their homes. As such, the Blue Acres Program assists residents who participate in a buyout to move out of dangerous flooding areas and creates open space as flood buffers to protect communities from future flooding. 

Building on the Blue Acres Program’s model, the state recommends expanding the work of the Blue Acres Program to parts of the state that are being impacted by climate-driven flooding. In addition, the state also calls for developing relocation programs and support services for buyout participants to mitigate some of the social and financial costs of buyouts by offering people guidance and potentially more money above the pre-storm value of their homes in the form of financial incentives to better enable them to find a new, safer home they can afford.

For relocation in general, the state also suggests that the state and local governments should consider: evaluating relocation opportunities in local plans for populations in areas subject to repetitive flooding or inundation; evaluating future relocation policy opportunities and obstacles; evaluating policies and funding options to support anticipated future demand for buyouts in flood-prone areas; placing limits to major state investment in new infrastructure in accordance with projections for sea-level rise and inundation; and identifying financial incentives for more resilient building in safer areas.

 

Publication Date: October 12, 2021

Related Organizations:

  • State of New Jersey

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  • Adaptation plan

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