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Climate change presents challenges — and in some cases, opportunities — for local communities in the Northeast. Cornell experts gathered community leaders and researchers to tackle climate change education, communication, mitigation and adaptation projects during the Local Climate Action Summit held Sept. 28 in New York City.

The summit featured talks from non-governmental organizations and municipalities working to support local climate action and was hosted by Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions (CICSS), New York Sea Grant (NYSG), the Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay and the David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. The event included updates from researchers on community impacts and needs, and a session generating stakeholder input on an Extension Volunteer Climate Stewards Program.

Typically, extension master volunteer programs (such as the popular Master Gardeners program) recruit volunteers who receive training on a particular topic and then work in their community on those designated projects. The program connects volunteers to a research-based curriculum to conduct peer-to-peer outreach. Master volunteers work with experts from land-grant universities and serve as a bridge to their communities to increase the reach of programming on important topics, which are, in this case, climate change science, mitigation and adaptation.

Stakeholders at the summit discussed ways of increasing climate action, barriers to local climate action and provided input as to how trained Extension Climate Steward Volunteers could help their community with local climate change planning and projects.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA) funded a project to conduct a needs assessment for the Volunteer Climate Stewards Program, which was led by CICSS, NYSG, University of Maryland and the Northeast Climate Hub.

“Communities have much to gain from addressing climate change challenges and opportunities but sometimes there are not enough resources available to act comprehensively,” said Katherine Bunting-Howarth, NYSG’s interim director. “Through developing groups of stewards trained to assist communities in climate mitigation and adaptation actions we hope to grow local capacity to prepare New Yorkers for the future.”

NYSG and CICSS were recently awarded a Smith Lever grant to develop the program for New York. During this three-year project, Sea Grant and CICSS will design, pilot and implement the program in four different regions of New York state.

NYSG, a cooperative program of Cornell and the State University of New York, is one of 33 university-based programs under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Sea Grant College Program. The program coordinates numerous climate change extension projects designed to mitigate effects and inform coastal communities along New York’s Atlantic Ocean and Great Lakes coastlines. In response to record high water levels in 2017, for example, NYSG provided funding to Cornell investigators to survey the impacts of inundation and erosion. Other studies covering topics ranging from improving storm surge modeling used for flood prediction, to impacts of sea level rise on coastal habitats have also been supported.

NYSG also worked with partners and local governments to provide training opportunities that will improve the resilience of communities to the impacts of climate change and other community stressors.

There are several initiatives supported by NYSG to bring climate science to the classroom. The organization collaborated with the NYSDEC to create a set of nine place-based lesson plans and activities to help middle school teachers and students understand climate change close to home. NYSG also participated in the three-year Resilient Schools Consortium (RiSC) Project, engaging underserved middle and high school teachers and students in South Brooklyn.

Learn more the summit at the New York Sea Grant website.

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