Date of this Version
Wilhite, D.A. and K. Morrow. 2016. The Implications of Climate Change for Nebraska: Summary Report of Sector-Based Roundtable Discussions. School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska.
This report is the result of the work of many individuals that contributed to the success of the series of eight sector-based roundtable events that were held in September and October of 2015. First and foremost, we would like to thank the organizers and the organizations they represent for their leadership in bringing together a diverse set of key stakeholders to discuss the implications of climate change on their sector. It was such a pleasure to work with such a dedicated group of individuals. Second, we would like to thank the more than 350 people who participated in these discussions for their insights as we seek to respond to our changing climate. The list of attendees is included with each roundtable report so you can appreciate the significant diversity that was represented in the discussions. These participants were engaged in the conversations and shared their ideas and concerns. Their contributions have resulted in a rich set of ideas and action items for all to consider as we continue this conversation in the months ahead.
In September 2014, the University of Nebraska published a report, Understanding and Assessing Climate Change: Implications for Nebraska1. This comprehensive report summarized the current understanding of climate change science, projected changes in climate for Nebraska, and addressed the implications of these changes for some of the state’s primary sectors. This report also documented many of the key challenges that the state will face as a result of climate change. A key takeaway message from the report was the need to identify those actions that need to be implemented now and in the coming years to avoid or reduce the deleterious effects of climate change on Nebraska through appropriate adaptation and mitigation measures. With this knowledge in hand, Nebraska will also be in a better position to take advantage of opportunities that may be associated with climate change. The report also suggested that “action now is preferable and more cost effective than reaction later.” The response to the report was overwhelmingly positive and spawned numerous activities, initiatives, and discussions related to efforts needed to respond to our changing climate and its implications for Nebraska’s economy and environment. As a follow-on to the climate change report, the University of Nebraska organized a series of sector-based roundtable discussions on the implications of climate change on some of the key sectors that were discussed in Chapter 7 of the report. The goals of these roundtables were to raise awareness of the implications of climate change on these sectors, identify specific adaptation and mitigation actions that these sectors could initiate in response to our changing climate, serve as the starting point to develop a statewide climate change action plan, and identify potential cross-sectoral concurrence and conflicts associated with the implementation of specific adaptation and mitigation actions.
It was clear throughout all of the roundtable events that there were grave concerns about how climate change would affect Nebraska’s economy, environment and the social well-being of its citizens. Current and more dramatic projected changes in our climate pose a serious threat to the state and must be addressed proactively by elected officials, local and state governments and institutions of higher education. The results of the Poll of Rural Nebraskans resonated with all of the participants and helped to confirm the urgent need for action and the widespread support for such action.
Several key recurring themes or takeaway messages from the roundtables were: Roundtable discussions around the sectors included in the fall 2015 series represent only the first attempt to engage stakeholders to discuss the implications of climate change on their sector. It is essential to continue these discussions with the stakeholders that participated in this roundtable and also to expand the number and diversity of stakeholders engaged in the conversation. This process should be an integral part of the development of a state climate action plan. The University of Nebraska should continue to provide leadership for the continuation of this process.
Participants recommended additional roundtables be organized that focus on sectors or topics such as youth, the business community, water, and insurance. A Youth Summit has already been planned for January 2016 to begin to address the concerns of this generation regarding actions necessary to prepare for future changes in climate.
The University of Nebraska and other institutions of higher education in the state must play a prominent and active leadership role in the conduct of research in support of the identification and implementation of adaptation and mitigation actions, including policy alternatives to facilitate our response to climate change, and in building awareness of the implications of climate change on the state. These institutions should collaborate to enhance existing educational programs and develop new and innovated educational efforts. Nebraska Extension must also provide leadership in the dissemination of this information to diverse audiences across the state. The solution to the successful adoption of effective adaptation and mitigation measures in the face of a changing climate requires an interdisciplinary approach that engages all relevant and interested departments and units across the University of Nebraska system, as well as on other college campuses, public and private. Many universities in the Big Ten Conference and around the country have created research and educational centers or institutes that focus on the development of educational programs and building interdisciplinary research teams and networks to address fundamental questions associated with climate change. The University of Nebraska should investigate the efforts of other institutions and adapt these approaches to the specific needs of Nebraska. The University of Nebraska should consider investing in the establishment of a research and education center that focuses on climate change.
The State of Nebraska should move forward immediately in the development of a climate action plan, engaging stakeholders throughout the process. The experiences of many other states that have already developed climate action plans should be integrated into this process in order to build on the lessons learned in these states. Given the expertise of the University of Nebraska and the leadership provided to date, it should be actively engaged in the development of a climate action plan and provide leadership for that process.