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Shawn Latourette, NJDEP


Opinion: Taking Strategic Action to Fight Climate Change

TOM GILBERT / NJ CONSERVATION FOUNDATION — Every passing week, it seems, brings a new reminder of the many ways our climate is changing, and not for the better. Most recently it was a storm fed by tropical moisture that deluged New York City with two months’ worth of rain in 24 hours, causing severe flooding. In other places, it has been record-breaking heat, drought and wildfires.

Human reliance on fossil fuels is altering the world as we know it. Reliance on gasoline, natural gas and oil produces carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases that trap the sun’s heat in the atmosphere. This warming leads to more extreme weather events, as well as sea-level rise.

As a coastal state with shorelines on the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay, New Jersey is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

To help the state address current climate threats and prevent worsening impacts in the future, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) just released a draft Strategic Climate Action Plan. The plan lists a multitude of actions that can be taken, or are already being taken.

“New Jersey is at a critical juncture in responding to the effects of climate change, which pose the greatest long-term threat to our health, safety, environment and economy,” said DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette. “The Murphy Administration has already taken bold and crucial steps to mitigate the impacts of increasingly severe storms, rising sea levels, flooding and extreme heat through regulatory and legislative means, and we cannot let up in confronting these issues.”

The proposed plan will guide policies and actions in several key areas:

Reducing climate pollutant emissions – The first step in slowing climate change is to reduce emissions. New Jersey is aiming for a 50% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and 80% by 2050. To achieve these targets, the DEP is focusing on the two main sources of greenhouse gas emissions – buildings and motor vehicles. The state will continue to pursue renewable energy from solar and offshore wind projects. It will promote electrification of buildings and facilities from non-fossil sources, advance zero-emission electric vehicle initiatives, and pursue reforms leading to greater energy efficiency and emissions reductions in power plants and industrial facilities.

Building climate resilience – To protect lives and property against climate impacts, the state must prepare for more intense storms and weather extremes. The action plan reflects current initiatives to enhance resilience and identifies new protective actions. These include improving beach and dune protection; developing a statewide extreme heat mitigation initiative, including planting more urban trees; improving stormwater and wastewater infrastructure; and investing in coastal and flood infrastructure projects. Also included is expanding the Blue Acres buyout program for flood-prone properties.

Securing and protecting natural and working lands – Natural lands are among our greatest allies in fighting climate change. Forests, wetlands, and agricultural lands act as carbon sinks by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in vegetation and soils. The action plan calls for the DEP to further protect and enhance these types of lands as part of the state’s Natural and Working Lands Strategy.

Ensuring climate equity and justice – The action plan supports ongoing efforts to provide environmental justice for New Jersey’s communities of color and lower-income communities. These groups experience disproportionately high amounts of air and climate pollution, as well as higher risks for flooding and extreme heat.

The DEP should be applauded for its commitment to creating a broad-ranging plan to guide the state’s response to our changing climate. It is especially heartening to see the high value placed on protecting and stewarding New Jersey’s natural lands.

However, the recommendations related to forests are missing two important points: the need to reduce the deer population to sustainable levels so that our forests will regenerate and continue to store large amounts of carbon into the future; and the importance of letting intact middle-aged forests continue to mature into old-growth to store large amounts of carbon.

A new study by Dr. Jay Kelly and Jessica Ray of Raritan Valley Community College sheds important light on the value of protecting intact forests. Kelly and Ray studied forests growing on former farmland in northern New Jersey, and compared them to forests growing on lands that had never been disturbed by agriculture.

The study found that forests growing on land never cleared for agriculture are storing twice as much carbon in the soil as forests that were once cleared to become farmland. These “primary” forests are among those that should be designated as protected carbon reserves.

The Forest Stewardship Task Force convened by State Senator Bob Smith called for reducing the deer population and establishing carbon reserves, among the comprehensive set of recommendations they developed to better protect and manage New Jersey’s public forestlands.

A changing climate may be our “new normal,” but it’s possible to take bold action on many fronts to protect lives and property, and to prevent even more severe impacts in the future.

To read the Strategic Climate Action Plan, go to The DEP is accepting public comments on the plan through Oct. 18. Even though the plan is robust, it can still be strengthened! To comment, go to

To read the Kelly-Ray study on forests, go to

Tom Gilbert is Co-Executive Director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

Meet the Climate Corps

Angel Alguera, Rutgers Climate CorpsAngel Alguera
I am a first-year Atmospheric Science master’s degree student in the Department of Environmental Sciences, and my work focuses on meteorology and applications of climate change resiliency. My professional interests include severe weather forecasting and community preparedness regarding weather-related disasters. I work with Dr. James Shope at the NJ Climate Change Resource Center to produce applied research and reports relevant to New Jersey stakeholders. I currently assist with climate change data analysis, large dataset management, and report writing.

Daniel GilkesonDaniel Gilkeson
I’m a second-year master’s student in the City and Regional Planning Program with a concentration in environmental planning. As a planner, I hope to build more resilient communities in the face of increased risk due to climate change. With the Climate Change Resource Center, I am working on a project to aid the state in an update of its floodplain buyout program, known as Blue Acres, to be more proactive and comprehensive. Prior to this position, I interned in the Community and Economic Development Office at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Association. I’m also an AmeriCorps alum, having completed a year of service working on affordable housing in Nashville, Tennessee.

Benjamin GoldbergBenjamin Goldberg
I am a second-year Master of City and Regional Planning student concentrating in climate adaptation and resiliency planning, with experience in sustainable food systems. I joined the Climate Corps last summer to help develop a GIS-based food waste recovery tool, and currently support community resilience through flood vulnerability analysis. I hold a B.A. from Middlebury College and a Certificate in Ecological Horticulture from UC Santa Cruz.

Surya Jacob, Rutgers Climate CorpsSurya Jacob
I am a graduate student in the Master of City and Regional Planning program at the Bloustein School concentrating in community development, focused on housing, land and finance, as well as pursuing the Real Estate Development/Redevelopment Certification. Prior to Bloustein, I worked as an architect and interior designer in India and Canada and am pivoting towards a career in urban planning to engage in extensive projects at the macro level. My interests include affordable and mixed income housing, urban redevelopment, and housing finance, and I am deeply passionate about climate resilience in community planning. Being part of Climate Corps is a foundational step towards helping to solve equity issues in vulnerable communities along the coastal region.

Vineesh Das Kodakkandathil, RutgersVineesh Das Kodakkandathil
I am an urban planner with five years of professional experience in community-led ecotourism development and land use and environment management planning in ecologically sensitive areas. I have worked on and conducted extensive environmental sensitivity analyses, flood and landslide vulnerability assessments, and human impact assessments with the help of GIS tools. I’m currently pursuing my master’s in City and Regional Planning at Bloustein School with a concentration in Transport Planning and GIS.

Douglas LeungDouglas Leung
I am working with the Climate Change Resource Center to identify vulnerable communities and places affected by climate-induced flooding in coastal New Jersey municipalities. I am a Master of City and Regional Planning candidate at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. As a planner, I want to develop strategies and solve problems affecting our cities and communities that enable more equitable outcomes in housing and transportation. I am also a recent Army veteran, having served as a company commander of recruiting in the northern suburbs of Chicago and as a reconnaissance platoon leader in the 10th Mountain Division. For fun, I enjoy weightlifting, running, reading fiction, and board games.

Nihar MhatreNihar Mhatre
I am a master’s candidate in city and regional planning at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, focusing on urban design and land use planning. Before being accepted at Rutgers, I worked as an architect at JD Studio and had my own architectural practice, Vastu Insights. My research interests revolve around designing and developing climate change adaptation and resilience strategies to promote equity in urban landscapes. Having the opportunity to work on real-world projects through Climate Corps will be an essential step in the development of my understanding of addressing climate change issues in vulnerable regions.

Justin MorrisJustin Morris
Justin is a master’s student at Rutgers University studying discovery informatics and data sciences. He is working under Professor Mark Rodgers to develop an optimization model that will act as a decision support tool for university financial investments with the end goal of eliminating Rutgers’ scope 2 emissions. He is excited to apply his background in data analytics and mathematical programming to help the university fight climate change.

Josephine O'GradyJosephine O’Grady
I am a first-year student in the Master of Public Policy program. Through the Coastal Climate Risk and Resilience (C2R2) certification, I am focusing a significant portion of my graduate coursework on topics including coastal geomorphology, environmental justice, and hazard mitigation planning. Before beginning my studies at the Bloustein School, I received my bachelor’s degree in public health from Kean University, where I first became interested in how coastal dynamics shape lived experiences. I previously served as an intern at the New Jersey State Policy Lab and currently work for the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH) team.

Jessica Parineet Jessica Parineet
I am a first-year Master of Public Policy student at the Bloustein School with a strong interest in climate change policy and related topics. In my previous work, I gained experience in a number of dimensions of climate change issues through carbon capture storage research, urban heat island research, and community level engagement as I am currently on the Student Advisory Board for the Rutgers Office of Climate Action. I am excited to expand on my interests in environmental justice and local level resilience planning through my involvement in the Climate Corps.

Dillon Patel Dillan Patel
I am a second-year Master of City and Regional Planning student concentrating in Environmental Planning and International Development. I have previously worked as an economist performing cost-benefit analysis and conducting monitoring and evaluation for renewable energy in developing countries. I have also spent a summer in western Massachusetts mapping stormwater infrastructure and working with planners to identify suitable places for green stormwater infrastructure.

Moira Sweeder, Rutgers Climate CorpsMoira Sweeder
I am a graduate student enrolled in the Master of City and Regional Planning program at the Bloustein School. My concentration is environmental planning with a focus on coastal resilience. Before pursuing my master’s degree at Rutgers, I studied sustainability at Stockton University. During this time, I interned for the PSEG Institute of Sustainability Studies, the Jacques Cousteau National Estuary Research Reserve, and NJ Audubon. I am thrilled to now be a part of the Climate Corps, researching coastal resilience as a part of the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH) team.

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