ICLEI Launches First Climate Adaptation Program for US Cities

ICLEI Launches First Climate Adaptation Program for US Cities

Boston, Tucson and Miami-Dade County are among the eight cities and counties participating in the first comprehensive climate adaptation program developed for local governments in the United States.

The nonprofit organization ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA announced the inaugural participants in its Climate Resilient Communities program last week. The program's launch capped a month of events and developments, including the release of goals and guiding principles, that were aimed at making U.S. cities, counties and communities more sustainable.

ICLEI, like many organizations focused on sustainability, helps its members understand and mitigate the impacts caused by climate change. The nonprofit's new Climate Resilient Communities program was established to also recognize the importance of local governments' responsibility to "protect their communities from unavoidable climate change impacts" and prepare them so they can thrive despite the change, according to the organization.

In addition to Boston, Tucson and Miami-Dade, the initial program participants are the cities of Cambridge, Mass., Flagstaff, Ariz., Grand Rapids, Mich., Lee County, Fla., and the San Francisco Conservation and Development Commission in California.

Previously considered unpopular and akin to conceding the battle against climate change, pursuing adaptation in tandem with mitigation is now being broached as an important strategy.

At this year's Climate Week NYºC, Walter Bell, the chairman of Swiss Re Americas Holding, led a discussion about "the need to elevate adaptation issues within the debate on international policy and finance," The Climate Group's Emily Farnworth said in an article posted on GreenBiz.com.

"In the talk," Farnworth wrote, "speakers agreed that the case for adaptation has been the poor relation to the case for mitigation in the international climate negotiations process for too long, and the situation needs to change."

The local governments participating in the Climate Resilient Communities program realize that their communities "face serious climate change impacts" and are laying the groundwork to withstand the effects, said ICLEI USA Executive Director Martin Chávez.

The potential impacts include a rise in sea level in Boston, Miami-Dade and the San Francisco Bay Area; flooding in Boston, Cambridge and Miami-Dade; water shortages and more intense droughts in Flagstaff and Tucson; heat waves in Grand Rapids; and more bouts of extreme hot and cold weather in Florida's Lee County, according to ICLEI and the program participants.

"These communities see what is happening, so they are aggressively planning, " Chávez said. "They are the early adopters and are taking action."

While all ICLEI members can tap into adaptation planning resources and tools that are available from the Climate Resilient Communities program, the eight cities, counties and the bay commission will receive additional technical support, said Chávez.

The program is the latest example of ICLEI's efforts to help build -- and in many cases, rebuild -- American communities so they can grow and prosper more responsibly and manage a growing list of risks, climate change and energy security among them. As a former three-term mayor of Albuquerque, N.M., and a trustee of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Chávez is familiar with the challenges faced by leaders in American cities.

"This is where America's mayors are today: They have to squeeze every bit of efficiency that they can out of budgets," Chávez said.

Mayors' immediate and short-term concerns revolve around balancing the budget, said Chávez. The long-term concern, which the short-term actions can support or sink, is "are you growing your cities in a way that is sustainable," he said.

"Mayors are desperately concerned about job creation," he said, adding that the pursuit of sustainability fosters an improved economy, increased employment and a better climate for business.

"Making communities more sustainable is good for business," he said.

In a milestone for the organization, ICLEI recently released its 10 guiding principles and 81 sustainability goals for communities. ICLEI's long-awaited STAR Community Index was developed in collaboration with the U.S. Green Building Council, the National League of Cities and Center for American Progress to provide a game plan for greening cities.

The goals and principles are the first stage of a performance-based environmental management system that is expected to launch in 2012. The standards and resources released this fall are designed to help local governments:

  • Create or revise a sustainability plan
  • Conduct a sustainability assessment
  • Establish local sustainability priorities
  • Focus ongoing sustainability initiatives

The goals cover natural systems, planning and design, energy and climate, economic prosperity, employment and workforce training, education, arts and community, health and safety, affordability and social equity, and innovation and process.

Image CC licensed by brownpau.