Climate Change and South Carolina

Climate change is damaging South Carolina’s economy and livability. The impacts will get much more severe over time and disproportionately harm disadvantaged communities, who are least responsible for its causes and have fewer resources for adaptation and recovery. Our state and local communities must urgently develop equitable mitigation and resilience plans that incorporate sound science, emerging best practices, and robust stakeholder input. 

The consequences of steady increases in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by human activities have been studied exhaustively for decades. More than 97% of climate scientists around the world agree that carbon dioxide and other GHG emissions are driving an increase in average global temperatures. Fossil-fuel combustion is the main source of GHG emissions in the United States. Fortunately, we have a valuable opportunity to drastically cut our emissions and grow our economy by investing in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean transportation. 

As of 2021, South Carolina is ranked 28th nationally in per-capita carbon dioxide emissions related to various energy uses. That rate has been trending downward since its peak in 2004, largely thanks to the retirement of coal-fired power plants. Coastal Conservation League is working tirelessly toward accelerating the retirement of our state’s remaining coal plants.  

Methane, also known as natural gas, is another potent GHG that should be more closely monitored, especially as it displaces coal as a fuel source for generating electricity. 

Methane emissions are responsible for about 30% of the rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution, and the energy sector contributes more than a third of those emissions. Methane can leak from every segment of the supply chain, including wellheads, pipelines, and burners. Gas-fired power plants also still emit carbon dioxide at about half the rate of coal-fired power plants.  

Changing weather patterns are expected to expose many sectors of the South Carolina economy to stresses that may significantly undermine their productivity, including tourism, agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. Drought, invasive species, dieback of forests, fish and shellfish reductions, and species loss are but a sampling of the problems associated with a warming climate. Research has shown that natural resources contributed more than $30 billion to the state economy annually and supported more than 200,000 jobs.  

South Carolina is already experiencing notable increases in nighttime and winter temperatures, as well as chronic nuisance flooding due to sea-level rise. In historic downtown Charleston, the average frequency of flood events has increased dramatically since the 1940s, from less than once per year to about 70 times per year. 

With 2,876 miles of coastline and a heavy dependence on coastal tourism-based tax revenue, sea-level rise poses a disproportionate threat to the natural resources and economy of our state. As oceanic warming increases, South Carolina will be faced with more flooding, more shoreline erosion, and further loss of coastal wetlands due to saltwater intrusion. 

At the global scale, climate scientists have documented the continued loss of arctic sea ice, glacial retreat, extreme weather events, and the first decade of the 21st century as the hottest on record. 

Coastal Conservation League is committed to advancing equitable climate policy solutions to protect the people, resources, and natural environment of South Carolina, while doing our part in the global struggle against climate change.

Staff Contact

Taylor Allred · [email protected]

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