Climate Impacts on Water: Going to Extremes

Climate change is introducing new challenges and risks, and exasperating existing ones.

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Extreme weather events, extreme drought and extreme flooding are among the impacts that climate chance is and will have on water quality and availability in cities.

According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor Report, 30 percent of the contiguous United States is experiencing “moderate” to “exceptional” drought, with 82 percent of California experiencing “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. At the same time, cities up and down the east coast recently experienced higher tides than normal, known as “king tides,” due the alignment of the Earth, moon and sun.

While king tides are predictable events that are unrelated to climate change, the Washington Post described last week’s high water levels as a “preview [of the] the increasing threat of sea level rise” and called sea level rise an “X-Factor” that could exasperate the impacts of tidal flooding.

Earlier this year, the National Climate Assessment found that very heavy precipitation events have increased nationally, droughts have intensified, and flooding has increased in many parts of the U.S. The upcoming NLC Congress of Cities will dive into these topics through a two-part workshop for communities facing “too much water” and those facing “too little water.”

Too Much Water

Sea Level Rise

Approximately one third of the U.S. population—more than 100 million people—live in coastal communities that are threatened by rising sea levels and higher storm surges.

Perhaps no group has been more vocal about drawing attention to the impacts of sea level rise on their community than local leaders in southeast Florida. In 2009, the counties of Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach formed the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact to jointly reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate change, particularly sea level rise.

Cindy Lerner, Mayor of Pinecrest, Florida will speak about the impacts of sea level rise on southeastern Florida and how local officials in the area are taking action to protect infrastructure, property and lives and raise awareness among citizens and the state government.

Heavy Downpours and Increased Flooding

With climate change and higher temperatures, extreme weather storms are arriving with greater frequency and intensity. Cities like Dubuque, Iowa face chronic and severe flooding as a result and are adopting solutions to managing an increasing amount of stormwater runoff. The Dubuque Bee Branch Watershed, where over 50 percent of residents live and work, is one of the areas hardest hit by flash flooding.

Roy Buol, Mayor of Dubuque will highlight the city’s efforts reduce stormwater and flooding, including the Bee Branch Watershed Flood Mitigation Project, which will reduce and slow the volume of stormwater through the watershed, provide a safe place for overflows, protect the city’s wastewater treatment plant, and expand upon and connect national and regional trail systems. Green infrastructure techniques, such as Dubuque’s green alley program, are becoming increasingly popular for communities as a means of managing and capturing stormwater and can also have added community and economic benefits.

Too Little Water

Hotter and drier are the themes for regions such as the Southwest and Great Plains, fostering increased wildfires and water scarcity. Extreme droughts are likely, as warmer temperatures result in melting and decreased snowpacks and depletion of groundwater and aquifers. Add in western water laws, and there is a recipe for real conflict over water resources. You’ll hear from Willits, California City Manager Adrienne Moore and Wichita Falls City Manager Darren Leiker on their cities’ efforts to conserve and reuse water and to adapt for the long-term reality in which water is a scarce commodity.

Colorado is a state of extremes. Karen Weitkunat, Mayor of Fort Collins will share the impact that the devastating 2012 High Park Fire had on water quality and how it served as a precursor for the extreme flooding that occurred the following year. She’ll share lessons learned from the two events and how communities are building back stronger, safer and more resilient.

Preparing Our Communities

Whether they are facing too little or too much water, communities cannot rely on past data to predict future needs. Climate change is introducing new challenges and risks for water quality and availability, and exasperating existing ones. Join NLC in Austin to dive deeper into these topics. Learn from experts about the impacts of climate change and how you can prepare and adapt to build a resilient community.

Carolyn BerndtAbout the author: Carolyn Berndt is the Program Director for Infrastructure and Sustainability on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. She leads NLC’s advocacy, regulatory, and policy efforts on energy and environmental issues, including water infrastructure and financing, air and water quality, climate change, and energy efficiency. Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @BerndtCarolyn.

Cities Focus on Action, Not Politics, To Tackle Climate Change

For many communities across the country, climate change isn’t a partisan debate; it’s a threat to their way of life.

park1200Saint Paul, Minn.

The United Nations put climate change on the top of its agenda this week, inviting leaders from 125 countries to a special summit focused on spurring international action. President Obama in a speech Tuesday spoke with urgency, telling Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and leaders from U.N. member states that climate change “will define the contours of this century more than any other [issue].”

The voices of international leaders are the second prominent call to action this week – in a historic show of support, 400,000 marched for climate action on Sunday in New York City. Stretching at times more than 4 miles, demonstrators representing the scientific community, religious and civic organizations, among others carried banners while uniting their voices under a call for “action now.”

For climate researchers, fears that this all may be too little too late casts a shadow on what many see as progress on a long stalled agenda. Leading scientists with the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have been reported as saying we are dangerously close to no longer being able to limit global warming below 3.6° F – a critical threshold.

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Mayor Chris Coleman speaks at the convening.

But for leaders at the local level – the ones that deal with the all too real effects of a warming climate – inaction is simply not an option. City leaders including NLC President Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, Minn., Deb Lewis, Mayor of Ashland, Wisc. and Marsha Rummel, Alder of Madison, Wisc. know that the stakes are simply too high.

For their communities, climate change threatens the ability to go ice fishing, to protect the grid from increasing ice storms, to safely play hockey on an outdoor rink or to protect their iconic ecology from invasive species like the Emerald Ash Borer.

The very landscape upon which their economy, and their culture, is built is being threatened. Across the U.S., average temperatures have already increased by 1.3° F to 1.9° F since 1895 – last decade being the nation’s and the world’s hottest on record. Heavy downpours continue to increase nationally, while heat waves and winter storms have become more frequent and intense.

In Mayor Coleman’s state, Minnesota, the region has experienced a 2.0° F increase in temperature between 1900 and 2012; winter temperatures and overnight lows have increased faster than annual averages; more ice accumulates during winter; and the frost-free season has become 9 days longer – just to name a few.

Cities Tackle Climate Change

Over the course of the Midwest Regional Convening on Climate Resilience that took place earlier this week in St. Paul, which was hosted by NLC in collaboration with the Institute for Sustainable Communities and sponsored by Wells Fargo, despite the obvious challenges, the tone was remarkably solution focused.

“This crisis is at a critical period,” said Mayor Coleman during his keynote speech. “We are on the front lines—our residents are the most affected by the increasing severe weather that impacts us on a local, regional and global scale.”

panelMayor Peter Lindstrom (center) of Falcon Heights, Minn. speaks on a panel about climate challenges in the Midwest.

Cities from Minnesota and Wisconsin in attendance were invited to the workshop to develop strategies, promote discussion and strengthen engagement on the regional level. Over 60 participants from 12 different cities, many with populations less than 50,000, learned from regional and national experts and held discussions with their peers on building more resilient communities.

“This convening was about getting beyond the doom-and-gloom climate scenarios and the politics of the national climate debate,” said Cooper Martin, Program Director of NLC’s Sustainable Cities Institute. “Gatherings like this allow city officials to focus on real economic, social and environmental challenges that cities within this region are grappling with today.”

Need for Federal Action

Though the focus of the event was regional, cities understand climate change exists within a national and global context. NLC 1st Vice President Ralph Becker, Mayor, Salt Lake City, addressed the city teams, speaking to how local leaders are influencing policy.

Last November, President Obama announced the creation of the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience to advise the Administration on how the federal government can respond to the needs of communities nationwide dealing with the impacts of climate change.

climatechangetaskMayor Ralph Becker (front row, second from right) participates on the President’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience in Washington. Photo credit: Office of Gov. Neil Abercrombie (Hawaii).

Made up of state, local and tribal leaders, the President’s Task Force was established to develop recommendations on ways the federal government can remove barriers to resilient investments, modernize federal grant and loan programs to better support local efforts and develop the information and tools needed to prepare for climate change.

As a member of the taskforce, Mayor Becker gave his assurance that the federal government was listening to local concerns. Over 400 recommendations have been submitted by the local leaders calling for new programs, or reforms in existing programs to enable them to mitigate risk, engage their citizens and build more resilient communities.

Beyond Partisan Debates

For all in attendance, it was refreshing to be able to give climate change the attention it deserves – without focusing on the federal politics. The workshop’s participants particularly appreciated the opportunity to leave their daily responsibilities behind and spend time thinking strategically with colleagues.

At the end of the event, teams huddled with one another. Rather than taking on new responsibilities or additional work, many found ways to apply new strategies to work they were already doing.

“That’s the most encouraging part,” said Martin. “Participants saw that sustainability and resilience aren’t about doing more, but being more thoughtful and strategic with the time and resources you have.”

Tim-Mudd-IMGAbout the author: Tim Mudd is the Senior Associate for Strategic Communications at the National League of Cities.

 

Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA: One Less Thing for Cities to Worry About

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Had Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA gone the other way it would be a big deal for cities.  But it didn’t.  Cities own many small stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases and will benefit from not having to obtain permits for them.

The Clean Air Act regulates pollution-generating emissions from stationary source (factories, power plants, etc.) and moving sources (cars, trucks, planes, etc.).  In 2007 in Massachusetts v. EPA the Court held EPA could regulate greenhouse gases emissions from new motor vehicles.  As a result of that case, EPA concluded it was required or permitted to apply permitting requirements to all stationary sources that emitted greenhouse gases in excess of statutory thresholds.

In Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA the Court held 5-4 that EPA cannot require stationary sources to obtain Clean Air Act permits only because they emit greenhouse gases.  But, the Court concluded 7-2, EPA may require “anyway” stationary sources, which have to obtain permits based on their emissions of other pollutants, to comply with “best available control technology” BACT emission standards for greenhouse gases.  Local governments own many small stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases and will benefit from not having to obtain permits for them.

The Court reasoned that permitting all newly covered stationary sources for greenhouse gas emissions “would place plainly excessive demands on limited governmental resources is alone enough reason for rejecting it.”  EPA’s regulations would increase the number of permits by the millions and the cost of permitting by the billions.  Small sources like retail stores, offices, apartment buildings, shopping centers, schools, and churches would be covered.  States, as permitting authorities, would bear part of the burden by having to hold hearings and grant or deny permits within a year.

To avoid the result described above, EPA issued the “Tailoring Rule,” which increased the permitting threshold for greenhouse gases from 100 or 250 tons per year to 100,000 tons per year initially.  The Court concluded EPA “has no power to ‘tailor’ legislation to bureaucratic policy goals by rewriting unambiguous statutory terms.”

Finally, Court held if a stationary source is already being regulated because of its emissions of other pollutants it may be subject to BACT emission standards for greenhouse gases. “Even if the text [of the Clean Air Act] were not clear, applying BACT to greenhouse gases is not so disastrously unworkable, and need not result in such a dramatic expansion of agency authority, as to convince us that EPA’s interpretation is unreasonable.”

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About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Mayors, Residents Make Big Strides with National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation

This is a guest post written by Steve Creech, Executive Director of the Wyland Foundation.

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With cities across the United States facing water scarcity, five U.S. cities were honored today for the commitment of their residents to making water-saving choices as part of the third annual National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.

The cities of Dallas, TX, Corpus Christi, TX, Huntington Beach, CA, Bremerton, WA, and Crete, NB, led an effort among over 23,000 people across the nation to take 277,742 specific actions over the next year to change the way they use water in their home yard, and community.

Presented nationally by the Wyland Foundation and Toyota, with support from the U.S. EPA and National League of Cities, the challenge had direct participation from more than 100 U.S. mayors, from San Diego to Miami, FL, who encouraged their residents to participate in the online challenge at mywaterpledge.com.

“Access to a clean and reliable supply of fresh water is fundamental to our lives,” said artist and conservationist Wyland. “Most people do not think about their water footprint and the extent to which water quality issues can impact them personally.”

The challenge comes at a time when population growth, extreme weather patterns, water shortages, and again infrastructure all threaten access to a steady, sustainable supply of water in the United States.

The National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation provides a positive way to reward residents across the country for using water wisely and controlling what goes down the drain and into their local watershed.

By sticking to their commitments, the collective efforts of these residents will reduce national water waste by 1.4 billion gallons, reduce waste sent to landfills by 36 million pounds, eliminate more than 179 thousand pounds of hazardous waste from entering our watersheds, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.3 billion pounds.

Beyond its efforts to foster environmental change, the challenge provides an opportunity for participants from the top five cities to win more than $50,000 in eco-friendly prizes, including a Grand Prize Toyota Prius Plug-In.

City leaders, sustainability directors, and utilities managers who are interested in getting their city involved in the program for 2015 are encouraged to contact the Wyland Foundation at 949-643-7070. To see this year’s final national standings, please visit mywaterpledge.com.

Watch Al Roker & Nancy Stoner, EPA Director of Water, discuss the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.

Steve-CreechAbout the author: Steve Creech is executive director for the non-profit Wyland Foundation. He is the co-author of  “Hold Your Water: 68 Things You Need to Know to Keep Our Planet Blue,” a fresh look at the importance of water in our communities and throughout the world. Steve is a former environmental news reporter in southern California and currently blogs for Huffington Post.

Supreme Court Decides “Good Neighbor Provision” Clean Air Act Case

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Given the Supreme Court’s prominent role in deciding important issues of the day, it is easy to get caught up in the latest juicy Court mishap.  Justice Scalia erroneously depicted precedent in his dissent in EPA v. EME Homer City Generation, which had to be corrected. But don’t let that be the reason you read this blog post.  This case is important for cities.

The Clean Air Act’s Good Neighbor Provision prohibits upwind states from emitting air pollution in amounts that will contribute significantly to downwind states failing to attain air quality standards.  In EPA v. EME Homer City Generation the Supreme Court resolved two issues related to the Good Neighbor Provision.  Justice Ginsburg wrote the 6-2 opinion.

The Court first considered how responsibility for air pollution should be allocated.  This is no easy question when “[m]ost upwind States propel pollutants to more than one downwind State, many downwind States receive pollution from multiple upwind States, and some States qualify as both upwind and downwind.”

EPA chose cost-effectiveness in its Transport Rule.  So, for example, for nitrogen oxide, all upwind states have to reduce pollution at a cost threshold of $500 per ton.  (Spending more money EPA concluded would only minimally reduce pollution.)

The D.C. Circuit held that EPA must instead consider only each upwind state’s physically proportionate responsibility for each downwind state’s air quality problem.

The Supreme Court disagreed concluding that the Good Neighbor Provision allows EPA to consider costs.  “EPA’s cost-effective allocation of emission reductions among upwind States, we hold, is a permissible, workable, and equitable interpretation of the Good Neighbor Provision.”

EPA issued Federal Implementation Plans (FIPs) allocating each upwind state’s emissions budget.  Upwind states argued that they should have been given an opportunity to develop and implement State Implementation Plans (SIPs) before FIPs were issued.

If SIPs are inadequate EPA has two years to issue FIPs.  The upwind states in this case failed to submit adequate SIPs.  When EPA issued each state’s emissions budget it issued FIPs allocating the budgets.  The D.C. Circuit required EPA to give states a “reasonable” time period to propose SIPs implementing their budgets.  The Supreme Court disagreed noting that the Clean Air Act makes it clear that once EPA has found a SIP inadequate, EPA has a statutory obligation to issue a FIP.

States and local governments filed on both sides in this case.  Upwind states are mostly in the South and Midwest.  This case is a win for states and local governments in downwind states (and, of course, the EPA).

The Supreme Court will decide another Clean Air Act case this term involving regulating greenhouse gases emissions from stationary source.

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About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

WUF7: Final Thoughts on My Week in Medellin

This is the seventh post in a series of blogs on the World Urban Forum 7 in Medellin, Colombia.

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Had my trip to the World Urban Forum been limited to a tour of the city of Medellin, the trip would have been worth it. This is truly a city on the rise. Gone is the violence and narco-terror for which the city was famous. In its place is a young, vibrant city filled with new libraries and schools serving some of the poorest neighborhoods; parks that include concert halls, a planetarium and computer learning centers; and a metro system that runs the length and width of the city, employing traditional rail cars, cable cars and escalators.

Its town center or “el Centro” is filled with the wonderful and massive sculptures of Fernando Botero, a Medellin native, whose work is wonderfully sardonic and sarcastic at the same time, and includes a small gem of a museum that proudly displays Colombia’s pre-Columbian, colonial and modern artists. Its neighborhoods are diverse and reflective of a city that is growing but retaining a “small town” feel. Looking out over the city at night from a bar atop the Charlee Hotel in the Poblado, one can feel the pulsating rhythms of this increasingly successful business center.

Had my trip to the World Urban Forum been limited to participation in the mayor’s roundtable on urban equity and the new urban agenda, the trip also would have been worth it. This was truly a roundtable that demonstrated the optimism that exists among city leaders from around the world to create “cities of opportunity” — cities where the poorest and most disadvantaged are able to take advantage of what their city has to offer so they can create a better life for themselves and their families.

As I reported in my fourth and fifth blogs, in its broadest sense, the message of the mayors forum was cities are on the rise as economic centers, centers of innovation and centers of learning — what we have chosen to call “cities of opportunity” — and that cities are replacing individual states and nations as the places in which “real change is taking place.”

Had my trip to the World Urban Forum been limited to attending the various “dialogues” that focused on city resiliency and financing, the trip also would have been worth it. For here the conversations focused on how to finance cities, and how to build cities that can respond to and come back from natural and man-made disasters, but not just for the benefit of the few, but in a way that promotes inclusion and social equity.

Though the solutions that were offered are costly, what was clear is that to do nothing would be even more costly. And though it is much easier to make decisions from the top down, or to make investments that benefit the wealthiest residents, for a city to thrive and grow, every resident must be included in the decision making process, regardless of their income or social standing, and every citizen must be viewed as a likely beneficiary of the investments made.

As Michael Cohen, a professor at the New School (New York) said, it is no longer feasible to operate the way Buenos Aires and New York City have operated until now, where 60 percent of the expenditures benefit the wealthiest 11 percent of the population. “If our cities are to be financially sustainable we must find ways to effectively leverage our resources to the benefit of all.”

Had my trip to the World Urban Forum been limited to hearing Joseph Stiglitz, the Columbia University economics professor and Nobel laureate, speak passionately about the need for national and local governments to take meaningful steps to end inequality and create opportunity through investments in education, job creation and small business, the trip would have been worth it. Had it been limited to hearing Leon Krier, the famous and highly controversial architect, urban planner and architectural theorist, the trip would have been worth it. His desire to create urban environments that are inclusive but limited in size, and therefore more humane in scale, rang true as we sat in the midst of a city whose one-time modest scale has given way to skyscrapers as far as the eye can see.

Finally, had my trip to the World Urban Forum been limited to visiting the exhibit hall and witnessing what nations and cities around the world are doing to address inequality and create cities of opportunity – from Barcelona to Jerusalem, Guangzhou to Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires to Paris – the trip would have been worth it.

But in fact, this trip to the World Urban Forum 7 and Medellin, Colombia, was worth it for reasons that transcended each of its parts. It was a place for people from around the world to exchange ideas and learn from one another. It was a place where creativity was acknowledged and innovation rewarded. It was a place where one’s status as part of the developed or developing worlds did not seem to matter – everyone had something important to offer.

And it was a place that confirmed what we at the National League of Cities have long stated: cities are the laboratories of innovation and creativity, and the solutions to the world’s urban settlement problems will not happen because of national government. Rather, the solutions will emerge at the local level through the commitment of mayors and other local officials, private sector leaders who share the goal of creating “cities of opportunity,” as well as foundations, non-governmental organizations and universities.

This conference left no doubt: if those who live and work in cities are able to come together to create inclusive, resilient and financially sustainable cities, then the urban future is a very bright one, indeed.

Neil Bomberg

About the author: Neil Bomberg is NLC’s Program Director for Human Development. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around education, workforce development, health care, welfare, and pensions. Follow Neil on Twitter at @neilbomberg.

Earth Day Reflections from an Urbanophile

This is the first blog in a series on why the key to protecting our environment lies in city innovation. 

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This word cloud captures city leaders’ responses when asked to describe their commitment to sustainability.

I grew up feeling a lot of guilt on Earth Day. When April 22 of every year came around, I felt a huge pile of bricks dropped on my shoulders. How many more natural resources could we waste? How could we ignore what we were doing to our water bodies? How could I have thrown away my leftovers yesterday? For twenty-four hours, the burdens of protecting the natural environment, large and small, fell on me.

Ok, so that’s a bit exaggerated but you get my point. Earth Day often feels like this thing removed from us — a day to celebrate/reflect/commemorate “nature” as though it is a play we are not quite a part of, only a peripheral spectator (or sometimes active villain) in.

The reality, though, is this is far from the truth. The fact is the makeup of our Earth has radically changed. We have a global population steadily on the rise, over half of which currently lives in cities. Think about that — over half. And this rate is only increasing.

Yes—as a society we are responsible for resources wasted, overused and undervalued. But we are also responsible for technological innovations; creativity; and conservation efforts that have helped us make leaps and bounds in conserving natural resources, and preserving and protecting the natural environment — all the while meeting the varied needs of a growing global population.

The fact is, on Earth Day and every other day, cities matter. Cities are where unlikely partners come together to solve a problem that seems impossible. Cities are the places where people’s ideas collide to form better, more effective outcomes than any of us could imagine on our own. And cities provide the key to protecting and enhancing our natural (humans included) environment.

Take, for example, the Wyland Foundation’s National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, an annual competition, which in 2013 had participation from residents in over 1,000 cities across the United States and saved 5.4 million single use water bottles from being used—all in a month’s time. Or the Georgetown University Energy Prize, a friendly competition where small-to-medium sized local governments across the country will be competing to design replicable, scalable energy efficiency programs to win a multi-million dollar prize.

Healthy competitions like these spur creativity and innovation, but they are also capitalizing on the fact that local governments across the country are already innovating and finding creative solutions to jointly meet environmental, economic and social issues. Cities across the country are framing their priorities with a recognition of our present situation and a nod towards the future, allowing them to create comprehensive, forward-looking programs and policies that embrace the natural and human environments as inseparable.

In reflecting on his city’s commitment to sustainability, Mayor Ralph Becker, of Salt Lake City, said: “As we look ahead toward 2015, we envision continued progress to a new kind of urbanism that embraces accessibility, sustainability, diversity and culture. Sustainable Salt Lake – Plan 2015 reflects a broad and ambitious agenda to protect our resources, enhance our assets and establish a path towards greater resiliency and vitality for every aspect of our community.”

I no longer feel burdened when I think of Earth Day because I recall all the exciting activities taking place in cities to find scalable solutions to some of our most pressing problems of today. I know that I have a very real personal responsibility to protect the natural resources around me. However, reading the sustainability missions of cities across the country is an affirmation of what I know to be true; the collective—that is, cities—in fact holds the key to protecting our environment.

Raksha VasudevanAbout the author: Raksha Vasudevan is the Senior Sustainability Associate at NLC.  Through  the Sustainable Cities Institute, her work focuses on sharing innovative solutions to city sustainability challenges, from climate change and resilience to buildings and energy efficiency.  Follow Raksha on Twitter at @RakshaAmbika and the Sustainable Cities Institute at @SustCitiesInst.

WUF7: City Resiliency — Facing the Reality of Natural and Man Made Disasters

This is the sixth post in a series of blogs on the World Urban Forum 7 in Medellin, Colombia.

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Throughout the week long meeting of the World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia, there was clear agreement:

Our climate is changing, temperatures are increasing, sea levels are rising, droughts are worsening, storms are becoming more violent, fires are larger and more expansive, the interface between urban and rural areas seems to be disappearing, allowing diseases to spread to places where they once never existed, and other natural disasters like earthquakes are impacting more and more people.

Furthermore, as the world’s population becomes increasingly urban, as human settlements occupy more and more available land, natural and man made disasters are becoming more consequential.

But there was also agreement that population and density alone are not the reasons that natural and man made disasters are becoming more consequential. Our cities are becoming more dependent on technology to work; the infrastructures of our cities are becoming more complex; individually and collectively we are becoming more dependent on mass services for survival. If our cities are to continue to grow and become places of opportunity, they must be able to respond to the impacts of environmental and other changes, and resilient not just for some, but for all regardless of their economic or social position.

On the last day of WUF7 this message was driven home again and again in a dialogue that included Joan Clos, director of the World Urban Forum; Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation; Luz Helena Sarmiento Villamizar, Colombia’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development and others intimately involved in addressing urban resiliency.

Joan Clos said that “we must create a new system of organization because of the limitations of available land. The more land we occupy the more problematic is our growth, especially if we wish to be resilient.”

Judith Rodin said that everything we do in cities must be done through the lens of resiliency so that our cities and the people who live there can adapt, survive, respond and grow no matter what the shock, and do so without regard to the economic or social position of the city or its residents. She added, “Never before has humanity faced such a threat as it does today. The sheer number of people at risk at any one time is unprecedented.”

There was also agreement that to do so takes money and innovation, and requires engaging all members of society while developing strong partnerships between the public and private sectors. And lest we think the cost is too great, the Rockefeller Foundation’s research shows that every dollar invested will save $15 in future losses. “The upfront costs are huge, but the cost of doing nothing is far greater. For example, the World Bank has shown that right now 25 percent of the businesses that fail after a disruptive event never reopen. That is too high a cost.”

What then is a resilient city? Luz Helena Sarmiento Villamizar put it this way: It is one in which the risks from climate change are mitigated, the relationship between sustainable and urban development are understood, and are done so understanding that the challenge of creating an equitable city must be the defining lens.

Therefore, it is not enough to ensure that the wealthiest parts of a city come back to life; or that the downtown business district is protected. It requires that every resident, every neighborhood, every community and ultimately the entire city come together to respond to a natural or man made crisis.

“In Colombia it means that we cannot forget that poor people are likely to be the most vulnerable. If we are to meet their needs we must include them in the resiliency planning and development process, since they are the most vulnerable economically and socially,” said Villamizar.

Kathrine Vines, director of the climate change risk assessment network of C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a non-governmental organization working with 66 cities around the world to mitigate the effects of climate change, reiterated this point. “We must ensure that each city’s residents, economies, etc., can respond to the undeniable stress of climate change since cities are the first place citizens go to manage risks of climate impacts,” Vines said.

Stefan Denig, vice president of Siemens Sustainable Cities Program said “we must not forget that cities are at incredible risk of huge catastrophes. London has built barriers to the Thames. In the first 30 years the barriers were only raised twice; in the last decade they have been raised 40 times. It is likely that New York City will experience a disruptive weather event every three years.”

Denig added, “if New York City failed to move toward a more resilient city, it would lose $3 billion over the next 20 years. If it only responded with protection it would still lose money over the next 20 years. But if it moved toward resiliency, investing the same $3 billion over the next 12 years would save the city about $6 billion over 20 years.”

So what then was the lesson of this dialogue, one that also included the mayors of Lampa, and Quillota, Chile, both of which in the last ten years experienced an 8.9 earthquake, a tsunami on the nearby coast, and serious flooding; a council member from Toronto, which has begun to experience devastating winters due to a shift in the jet stream; and a representative from the World Bank who underscored the financial problems facing any efforts to create resilient cities? That time is rapidly running out to create resilient cities that can respond to and recover from the ongoing changes in climate, and the increasing urbanization of the planet, both of which are conspiring to increase the likelihood of experiencing catastrophic events. To do otherwise, is to live in a constant state of denial that can only result in catastrophic outcomes.

Neil Bomberg

About the author: Neil Bomberg is NLC’s Program Director for Human Development. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around education, workforce development, health care, welfare, and pensions. Follow Neil on Twitter at @neilbomberg.

Open Data: A New Tool for Building Climate Resilience

This post was written by C. Forbes Tompkins and Christina DeConcini of the World Resources Institute (WRI). The post originally appeared on WRI’s blog.

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As communities across America continue to experience increasing climate impacts in the form of rising seas, heat waves, and extreme weather, local and federal leaders are starting to roll up their sleeves. Yesterday, the White House unveiled the Climate Data Initiative, a project aimed at arming local leaders across the country with information they need to plan for climate impacts while building more resilience. The initiative provides a key tool for helping those at the frontlines of climate change—America’s local communities.

The Climate Data Initiative delivers on a key element of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, announced last June. This new initiative creates an online hub of government data on climate impacts, giving local communities a detailed look at how a warmer world may impact their critical infrastructure like bridges, roads, and canals.

The initial phase will focus on providing data and tools related to sea-level rise and coastal flooding, and later phases will include information addressing other climate-related impacts. This release of comprehensive government data will be supported by additional efforts from the philanthropic and private sectors.

Google, for example, has committed to donate significant cloud computing and storage and to work with partners to create a near real-time system to monitor drought throughout the continental United States. Intel, Microsoft, and ESRI will create various maps, apps, and other tools and programs to help local officials and other stakeholders understand the climate risks specific to their communities.

Local Communities Are at the Frontlines of Climate Change

The initiative could be an important step in preparing the country for the impacts of climate change. From coastal towns in Southeast Florida to the world’s largest naval base in Hampton Roads, VA, local communities are increasingly vulnerable to sea level rise and other dangerous effects of climate change.

Indeed, climate change is already impacting virtually every community throughout the country—and these effects are poised to worsen with every degree of warming. Consider the following:

  • The world has now experienced 348 consecutive months where average global monthly temperatures were above the 20th century average. In other words, no one younger than 29 years old has lived a month of their lives where monthly temperatures were at or below average.
  • Scientists have found that the conditions leading to the 2011 Texas drought are 20 times more likely to occur now than in the 1960s due to human-induced climate change.
  • Sea-level rise has given a springboard for storm surge and coastal flooding that has amplified the impact of coastal storms, like Hurricane Sandy. Today’s annual probability of a Sandy-level flood reoccurrence has nearly doubled compared to 1950.
  • The Western United States now experiences seven times more large-scale wildfires than it did in the 1970s.
  • Extreme precipitation events have increased in every region of the United States between 1958 and 2007.

Escalating climate impacts not only threaten human well-being, they’re causing costly damages to critical infrastructure—damages that are expected to worsen in a warmer world with more frequent and intense extreme weather.

Severe weather is already the single-leading cause of power outages in the country, causing an estimated 679 widespread power outages between 2003 and 2012 and costing the economy, businesses, school systems, and emergency agencies billions of dollars.

Urban infrastructure is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. A 2007 extreme precipitation event in New York City, for example, only lasted two hours, but caused a system of transit failures that stranded 2.5 million riders. And in Miami Beach, officials say it will cost as much as $400 million to prepare the city’s drainage system for sea-level rise-induced flooding and storm surge.

The Role of Open Data in Climate Resilience

While climate change will affect all communities throughout the United States, the type of impacts felt will vary at the region-, county-, and even city-levels. Communities cannot adapt to or mitigate these impacts without first understanding exactly how they will be affected.

Open data like that provided in the Climate Data Initiative can help provide this level of information. For instance, the climate data site will offer infrastructure and geographic mapping data sets—showing specific bridges, roads, canals, etc.—and help local decision-makers understand how this infrastructure might be impacted by things like sea level rise, drought, or extreme weather. Local governments can use this current and relevant data as a basis for developing effective plans and utilizing resources.

The Climate Data Initiative builds on other work that connects federal activities with local climate action, including a Presidential Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience and the recent budget request for a $1 billion fund for climate resiliency. This latest initiative by the administration not only reinforces the President’s acknowledgement that climate change is occurring, but also his prioritization of empowering local governments to address the issue.

Helping localities throughout the nation become more resilient is an incredibly important piece in overcoming the climate challenge. But, as organizers of this initiative acknowledge, adaptation and resiliency strategies will need to be accompanied by comprehensive reductions in annual greenhouse gas emissions at the national and international levels. Adaptation combined with comprehensive mitigation action is the only way to ensure a sustainable future—both locally and globally.

Resilient Infrastructure and Energy Savings to be Focus of 3rd Annual National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, April 1-30

This post was written by Steve Creech, Executive Director of the Wyland Foundation.

In 2013, Mayor Hancock and the City of Denver, Colo. are recognized for their water conservation efforts.

In 2013, Mayor Hancock and the City of Denver, Colo. are recognized for their water conservation efforts.

The facts about water shortages are indisputable. Yet, by and large, we tend to think of these shortages as temporary problems, without giving thought to the fact that a changing climate, growing populations, an aging water delivery infrastructure and increasing demands for a finite resource now requires a drastic change in how we consume water. The annual National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, April 1-30, was created to promote a long-lasting mindset of water conservation across a broad swath of our population. Now in its third year, the challenge is widely recognized as one of the most engaging, zero-cost outreach tools especially designed for cities and water utilities to encourage conservation in the United States.

At its most basic level, the challenge asks residents to take a series of informative, easy to use pledges online to conserve water, energy and other natural resources on behalf of their city. Cities with the highest percentage of residents who take on the challenge in their population category win eco-friendly prizes for their residents. Past participating cities have included Atlanta, San Francisco, Tucson, Los Angeles, Washington, Denver, Seattle and Los Angeles.

The approach is designed to reward residents for positive conservation behavior, provide immediate feedback with real time results that can be measured against neighboring cities, set achievable goals and put a spotlight on public role models to encourage behavioral change.

A mobile learning center is used to educate residents on the importance of water conservation.

A mobile learning center is used to educate residents on the importance of water conservation.

The pledges that consumers make may seem simple, yet they have been carefully designed to harness four key drivers and result in the following benefits:

  • Save costs for consumers
  • Save infrastructure and operating costs for cities
  • Promote drought resiliency
  • Protect watersheds and ecosystems
The Wyland Foundation assists cities with promotional materials to help spread the word.

The Wyland Foundation assists cities with promotional materials to help spread the word.

Elected officials are encouraged to use their leadership position to actively inspire residents to make pledges and support their city’s conservation efforts. Officials who add their name to the online endorsement page receive a comprehensive toolkit with resources including animated broadcast-ready PSA’s, graphics and blogs. Past mayors have held kickoff events, pledge drives at local libraries, created their own videos to display on their city’s website, sent utility bill stuffers, set up electronic road signs to encourage residents to take on the challenge and asked neighboring cities to participate. The challenge supplements the city’s efforts with a national public service advertising campaign.

Americans use over 150 trillion gallons of water a year in total. Moreover, according to the River Network, the U.S. consumes about 13 percent of its energy exclusively for water-related purposes, including moving, heating and treating water. Clearly, how we use this resource is having a greater and greater impact on our economy and our future quality of life. But shifting attitudes takes time, cooperation and wide recognition that a conservation mindset is one of the best, most powerful tools available to ensure the future availability of this indispensable limited resource. The National Mayor’s Challenge For Water Conservation offers another way for cities to keep this important issue top of mind.

The 3rd Annual National Mayor’s Challenge is presented nationally by the Wyland Foundation and Toyota, in association with the National League of Cities, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service, the Toro Company, Bytelaunch Inc., Wondergrove Kids, WaterSmart Software. Learn more about the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.