Town Neck Waves

Storm-driven waves crash against the coir rolls and timbers used to protect what is left of the eroded coastline along part of Town Neck Beach.

Warmer average temperatures. Marine heatwaves. More frequent and intense storms and high-wind events. Sea level rise and coastal erosion. More days of heavy precipitation and inland flooding as well as more consecutive days of drought.

With 586 miles of coastline, Cape Cod has not and will not be spared from these effects of climate change that are fueled by human emissions of greenhouse gasses that lock heat in the earth’s atmosphere.

A new report by the Cape Cod Commission estimates that by the end of the century the cost of not adapting to and slowing the rate of climate change could cost the region almost $50 billion in property damage and lost revenues from taxes and tourism.

The draft Climate Action Plan, a comprehensive report released by the commission earlier this week, surveys the economic impacts of climate change, inventories the region’s greenhouse gas emissions and sets goals to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050.

The commission is accepting public comment on the 210-page report through Wednesday, May 26.

“Communities across the region prioritize this issue,” said Erin Perry, the commission’s deputy director. “We have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the effects of climate change, but we also need to adapt to the changes that are already happening.”

The Climate Action Plan was formed by a robust process of stakeholder involvement that began in the fall of 2019 with subregional community meetings before branching out into more specific working groups throughout 2020, Ms. Perry said.

“One of the key takeaways is that the cost of doing nothing is really significant,” Ms. Perry said.

The plan includes a suite of analyses that examine the costs of not taking action to address climate change.

The report estimates that if no action is taken, sea level rise and storm surges will result in about $69 million per year in damage to buildings between 2021 and 2030; $89 million per year between 2030 and 2050; and $256 million per year between 2051 and 2100. Meanwhile, tax revenue from vulnerable properties will drop as their property values grow more slowly, or decrease more quickly, than less vulnerable properties.

Sea level rise is also expected to cause more frequent inundation of roadways. Without action, the plan estimates that by mid-century, 31 miles of roadways will be inundated and another 83 miles of roadway will become isolated. By the end of the century, 200 miles of roadway will be inundated and another 700 miles will become isolated.

By 2050, sea level rise and flooding is estimated to impact 45 businesses, 415 jobs and $16 million in annual wages, if no action is taken. By 2100, inundated establishments will include 377 businesses, 6,600 employees and $271 million in annual wages, according to the report, which also estimates the impacts of climate change on the region’s fisheries and cranberry industry.

“It really makes the case for doing something,” Ms. Perry said. “One of the biggest takeaways is that we have to take collective action; action has to be taken on all levels of government.”

The plan aligns with goals set by the state government to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced earlier this month that the federal government would also aim to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

The report also includes an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions on Cape Cod to provide sector-specific goals. Cape Cod’s emissions, which comprise about 4 to 5 percent of total greenhouse gas emission in the state, stem primarily from transportation and stationary energy.

The transportation sector comprises about 55 percent of greenhouse gas emissions while stationary energy comprises about 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions on Cape Cod, the plan says.

“It is going to be tough, but I think this plan provides the framework for taking action,” Ms. Perry said. “We really need to bring together a broader coalition; when we’re able to tackle a problem as one region, like we did with wastewater, we tend to have a larger impact.”

The full plan can be found on the Cape Cod Commission’s website.

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