The Climate Center at the Georgetown University Law Center has launched a new online tool that allows the public to view actions — or in some cases, the lack of actions — taken by states in response to climate change problems.

Funded in coordination with the MacArthur Foundation, the State Adaptation Progress Tracker aims to hold states and policymakers accountable to the environment.

“The purpose of this online tool was to be able to go a step further than saying these states have plans and be able to answer how those plans are being implemented in the states,” said Aaron Ray (GRD ’11), who is an institute associate at the Georgetown Climate Center.

Ray said that the creation of the tool required over a year of research and development.

“The first step was to identify the states that had plans and then research what was being done in those states relative to the plans,” Ray said.

Even though users will be able to use the tool to compare states, Ray emphasized that the tool is focused on policy progress instead of rankings.

“We really wanted to avoid ranking states in any way or saying that this state is doing better or worse than that state. The goal of this tool was to identify what states themselves had set as their priorities and get a sense of how those states were meeting their own goals,” Ray said.

The tool revealed that only 14 states have plans in place to respond to climate change, while nine others — including the District of Columbia — have planning in progress. Climate Center Executive Director Vicki Arroyo (LAW ’94) pointed to coastal states as particularly in need of governmental response from the states. She commended Maryland and California for their efforts to protect their citizens from climate change.

“Different states face different risks. But, I would point to states like Maryland and California, which are both coastal states that have done quite a bit, looking at what the risks are to infrastructure from sea-level rise. They’ve done two rounds of adaptation planning,” Arroyo said.

California passed “cool pavement” legislation in 2012 that promoted the use of light-colored pavement to mollify the heat-island effect in urban areas.

Georgetown University Student Association Secretary of Sustainability Caroline James (COL ’16) commended the tool for its more individualized focus, which is tailored to each state’s respective environment.

“Ways that we should combat climate change are going to vary by state. In Texas, we have lots of room and lots of profitable ways to use wind power to our advantage. … It’s going to be different than in New York, where maybe we’re addressing a smog problem,” James said. “What I appreciate about this tool is that it addresses the issue state-by-state because we have elected officials in our own states who we should be holding accountable.”

Ray said that he hoped that the tool would facilitate advocacy and action from the constituents residing in each state.

“We really want this to be useful to state-agency staff or leadership to get a sense of what their own state is doing in implementing their plan,” he said.

Arroyo agreed, pointing to increased transparency as a primary goal of the new feature.

“First and foremost, it will help people across the country to see whether or not their states are doing much at all yet in thinking about the impacts that are going to be facing them,” she said.

Georgetown has become increasingly engaged with environmental issues like climate change through initiatives like the Office of Sustainability, which was created last year.

Ray attributed the tool’s development to the engagement of the Georgetown community.

“The Climate Center is a national leader on these issues, but we really pull from the strength of the Georgetown community. Two primary researchers in this project were both Georgetown Law Center alums. It really is a product of the Georgetown community, not just of the Climate Center itself,” he said.

James agreed that the university is moving in the right direction with its sustainability plan but said that student engagement is still low.

“Many universities have a sustainability plan, and Georgetown is developing its own for the first time. I’ve been very pleased with some of the efforts that I’ve seen in developing that and making sure that students are consulted about what we want in a sustainability plan,” she said.

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