If We Are To Avoid the Worst Effects of Climate Change, We All Must Take Action

Photo of Gregory H. Smith
Gregory H. Smith
Director & Chair, Administrative Law Department and Managing Director of State Capital Office
Adam M. Dumville
Director and Vice Chair, Administrative Law Department
Published: New Hampshire Business Review
May 11, 2023

As we are approaching a tipping point, it is now far too late to entertain any serious doubt as to the potential drastic effects of climate change caused primarily by emissions of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion. Nearly [or Almost] all countries in the world joined the Paris Agreement in 2015 that set an essential target of keeping the global temperature rise between 1.5 and 2.0 C. To do that, global emissions must be reduced by 50%, from 2005 levels, by 2030, and 100% by 2050. But, while emissions slowed from 2010 to 2020, without immediate and widespread implementation of significant new measures, rather than a 50% reduction, total current emissions are on a path to increase by 50%. Unless we take action, this will lead to a catastrophic change in human living conditions everywhere as well as destruction of the natural ecosystem. We will see this kind of change arising from the ground up, literally and figuratively, and we can see such changes already showing signs of accelerating.

For example, it was recently reported that the New Hampshire Department of Transportation is designing a replacement bridge between Hampton Beach and Seabrook to accommodate a 4 feet sea rise level.  At that level, however, any approaches to the bridge would be under water and inaccessible.

Nevertheless, following on the federal Infrastructure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest federal climate change legislation in history, burgeoning initiatives at the State and local level are encouraging, even though the pace of the response must increase dramatically to be effective.

Addressing causes of climate change, on July 1, 2022, New Hampshire adopted the 2018 International Building Code and 2018 International Energy Conservation Code.  The source of these environmental sustainability standards, the International Code Council, has already published the 2021 Energy Conservation Code, and is working on 2024 standards.  The Energy Efficiency Code establishes minimum energy efficiency standards in both new and existing, residential and commercial buildings for walls, floors, ceilings, lighting, windows, doors, HVAC and boiler operations, duct leakage and air leakage.  Many other states, including the other New England States and New York, have already implemented, in whole or in part, the requirements of the 2021 Energy Conservation Code.  Massachusetts, for example, has adopted a Stretch Energy Code, that emphasizes energy performance over basic prescriptive standards to achieve greater efficiency often at reduced overall costs.  This code allows municipalities to opt-in to more effective requirements that will ensure new construction that will promote compliance with the State’s greenhouse gas emission limits.

To respond to the urgency of the climate crisis, businesses, and municipalities may, of course, take it upon themselves to do more than is strictly required by current law at any point in time.  Municipalities in New Hampshire are permitted by law to adopt higher standards in their building codes for construction, remodeling, and maintenance of all buildings in that municipality, provided such regulations are no less effective than the State building code.  For example, a municipality can adopt the current version of the Energy Conservation Code to achieve greater energy efficiency or it could require compliance with the Zero Code, which defines energy efficiency measures including on-site renewable energy consumption, and off-site renewable energy procurement, to produce zero-carbon emissions buildings.

Some municipalities in the State, including, Dover and Keene, have already adopted more effective regulations and incentives to improve energy efficiency.  Durham, leading the pack, in 2011 adopted a local ordinance that requires compliance with the “current printed edition of the Energy Efficiency Code . . . for all energy code construction.”  Keene provides incentives for construction that complies with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (“LEED”) framework for healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings, that will  generate environmental and social benefits.  It also relies on the International Green Construction Code, issued by the International Code Council, that promotes design and construction that will deliver sustainable, resilient, high-performance buildings.

Even if municipalities have not adopted higher energy efficiency standards, businesses as environmental stewards, may require that any construction or maintenance of their existing or new structures comply with the latest Energy Efficiency standards, LEED, or the Zero Code.  While these codes promote energy efficiency and thereby reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the concomitant reduction in energy consumption (and loss) inevitably reduces costs.  Such climate change leadership also provides an opportunity for deserved reputational benefits.  In addition to the collective benefits to the community at large, promoting sustainability through energy efficiency and other measures, supports socially responsible marketing messages, and, as awareness of the climate crisis grows, it may also serve to attract employees and talent to the organization.

For those municipalities and businesses interested in doing more, they can perform a comparison of their performance with the most recent Energy Efficiency Code, LEED, and/or Zero Code and undertake corresponding improvements on a schedule that recognizes the indisputable urgency of 2030.