Updated climate report, recommendations proposed

The University of Nebraska would use federal coronavirus relief funds to update a nearly decade-old climate change report under a bill heard March 3 by the Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Eliot Bostar
Sen. Eliot Bostar

LB1255, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Eliot Bostar, would appropriate $150,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to the university in fiscal year 2022-23.

Bostar said the university’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources would use the funds to update a 2014 report that assessed the effects of climate change in Nebraska.

The funding also would allow the institute to contract with a third-party, science-based organization to develop a report that recommends specific measures the state could take based on the findings of the updated university report, he said.

Those measures would include a conservation and management plan under the federal Clean Water Act and plans for green infrastructure investments and projects that improve the state’s resilience to climate change.

Both reports would be delivered to the governor and the Legislature by Dec. 1, 2024.

Bostar said 2021 was the seventh consecutive year in which the country experienced 10 or more billion-dollar weather- or climate-related disasters. National and global climate assessments are updated and reissued regularly to reflect new data and refined modeling techniques, he said, and Nebraska’s report should be no different.

“It’s imperative that we are measuring and gauging the impact of climate change on our state with accuracy and timeliness,” Bostar said.

Martha Shulski, Nebraska state climatologist, testified in support of LB1255 on her own behalf. She said the most useful scientific reports are “living documents” that synthesize new information.

In the past three years alone, Shulski said, Nebraska has experienced widespread drought, its third wettest year on record and, in 2021, its warmest December on record, a month that also included an unusual winter derecho and 30 confirmed tornadoes. The key to helping Nebraska prepare for emerging weather hazards like those is to track them regularly and systematically, she said.

“Tracking weather trends is not a choice,” Shulski said. “It’s a must.”

Kristal Stoner testified in support of the bill on behalf of Audubon Nebraska. The 2014 report is the “current gold standard” for those seeking information on how climate change could affect Nebraska, she said, and an update is needed.

Stoner said 34 states have released or are currently drafting climate action plans and that Nebraska decision makers need similar guidelines to help them conserve state resources and build sustainable communities.

“The cost of this proposed legislation, in my opinion, is cheap compared to the implications of inaction,” she said.

Katie Torpy of the Nature Conservancy also testified in support, saying the university is Nebraska’s most trusted source for climate-related information.

By authoring the updated report, she said, the university could serve as a “climate ambassador” to help Nebraskans better understand the state’s vulnerabilities to climate change and demonstrate how adaptation and mitigation techniques can benefit them.

“The continued absence of a climate action plan not only leaves Nebraska vulnerable — it leaves us unable to capitalize on solutions that benefit our economy and the environment right now,” Torpy said.

John Hansen testified in support of LB1255 on behalf of Nebraska Farmers Union, saying the state’s agriculture sector is particularly vulnerable to climate change. The more data and knowledge farmers have, he said, the better they can plan for and adapt to changing climate conditions.

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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