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01/28/2013 09:42 AM     print story email story  

Cities Lead Over Feds on Climate Change Adaptation

SustainableBusiness.com News

Superstorm Sandy offered another reminder of how vulnerable communities around the world are – and will be – to the impacts of climate change.

So it's hardly surprising that cities are being more proactive than federal governments - in fact, two-thirds of cities around the world are actively planning for the impacts of global warming, says the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Unfortunately, cities in the US lag on this, despite the fact that the weather was the most extreme ever in 2012, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The most active cities are in Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, but ICLEI's analysis shows that planning is just getting started in general. 

59% of US cities are developing climate adaptation  strategies, just 13% have even completed a risk assessment of their vulnerabilities. Athough cities outside the US are further ahead, with 68% in the planning stage, a modest 19% of them have gotten beyond the risk assessment stage. 

The biggest barrier to action appears to be lack of funding.

"This survey makes it clear that local governments need more federal and state support to accelerate their efforts," says Brian Holland, ICLEI USA Climate Programs Director. "It also points to the need for a broader national dialogue about the serious climate impacts our communities face, including severe storms, floods, droughts and sea-level rise. Now is the time for frank discussions about how we can prepare and become more resilient in the fact of these challenges."

Cities are wrestling with their ability to protect themselves against storms and coastal erosion (and on the flip side, devastating droughts), disruptions to local transportation systems, loss of protective ecosystems, threats to public health from more frequent disease outbreaks and rising temperatures, and threats to local economies and population migrations.

US Cities Setting a Positive Example

ICLEI highlights the efforts of 20 US communities that are taking the leading in building more resilient communities.

Some of the examples are ones we have written about, such as New York City's wide-ranging PlaNYC, which includes $2.4 billion in green infrastructure that captures rainwater using natural methods before it can flood. The city requires climate risk assessments for new developments in vulnerable areas, and is restoring 127 acres of wetlands that serve as a natural storm barrier.

Similar efforts are underway in Chicago, such as the greenest street in America. It boasts the most green roofs of any US city, since that's become mandatory for all new buildings.

Atlanta is finalizing a climate action plan that responds to the rise in temperature it's experiencing year-round. To counter the urban heat island effect, the plan includes measures to "cool" the city, such as cool roofs and other energy efficient features for buildings, the use of “cool pavement,” and planting 10,000 trees this year.

Eugene, Oregon's Community Climate and Energy Action plan  addresses the trend toward very dry conditions and the threat of wildfires, through water conservation, increased energy efficiency, and promoting climate-adapted trees for public spaces.

Grand Rapids, Michigan's goal is to source 100% of the city's power from renewables by 2020, increase tree cover substantially and dramatically improve efficiency in buildings.

Houston's plan emphazes water conservation and the city has invested in 17 mobile solar generators for emergency disaster relief purposes.

Washington, DC, is building a flood gate on the National Mall to prevent flooding in the city core, and it is also encouraging  installation of green roofs to cool the city and slow stormwater runoff. 

"The survey shows that a wide range of cities are thinking about how they can be prepared for the future. While most cities are at the very earliest stages of planning, they are talking across departments, forging relationships with local universities, and establishing multi-stakeholder task forces and commissions in order to better understand how they can foster resilience in the long term," says JoAnn Carmin, associate professor of Environmental Policy and Planning at MIT.

Read ICLEI's report, Urban Climate Adaption Planning:

Website: www.icleiusa.org/action-center/learn-from-others/local-governments-extreme-weather-and-climate-change-2012



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