What the World Can Learn From New England About Living in a Changing Climate

While our hearts are heavy as Paris, the city of lights, dimmed for a moment in the face of recent terror, the world will not let acts of terrorism keep us from what could be the most important climate change negotiations of our lifetime.

This past weekend, in spite of a crackdown on large demonstrations in Paris, more than 600,00 people in 175 countries held climate marches demanding a clean energy future. And today, President Obama and leaders from more than 190 nations are opening the Paris Climate Conference, also known as COP21 (the 21st Conference of the Parties).

Our hope and demand are that world leaders emerge from this two-week conference with a global agreement to combat climate disruption and transition the world toward resilient, low-carbon communities and economies. Still, such an agreement is an empty gesture without bold actions from people in regions like New England to make it a reality and push its goals even further.

That is why I am in Paris for COP21.

What happens in Paris affects all of us, and what happens after Paris depends on our collective efforts. As a region particularly vulnerable to warming temperatures extreme weather, and sea-level rise, New England historically has been ahead of the curve in addressing climate change:

• Northeast states led the nation in establishing the first successful, regional, market-based, cap-and-trade emissions reduction program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

• By 2019, New England will be coal free.

• New England states lead the nation in energy efficiency ratings, with Massachusetts recently rated first in the country in harnessing the power of efficiency to reduce emissions.

• Next summer will see the completion of the United States' first offshore wind farm in Rhode Island, brought about by a collaborative and inclusive stakeholder process, with two larger wind farms slated for Massachusetts waters.

But New England also is at risk of backsliding: several New England states are now seeking subsidies for new gas natural gas infrastructure that the market will not support and that families and businesses cannot afford. A strong Paris agreement will reinforce the importance of sustaining New England's climate leadership.

A CRITICAL CROSSROADS

New Englanders need to stop the backsliding and bolster the region's climate leadership. There are many, many milestones still to go. Currently New England is in danger of trading our addiction to one fossil fuel, coal, for another, natural gas. As I write this, big gas companies like Kinder Morgan are pushing to build a massive new a natural gas pipeline into the region - even though such a pipeline will be obsolete before it even comes online at a cost that is far too great for our business, individuals and families, let alone our climate.

Our ocean is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, with the Gulf of Maine warming 99 percent faster than ocean waters elsewhere on the planet. We're seeing whole populations of species such as lobster moving toward colder waters, which could spell disaster for New England's economy.

And a study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency shows that the pollution already plaguing iconic waterways such as the Charles River and Lake Champlain will only get worse with warming temperatures and bigger storms, making our waters unsafe to swim, fish, and drink.

CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS ARE A DAILY REALITY

Despite our progress limiting emissions, climate change is happening right here and right now in New England and our communities are woefully unprepared to deal with its impacts. Extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy, which killed 159 people along the East Coast, and last year's record-breaking snowfalls in Massachusetts, which crippled our public transit system and cost the Commonwealth roughly $1 billion dollars, show us just how vulnerable our communities and our economy are.

NEW ENGLAND ON THE WORLD'S STAGE

What we love about New England - our beautiful oceans and lakes, our stunning coasts, our pine forests and maple trees, and, most importantly, our people - are in danger because of climate change. With sea levels expected to rise by as much as 6 1/2 feet by the end of the century, we need to move beyond innovation and vision. It's time to get down to the hard work of creating and implementing climate change preparedness and adaptation plans that will allow New England communities and businesses to thrive in what is our new reality.

Bradley M. Campbell is the President of Conservation Law Foundation, the premier environmental advocacy organization focused on a wide-range of environmental issues that impact the people and communities of New England. Campbell will be attending the Paris Climate talks and providing thought leadership, commentary and updates via the Huffington Post and Twitter (@bradleycampbell).