At 1,545 square miles, Rhode Island is geographically the smallest state in the United States but one of the most densely populated for its size, with 1,059,361 residents as of July 1, 2019. For a state that is only 37 miles wide and 48 miles long, it is notable that its shoreline on Narragansett Bay in the Atlantic Ocean runs for 400 miles. Called the Ocean State, Rhode Island is one-third water and includes Block Island further offshore, as well as one of New England’s deep water ports at Providence.
The impacts of climate change upon Rhode Island’s built and natural environments are wide-ranging, discernible and documented, and, in many cases growing in severity. Rhode Island will experience warmer air and water temperatures, more extreme weather events such as droughts, intense precipitation, severe storms and flooding, increasing rates of sea level rise, shorter winters and longer summers, and less snowfall and ice coverage. Climate change has the potential to pose significant risks for Rhode Island’s water, wastewater, surface transportation, and energy infrastructures and utilities, the natural environment, and the health, welfare, and economic well-being of its citizens.
The first state in the US with an off-shore wind farm, opened in late 2016 off Block Island, 9% of Rhode Island’s electricity comes from solar, wind, and biomass resources, with 91%, in 2019, from natural gas—more than any other state. This will change when the 400-megawatt Revolution Wind Farm, being developed in Rhode Island Sound by the Danish company Orsted, comes on line in 2024—expected to supply a full third of Rhode Island’s electricity with renewables. A number of other renewable-energy projects are also completed or in the pipeline, including large solar farms in places like Cranston and Hopkinton, as well as land-based wind turbines in Providence, Coventry and Johnston. A small amount of Rhode Island’s electricity was also generated from hydropower. Rhode Island produces neither natural gas nor petroleum.
The residential sector leads Rhode Island’s energy consumption, accounting for about one-third of the state’s total, the second-highest share for a state’s residential sector energy use after Connecticut. The transportation sector is a close second, consuming slightly less than one-third of the state’s energy. The commercial sector accounts for about one-fourth of the state’s energy consumption, and the industrial sector accounts for more than one-tenth.
Rhode Island has taken significant actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change, often through executive orders issued by the Governor. In 2015, building on the Resilient Rhode Island Act (2014), which set targets for reducing greenhouse emissions to 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2035 and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, Governor Raimondo instructed state agencies to reduce energy use by 10% by 2019, committed the state to obtain 100% renewable energy by 2025, and required the State Fleet to purchase a minimum of 25% zero-emission vehicles by 2025. In the spring of 2017, she doubled down, announcing a new goal of 1,000 MW and 20,000 clean energy jobs by 2020. According to the 2020 Rhode Island Clean Energy Industry Report, the clean energy labor force of Rhode Island has grown by 77.3% since 2014.
In the fall of 2017, she took additional executive action calling for the development of the state’s first comprehensive climate preparedness strategy.
A year later in the summer of 2018, the resulting Resilient Rhody report was released outlining an actionable vision for addressing the impacts of climate change in Rhode Island. It focuses on critical infrastructure and utilities, natural systems, emergency preparedness, and community health and resilience.
Rhode Island is one of twenty five states committed to the U.S. Climate Alliance, which is working to implement policies that advance the goals of the Paris Agreement.