The Ceres Report

Ceres reportCeres is a far reaching non-profit organization championing sustainable economies. They conducted a survey of the insurance industry in 2012 to determine how prepared it is for the changing climate. Their report on the survey findings came out in March 2013.

Ceres proposes recommendations to insurers and regulators to maintain insurability in a warming world.

2012 was the warmest year on record in the lower 48 states and the second most extreme weather year in United States history. Insurers are increasingly acknowledging that extreme weather has become the new normal, yet a new report from Ceres finds that many in the industry are only just beginning to think about how to address the effects climate change may have on their business – while a small group of companies is leading the way.

The Ceres report, Insurer Climate Risk Disclosure Survey: 2012 Findings & Recommendations, is based on 184 company disclosures in response to a climate risk survey developed by insurance regulators. Surveys were completed by insurers licensed to operate in three states – California, New York and Washington – that require climate risk disclosure. Collectively, these companies represent a significant majority of the American insurance market.

Ceres found only 23 companies in the property & casualty, life & annuity and health insurance sectors have comprehensive climate change strategies. Those companies provide a roadmap for the rest of the industry as it begins to wrestle with the issue.

The rest of this press release and links to the report are here.

GAO’s 2013 High-Risk Report

GAO report 2013The Government Accountability Office issues a High Risk report every other year. According to the GAO website:

“The federal government is the world’s largest and most complex entity, with about $3.5 trillion in outlays in fiscal year 2012 funding a broad array of programs and operations. GAO maintains a program to focus attention on government operations that it identifies as high risk due to their greater vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement or the need for transformation to address economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges. Since 1990, more than one-third of the areas previously designated as high risk have been removed from the list because sufficient progress was made to address the problems identified.

This biennial update describes the status of high-risk areas listed in 2011 and identifies any new high-risk area needing attention by Congress and the executive branch. Solutions to high-risk problems offer the potential to save billions of dollars, improve service to the public, and strengthen the performance and accountability of the U.S. government.”

“This year, GAO has added two areas.

  • Limiting the Federal Government’s Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks. Climate change creates significant financial risks for the federal government, which owns extensive infrastructure, such as defense installations; insures property through the National Flood Insurance Program; and provides emergency aid in response to natural disasters. The federal government is not well positioned to address the fiscal exposure presented by climate change, and needs a government wide strategic approach with strong leadership to manage related risks.
  • Mitigating Gaps in Weather Satellite Data. Potential gaps in environmental satellite data beginning as early as 2014 and lasting as long as 53 months have led to concerns that future weather forecasts and warnings–including warnings of extreme events such as hurricanes, storm surges, and floods–will be less accurate and timely. A number of decisions are needed to ensure contingency and continuity plans can be implemented effectively.”

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island discusses the significance of the addition of climate change to the GAO 2013 High Risk report and implores Congress for action in this address to President Obama on February 27, 2013 :

Extreme weather: Who Plans, Who Pays?

April forum flyer.5
Everyone is invited to CAAV’s next FREE public forum!

On Thursday, April 11, at 6:00PM at the Massanutten Regional Library, the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) invites the public to consider the necessity of regional planning for the increased likelihood of extreme weather brought on by climate disruption and the costs that result from both adaptation and inaction.

Over the past several years we’ve seen an increase in weather-related disasters, from named storms like Katrina and Sandy to widespread droughts, floods, and wildfires. While the direct connection to climate change can’t be proved in each instance, the trend toward more of the extreme weather events that climate scientists have predicted is being realized, along with a dramatic increase in claims on both private and federal insurance. In fact, the Government Accountability Office has for the first time included climate change in their annual High Risk Report, calling on Congress to limit the federal government’s fiscal exposure by better managing climate change risks.

The program will begin with a review of the GAO report by CAAV Chairman Les Grady and a short video illustrating the risks facing the Virginia coast from sea level rise and extreme storms. Following this, two experts representing local insurance and planning groups will address our increasing vulnerability to all the costs of severe weather and how we can all work together to create climate change resilience in the Valley.

Neal Menefee is President and CEO of the Rockingham Group of insurance companies whose predecessors have been insuring valley properties for over 150 years.
Rebecca Joyce is program administrator for Disaster Preparedness and Mitigation with the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission where cooperative solutions to problems are addressed through regional efforts and partnerships with local jurisdictions and other stakeholders.

There will be time for discussion and questions at the end.

Putting a Price on Carbon


Citizens Climate Lobby is eager to share this video on social media. Movie star Ian Somerhalder’s narration could create a large audience!

Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) provides an explanation of and opinion on carbon tax legislation here.

Among the resources available on this CCL site, you will find the full report prepared by Regional Economic Models, Inc.(REMI) explaining the positive economic aspects of the fee/tax and dividend program CCL is advocating. See a summary of this report here.

______________________________________________________________________

Energy committee

Waxman, Whitehouse, Blumenauer, and Schatz Release Carbon Price Discussion Draft | Committee on Energy and Commerce Democrats.

Mar 12, 2013

Today, Representative Henry A. Waxman, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Representative Earl Blumenauer, and Senator Brian Schatz released draft carbon-pricing legislation and solicited feedback on it from stakeholders and the public.  The legislation would establish the polluter pays principle for dangerous carbon pollution, requiring large emitters to pay for the pollution they emit.

The “discussion draft” released today contains a new and straightforward approach to putting a price on carbon pollution.  The nation’s largest polluters would have to pay a fee for each ton of pollution they release.  The legislation assigns responsibility for the assessment and collection of the carbon fees based upon the expertise that has already been developed by EPA and the Treasury Department.  Under the discussion draft, EPA’s database of reported emissions would determine the amount of pollution subject to the fee.  The Treasury Department would be responsible for the collection and handling of the fees.

“Putting a price on carbon could help solve two of the nation’s biggest challenges at once:  preventing climate change and reducing the budget deficit,” said Rep. Waxman of California. “There have been carbon tax proposals made by others.  What’s unique about this one is its novel design.  We are seeking to craft a system in which each agency does what they are good at and that minimizes compliance burdens and administrative costs.  Utilities, oil companies, and other major sources are already reporting their emissions to EPA.  We build off of this existing program.”

“Putting a price on carbon is the best way to reduce carbon pollution and slow the effects of climate change,” said Sen. Whitehouse of Rhode Island.  “For far too long, carbon polluters have pushed the true cost of their pollution onto the American people in the form of dirty air, acidified water, and a changing climate.  This framework is the beginning of a collaborative process to craft legislation that will reduce carbon pollution while also upholding an important principle:  that all of the revenue generated through this carbon fee will be returned to the American people.”

see here for more including supporting documents

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E&E Publishing, LLC, February 12, 2014, It’s lonely in the trenches for a carbon tax, but a warrior digs in, by Evan Lehman about the Carbon Tax Center’s Charles Komanoff

NPR’s Listen to the Story, June 28, 2013: Economists Have A One-Page Solution To Climate Change, by David Kestenbaum

_______________________________________________________________________

Watch this short, graphic video by Climate Reality on the importance of putting a price on carbon. “Carbon pollution is not only disrupting our lives, it’s hitting our wallets. Comedian and musician Reggie Watts shows how, laying out the billion-dollar connection between fossil-fuel energy and dirty weather events like Superstorm Sandy caused by carbon pollution.”

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Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s Ted Glick offers a compilation of news and opinions about legislating carbon prices.

A Sustainability Coordinator for Harrisonburg!

sustainability coordinatorCity Eyes “Green” Keeper: Sustainability Position Would Help Track Carbon Footprint

February 10, 2014 Daily News-Record by Preston Knight

The Harrisonburg Rockingham Green Network’s request for the city to add a sustainability coordinator may be granted a year after the fact.

Read this article here: DNRonline _ City Eyes ‘Green’ Keeper.

The HR Green Network’s letter to City Council on April 30, 2013, supporting a “performance contracting” approach and “sustainability coordinator” position is here.

The city’s beginning thoughts about a job description are here. Please offer comments about what else should be in the job description or how it should change. This is their first effort; expect it to change because they have not done this before.

___________________________________________________________________________

Harrisonburg has demonstrated the will and ability to grow smartly and care for limited resources in many ways. For example, a new bike-pedestrian plan has been approved, the school system is working on upgrading its energy efficiency, and the water plant is adopting measures to save energy and reduce costs. A sustainability coordinator could expedite and further these efforts to allow our area to stay happy and healthy long into the future.

Now is the time to plan for the future as we deal with a growing population, further development, raising energy costs, and environmental uncertainties.

The Harrisonburg Rockingham Green Network (HRGN) steering committee is proposing the addition of a dedicated Sustainability Coordinator position to the City of Harrisonburg’s government. This position would be answerable to the city manager.

Why: Streamline communication processes

Over the past few years issues of sustainability have been a major concern in our community.  Hundreds of people showed up for two different sustainability summits.  In each case hundreds of issues, concerns, ideas and opportunities for making our city more sustainable were introduced.  Issues such as backyard chickens, urban gardens, landscape regulations and bicycling and walking infrastructure have produced more public involvement in city council meetings than nearly any other issues.

Sustainability issues, such as these, are complex and require coordination among several different city departments, involve many different stakeholders, and require citizens to engage with innumerable city representatives. 

The City’s recent experience with the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan is instructive.  It took years of advocacy at city council meetings, meetings with city staff, and countless hours of organizing citizens just to get to the point where progress could be made.  Once the city identified a clear process for developing and updating the bicycle and pedestrian plan remarkable progress was made.  Creating a designated sustainability coordinator will streamline this process for future projects and opportunities.  

Citizens are frustrated by slow progress, and are confused about which city departments to talk to about their concerns, issues and ideas.  The process is inefficient and duplicative.  No doubt staff and city counsel could make better use of their time as well.   There is no reason for each and every one of these issues to come before city council several times.

What: Save money, and become a cleaner, healthier, safer city

More and more towns and cities are incorporating sustainability departments into their governments to coordinate and enhance resource conservation efforts, save money and maximize results. We can too!

Sustainability is the ability to meet our current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. This requires cooperation between sectors and long-term thinking.

Regardless of varying personal views on environmental issues, conserving resources and energy makes sense on a basic level: it saves money and positively impacts our health.  In many cities sustainability coordinators have been able to save cities money. 

How: What would a sustainability coordinator enable the city to do?

  • Coordinate the implementation of the city’s newly developed Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan
  • Identify opportunities for upgrading and implementing energy efficiency measures
  • Identify opportunities for conserving other natural resources—such as water,
  • Identify and pursue alternative funding streams for sustainability projects—there are ample opportunities for private foundation and government supported grant funding for sustainability  projects
  • Facilitate coordination among different city departments to develop ways to best implement sustainability projects like the bicycle/pedestrian plan
  • Provide community stakeholders with an access point for communicating concerns with the city.  The complexity of sustainability issues makes it difficult to engage with a variety of departments—this  will save staff time and city resources
  • Facilitate coordination with local businesses, community organizations, and universities to leverage knowledge, skills, resources, and develop plans that are cost effective, realistic and workable
  • Communicate and coordinate with a wide variety of local stakeholders to ensure that plans are cost effective, realistic and workable
  • Facilitate the development of a sustainable energy plan starting with an evaluation of our current inputs and outputs and needs for the future.
    •  Explore opportunities for conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.
    • “The Virginia Energy Plan, released in September 2007, set a goal for the Commonwealth to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2025. The reduction in emissions will be partially achieved through energy conservation and renewable energy actions listed in the energy plan.” – sealevelrisevirginia.net  Governor Tim Kaines’s Commission on Climate Change’s Final Report: A Climate Change Action Plan from December 2008 is available here and offers a wealth of information that can be utilized at the local level.
  • Coordinate and enhance current efforts of resource management and pollution control in sectors such as:
    • Energy – from building efficiencies to vehicle use to facilitating development of community solar and wind energy projects
    • Transportation – through promotion of alternative transportation opportunities, mass transit, and bicycle/pedestrian plan
    • Waste management – enhance recycling efforts (downtown recycling bins!), evaluate emissions controls, facilitate development and implementation of storm water run-off infrastructure and management programs
  • Facilitate land use planning – through promotion of urban gardens, greenways, tree planting projects and sustainable agriculture
  • Facilitate water use management and conservation –through promotion of water conservation, public education about protecting water resources, and encouraging best management practices for  controlling run-off and protecting water quality 
  • Help prioritize needs and make assessments of costs and benefits of particular projects and initiatives –there are many grants available for this kind of work
  • Recommend policy initiatives by working with city departments to assess cost and benefits to further maximize sustainability efforts
  • Advertise available resources and funding sources for residents and small businesses to reduce their use energy and resource use … like through the Community Energy Conservation  Program, and the Department of Energy’s Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE).
  • Take advantage of national programs and organizations that reach out to local governments … like The Georgetown Climate Center: Helping communities adapt to climate change and ICLEI- Local  Governments for Sustainability. The Obama administration is reaching out to local governments to facilitate sustainability adaptation. See Coral Davenport’s article.
  • Develop citizen input committees to leverage the talent and expertise in our community
  • Establish a Sustainability Award, as done in Boise and Roanoke, to generate creative thinking and motivation among businesses, organizations and individuals.
  • Promote, coordinate and leverage the considerable efforts already being made at JMU and EMU campuses and utilize the technical expertise available here
  • And more!

Harrisonburg council members need to hear from you!

Mayor Ted Byrd   Ted.Byrd@harrisonburgva.gov
Vice-Mayor Charles Chenault   
Charlie.Chenault@harrisonburgva.gov
Richard Baugh  
Richard.Baugh@harrisonburgva.gov
Kai Degner  
Kai.Degner@harrisonburgva.gov
Abe Shearer   
Abe.Shearer@harrisonburgva.gov

Dark Snow Project

The first-ever Greenland expedition relying on crowdsource funding aims to answer the 'burning question':How much does wildfire and industrial soot darkenthe ice, increasing melt?
The first-ever Greenland expedition relying on crowd
source funding aims to answer the ‘burning question’:
How much does wildfire and industrial soot darken
the ice, increasing melt?

dark snow request

Fossil Fuel Divestment

fossil free350.org’s Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign, launched during Bill McKibben’s Do the Math Tour last fall, asks institutions to pull investments from the “publicly-traded companies hold(ing) the vast majority of the world’s proven coal, oil and gas reserves.”

divestiture campaignsCities, colleges, churches and other institutions are increasingly committing to pursuing fossil fuel divestment. Could Harrisonburg and its institutions consider this?

Click on the US map image on the right to find out how to start such a campaign.

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john fullertonJohn Fullerton, former JPMorgan Managing Director, and founder and president of the The Capital Institute, discusses fossil fuel divestment and the carbon asset bubble with Laura Flanders on an episode of her show in late 2013. Click on the image to see the show.

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The effectiveness of such a campaign is being debated within the Unitarian Universalist (UU) community.

Tim Brennan, Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer, Unitarian Universalist Association, voices his opinion in a February 26, 2013, Huffington Post entry: “Is Divestment the Only Solution to Climate Catastrophe?

In reply, Toby Sackton, UU member from Massachusetts, submits this “Open Letter to Tim Brennan re Divestment from fossil fuels …written in the spirit of encouraging discussion of the divestment issue in a respectful manner, while disagreeing with Tim’s disparagement of divestment.

Dear Tim,

Thank you for taking the time to write about fossil fuel divestment.  As Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer of the UUA, you have born the brunt of the growing activism among UU congregations who favor divestment from fossil fuels.

As an investment professional, this must be disconcerting.  I would like to explain why divestment should be considered as well as shareholder activism.

Shareholder activism has been beneficial, as you say, and you have some results to show.

But the victories you claim for fossil fuels – increase in fuel economy; pulling support from climate science deniers, disclosure of greenhouse emissions, and mandated disclosure of climate risk by the SEC- are all  ‘political’ victories.  They did not happen in a vacuum, but happened as companies bowed to public pressure and government action.

Shareholder activism was only one of many reasons these positive changes came about.

The key mistake you make in dismissing divestment as a strategy is this: You equate individual consumers and investors with the fossil fuel companies, as if we are all part of the problem together.

You say “it is satisfying to target the fossil fuel companies as the embodiment of evil. But those companies are only responding to demand from their customers–us.”

“The truth is, there is a simple way to really hurt the fossil fuel companies and it’s not divesting–it’s boycotting their products. And that is the real heart of the problem. Fossil fuels infuse our entire economy, the financial markets, and our lives. If you think your portfolio should be fossil fuel free, shouldn’t your life be too?”

In our view it is precisely because fossil fuels infuse our entire economy that it is imperative we choose collective political action to make a change.

Our current policies were built to support and protect fossil fuels – it is the focus of our tax code, our military, our accounting laws, our land management.  It will take a collective political movement to change all of that – not individuals who say they will buy only green energy. Divestment is a powerful statement to galvanize this movement precisely
because it says we will not accept the status quo.

The fossil fuel companies and governments already own carbon reserves five times greater than the maximum amount of carbon we can burn and not destroy our biosphere.

By demanding divestment, we are similar to the 19th century abolitionists. They also lived in an economic and social milieu defined by the evil of slavery in their midst.   The Northern mills prospered upon cheap southern cotton.  Yet the abolitionists did not call for boycotts of manufactured clothing.  They demanded an end to slavery on moral grounds.

We do not want to reform the oil and coal companies.  Their business model – the most profitable in the entire capitalist world –  directly depends on destroying the biosphere.  They do not value reserves except that they can be burned at a later date.

That business model cannot exist if we are to prevent global catastrophe.

We need to halt all drilling and exploration for fossil fuels.  We already have access to five times more known reserves than we can safely use.  Yet the oil companies continue to spend billions searching for new fossil fuel sources.

We want to reconfigure public investments and incentives in an emergency drive to create non-fossil energy sources, and pay for this with taxes on oil company profits and carbon fuels.  And as you say, you agree with this.

Divestment is a moral call to stop this madness.  Abandoning fossil fuels will only happen once there is a sufficient recognition that oil companies do not have the moral right to operate if their business furthers the destruction of our planet’s biosphere.

The purpose of divestment is not to affect the behavior of the oil companies.  It is to affect behavior of all of us – to build a recognition that exploitation of carbon fuels is not a legitimate business, and must be stamped out.

The mechanisms for this include much of what you support: carbon taxes, payments of the full costs of carbon extraction, and limits on emissions and support for alternative energy.

But these actions will never happen to the necessary extent until we come to a society-wide recognition that carbon fuel companies cannot be allowed to continue business as usual.  They must be corralled, constrained, controlled, and then eliminated as we make a transition to a sustainable energy system.

We don’t want to convince Exxon.  We want to stop Exxon from operating as a large and successful company unless they abandon all fossil fuel activity.

In our generation we have about 20 years to fight this battle.  And our abolitionist forefathers and mothers in the Congregational churches should be proud that today the UUA has accepted this historic moral challenge.

We hope you will join us in our moral outrage – as recognize that public divestment from fossil fuels is indeed a first step to further action.

Toby Sackton

First Parish
Arlington, MA”

The debate on the effectiveness of Fossil Fuel Divestiture to control climate change continues here:

“Fossil fuel divestment is not the answer”
DEBATE: Because we need a rising tide of pressure pushing for a sustainable future, fossil fuel companies need shareholders pressing for change.
By Tim Brennan, 6.3.13 (Summer 2013)

“Fossil fuel divestment is moral, strategic”
DEBATE: Money is an instrument of moral choice. Investors should transition to a fossil-free portfolio within five years.
By Fred Small, 6.3.13 (Summer 2013)

Forum Discusses Faith-Based Responses To Climate Change

forum panelists Ann Held, Ross Erb, Ehsan Ahmed, and Mark Piper
forum panelists Ann Held, Ross Erb, Ehsan Ahmed, and Mark Piper
reprinted with permission from the Daily News-Record
posted March 4, 2013
by Alex Rohr  DNRonline.com

HARRISONBURG — God made man, according to the Bible, and He gave him dominion
to till the Earth.

People the world over have used these words from the Bible’s first book, Genesis, to justify resource consumption, but some Harrisonburg clergy say these words have been
misinterpreted.

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley assembled two clergy members, a philosophy
professor, a representative of the Islamic faith and an audience of 65 recently to discuss
why and how mankind should respond to climate change. The event, titled “Can Ethics and Faith Guide our Responses to Climate Change?” was held at the Massanutten Regional Library in Harrisonburg.

The Rev. Ann Held of Trinity Presbyterian Church asserted that the confusion originates
from a few key misinterpretations of biblical text.

She said the word “dominion” or “radah” in Hebrew has been interpreted as “to have rule or to hold sway.”

“[It’s] not that we have dominion in that we own the Earth,” she said.

Held explained that radah refers to the point at the top of a plant’s root, or its “center of
strength.” It’s the point where one grabs a weed to uproot it cleanly from the ground, she
said. This in turn, Held said, means that the passage is really saying that man is supposed
to be the piece of creation that holds the Earth together.

The Rev. Ross Erb of Park View Mennonite Church furthered the semantic argument by
referring to how the word “till” has been interpreted to mean plow.

He said this interpretation has led to discretionless farming practices and soil depletion.

“That same word gets used throughout the scriptures and it’s really translated as ‘serve,’”
Erb said.

“So we are to serve this world,” Erb said. “For me that is an important twist on what God
has set us here to do.”

Held also talked about Jesus’ instructions to love your neighbor, adding that Jesus was not
talking about just the people next door.

“We are to be about interconnectedness,” she said, using the Holy Spirit as an illustration.

Thus, Christians are responsible for the “least of these,” as Jesus said in Mathew 25:40,
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for
me.”

Professor Ehsan Ahmed of the Islamic Association of the Shenandoah Valley explained
that developing nations are being hit the worst by the effects of global warming.

He noted the Republic of Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, whose president
has proposed relocating the country’s entire population as tides continue to rise.

Echoing Held’s interpretation of Christianity, Ahmed said that under Islam, “We’re
responsible for all the creations of God, which have lived or will live on this planet.”

And this responsibility, he said, extends to all one’s actions, big or small, intentional or not, including the actions of one’s society and culture.

Erb added that caring for the Earth should come down to love for God.

“We need to love with all of our being,” Erb said, explaining that Christians should show
their love by loving what God loves, which is all of creation.

“Part of creation care is using less,” Erb said. “What we believe is worth very little if we’re
not willing to put it into practice,” by taking action to at least decrease individual
consumption.

And just to be sure the point got across, the alliance invited a philosophy professor to give
the pragmatic point of view.

Mark Piper, assistant professor of philosophy at James Madison University, explained with
applied ethics that people should take care of the planet, simply because it’s in their best
interest.

Under instrumental value theory, he said, Earth’s ecosystem has worth only in its relation to human interaction.

Humankind needs water and earth to survive, thrive and propagate.

So, Piper said, taking care of these resources is “conducive to our interests,” and thus
worth human devotion.

After outlining why people should protect Earth’s ecosystem, the group discussed how to
do so on micro and macro scales.

They suggested small adjustments, like simply consuming less food and buying fewer
products, something everyone can do.

But they argued that environmental issues have been pushed aside for short-term
economic gains on a societal scale and that these problems require a grander approach.
“Are you all in any of your churches discussing nonviolent civil disobedience?” Cathy
Strickler, who founded the local group, asked.

The answer was a resounding “no,” but alliance members said they had begun to speak
their voice in a public way.

Many had just returned from Washington, D.C., where they attended a climate rally
advocating against the Keystone XL pipeline that would connect oil fields in Canada with
refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Behavior has to change. People have to change,” Piper said. “People have to act
differently.”

Contact Alex Rohr at 574-6293 or arohr@dnronline.com

JMU Climate Action Report

JMU Climate Action ReportJMU logo

JMU Climate Action Report Update 1, December 2012

This document discusses progress and revisions since the 2010 report. Noteworthy environmental achievements include diverting more waste to a composting program, transforming campus transportation, implementing environmental policies, adopting student environmental literacy learning outcomes and an assessment, fostering student-led environment programs, integrating environmental stewardship across the curriculum, creating an employee conservation program, and greening operations. Integration into the planning process, cross-divisional collaboration, and stakeholder support at all levels are key to success. …