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Regional Alliances Forge Ahead in California and New Jersey, Expanding in Scope and Impact

*En Español*

Some climate-related projects start local and stay local – but in other cases, there may be an opportunity to expand the initiative to broader scales.

While working as a senior scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife-in 2015, Amber Pairis did exactly that. Over the course of just four years, she brought together more than 280 organizations, agencies, and groups of people keen to address climate change adaptation. While they initially formed a climate science alliance specific to the south coast of California, they have since expanded and now are involved in projects at a more national level as well, as the Climate Science Alliance.

Pairis says she saw the need for local experts and stakeholders to work together to achieve their common goals at a regional level and wanted to create space “where everyone could come to the table and have a voice.” Her hard work resulted in a collaborative team of researchers, managers, leaders, community members, NGOs, businesses, artists, and educators that continues to grow exponentially.

“There are so many great efforts out there and I wanted the Alliance to be a place where we could support and promote those efforts, but also weave them together when appropriate to have a bigger impact together than alone,” she explains.

“There are so many great efforts out there and I wanted the Alliance to be a place where we could support and promote those efforts, but also weave them together when appropriate to have a bigger impact together than alone.”

To set her plans in motion, Pairis began reaching out to numerous existing groups to form the alliance. Early on, the coalition began building unique partnerships and projects, including one initiative where seven climatologists and seven ecologists volunteered to create a regional report on the state of climate science and impacts to ecosystems in the south coast of California.

“This was a project that came together with no money and no mandate,” Pairis says. “These researchers committed their time because they believed that we needed to know where we stood – what we knew and what we didn’t know – to really identify those research gaps in a useful way.”

Their efforts resulted in a detailed, highly tailored 140-page report on how ecosystems and local communities in southern California are being affected by climate change events – such as increasing temperatures, decreases in spring and summer precipitation, and more prevalent wildfires – and what the impacts may be down the road. This technical report was included as part of California’s 4th Climate Assessment, and a condensed and easily accessible version of the report was created for natural resource managers and conservation planners.

Since then the Alliance has hosted many regional meetings (including ones specifically for Indigenous people), educational workshops and networking events. At many of their workshops, members of the Alliance show participants how to incorporate climate change goals into their existing projects. Workshops are adapted for different audiences, whether it be a high school science class, public agencies, or other professionals.

To raise awareness of regional climate change issues in southern California, the Alliance created a pocket guide of climate change impacts in the region along with a set of actions that anyone can take to minimize climate impacts on local wildlife.

“The whole premise behind this was that we wanted everyone to have access to the information, regardless of whether they are engaged on the topic or not. Individuals who may or may not have a science background can understand what climate change means for where they live and that they are part of the climate change solution.,” Pairis explains. “These climate change pocket guides are in every library in the county, in English and Spanish.”

Such a huge group with many diverse goals and initiatives requires a high level of coordination. As the alliance grew in size, three subcommittees were created to specialize in different aspects of the alliance’s mission: the “Green Team” focuses on opportunities for innovative community engagement, the “Blue Team” focuses on building capacity to support local decision-making, and the “Orange Team” works to build resilience by coordinating actions across organizations.

Regional, cross-sector initiatives to tackle climate change undoubtedly require a lot of coordination, and there are different ways for these groups to remain cohesive. On the East Coast, the New Jersey Climate Change Alliance (NJCCA) is coordinated by two university programs at Rutgers University.

“The connection to an academic institution brings strong credentials to the work of the NJCCA so that it has become the ‘go-to’ voice on climate change policy in New Jersey for the media, legislators, executive branch policy-makers and thought leaders,” explains Robert Kopp, a faculty member at the university who advises the initiative.  “The University’s role helps ensure that the Alliance’s work is evidence-based and viewed as neutral and legitimate by stakeholders.”

The NJCCA includes more than 45 organizations representing public, private, non-governmental and academic sectors. It facilitates dialogues among stakeholders, conducts climate change analyses, develops decision-making tools for regional climate change issues, and offers evidence-based policy recommendations to the government, among other things.

As for the California-based Climate Science Alliance, it continues to grow and expand its geographic scope. For instance, the Alliance is now in the midst of launching a project focused on advancing climate adaptation and ecosystem conservation in Puerto Rico. In January 2019, Pairis was also hired to help start the Center for Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Here, she hopes to use a similar model as the Climate Science Alliance in the academic setting.

Pairis emphasizes that flexibility and adaptability are essential for the Alliance’s success. She says, “I spend time listening to what people need and where they need help, and I think that is what has continued to make the Alliance relevant and continue to grow the way that it does – is that we are continuously pivoting and changing what we do based on what the partners need.”

Story by: Michelle Hampson (Sept. 2019).

Banner image credit: Climate Science Alliance.

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