Elisabeth Infield Henry Renski Wayne Feiden
The impacts of climate change are already being felt today and will continue to be felt for centuries. Thousands of scientists from around the world emphatically agree that anthropogenic emissions (emissions related to human activities) have caused an increase in the average global temperature since pre-industrial times, and will continue to elevate temperatures unless CO2 and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are drastically reduced (Working Group I 2021). Many governments at all scales around the globe have taken steps to mitigate GHG emissions. The US Environmental Protection Agency, for example, has set more stringent standards for the fuel efficiency of new gas-powered vehicles, with the aim of lowering the emissions produced by those vehicles in the future (US EPA 2021). At the state level, some governments are taking stronger steps to mitigate GHG emissions. Massachusetts has offered numerous incentives to homeowners and housing developers to install low- or zero-emission heating and cooling systems (“Residential Rebates & Incentives for Homeowners, Renters, & Landlords” 2022).
For many governments, especially state and local governments, however, the pressures of climate change have become immediate and real. Many communities are now looking to begin the process of adapting to projected climate change hazards preemptively. To address this, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental and Energy Affairs (EOEEA) created the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program in 2017. This program offers municipalities grant funding in two categories: the Planning Grant and the Action Grant. The Planning Grant provides funding for municipal planners to “assess their vulnerability to and prepare for climate change impacts, build community resilience, and receive designation as an MVP Community” (MVP Team 2022). The Action Grant, which communities may apply for after completing a Planning Grant-funded plan, offers funding (75% of project cost) to support municipal resilience-building projects. These programs vary from town-wide assessment and education campaigns to specific construction projects that build resilience to climate threats in a community. As of 2022, the MVP program has delivered Planning Grants to most Massachusetts towns and cities and funded well over a hundred Action Grant projects in locations across the state. After five years of operation, I believe the program is ripe for evaluation.
The MVP program lists nine “Core Principles,” designed for municipalities to incorporate into their Planning Grants. These principles shape the environment in which resiliency planners develop their applications, and presumably guide grant issuers in their decision-making process when allocating awards. Of the nine principles, I am most interested in evaluating the overall program’s success at advancing number four: “Increasing equitable outcomes for and supporting strong partnerships with Environmental Justice and Climate Vulnerable Populations,” (“MVP Core Principles” 2017). Whereas other climate mitigation and adaptation programs in Massachusetts or elsewhere have often set goals to be proactive, address regional issues, and use innovative or nature-based techniques, the centering of justice and equity for underserved and marginalized populations is still somewhat unique among government-funded grant opportunities in climate adaptation. As I will discuss, the impacts of climate change around the world are likely to be unequally felt by different populations. Even within the state of Massachusetts, some communities are more likely to suffer severe health and economic consequences of climate change than others.
The MVP program set out with a mission to support those highly vulnerable communities. The program, however, does not operate unilaterally, making decisions on how to best spend money on climate adaptation. Each municipality that joins the MVP program must produce a Planning Report, with funds from the MVP Planning Grant. The Planning Report is a summary of findings from a planning process known as a Community Resilience Building Workshop. The Community Resilience Building Workshop, designed by The Nature Conservancy, contains a series of activities which are facilitated by a core team within a planning department or consultants. Groups of stakeholders and officials from various fields within the community come together to assess the hazards that pose the greatest threat to the community, its strengths and weaknesses, and strategies to improve community resilience. The Community Resilience Building process and the resulting Planning Report shape each Massachusetts community’s climate adaptation priorities. Analysis of the Planning Reports can reveal how communities are prioritizing climate adaptation, and whether they are prioritizing Environmental and Climate Justice goals in accordance with the MVP Core Principles.