This Small City in Kansas is a Leader on Climate Resilience

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Interested in becoming a climate leader like Shawnee? Apply today for NLC’s Leadership in Community Resilience program. Deadline is December 20.

Across the country, local leaders are recognizing the benefits of reaching across jurisdictions to address climate issues. While regional collaborations of any kind can be challenging, elected officials and their staff know that social, economic, infrastructural and ecological systems transcend city and county lines. Local leaders are partnering with academic institutions, nonprofits, regional planning councils and other metro-regional stakeholders. Currently, there are at least 17 regional climate coalitions in the U.S.

In early 2019, Councilmember Lindsey Constance of Shawnee, Kansas, and Mayor Mike Kelly of Roeland Park, Kansas, took up this challenge, initiating The Metro Kansas City Climate Action Coalition with the goal of assembling elected leaders from the bi-state region to “draw down greenhouse gases, improve climate resilience and generate corresponding economic, social, health, and quality of life benefits.”

Shortly after, Roeland Park and Shawnee were jointly selected to participate in the NLC Leadership in Community Resilience Program, receiving a grant and ongoing technical support to help build their regional network. In May, 2019, their region became one of four U.S regions selected by the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy to receive further assistance to develop a regional Climate Action Plan. And on September 14, they hosted their first Climate Action Summit, gathering over 750 attendees, including nearly 100 elected and appointed local government officials, to celebrate their success and inspire further action.

Keynote speakers included Drawdown author, Paul Hawken; Kansas Lieutenant Governor, Lynn Rogers; U.S. Representative Sharice Davids; architect Bob Berkebile; Alex Steffen, author of Carbon Zero; and Brigadier General Chris King.

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Councilmember Lindsey Constance

NLC’s Cooper Martin sat down with Councilmember Lindsey Constance after their regional convening to reflect on the past year of activity and next steps for the coalition. Some of the responses have been edited for clarity.

Cooper Martin: What motivated you to create the Metro Kansas City Climate Action Coalition?

Councilwoman Lindsey Constance: What motivated me was the IPCC report that said we had 12 years to solve climate change, which correlated with the start of my daughter’s kindergarten year. And for me, it just felt clear that it was all about her having a future when she graduated high school – and all the other kids that I teach. I felt like we really needed to come together and join the other elected officials who also want to have a positive impact. That was the real motivating factor for me.

Cooper Martin: Were you initially surprised by the response that you got from your first meeting?

Councilwoman Lindsey Constance: I was really surprised. The first workshop we held we were initially anticipating like 30 to 40 people. We had to change venues and move it due to the high demand. And then, we finally had to cut it off, and even had more people that wanted to attend. So yeah, I was very surprised at how quickly it came together. Many people were interested in learning about climate solutions.

Cooper Martin: And in the last year that you’ve been doing this, what do you think has been the coalition’s biggest challenge so far? How have you all been working together, regionally, to overcome and address those challenges?

Councilwoman Lindsey Constance: The biggest challenge, honestly, is that it is a grassroots effort: 100 volunteers who are either leaders in the nonprofit world or elected officials or city or county employees, all working together. It’s the fact that we don’t have any set funding or full-time staff. It’s a lot of volunteers working on the cause because they care about it — which is what is helping build this great momentum.

Cooper Martin: How has it been working with the regional council?

Councilwoman Lindsey Constance: We’re working really closely with Mid-America Regional Council, our regional planning organization. They helped provide staff for the summit and they are helping enact the regional greenhouse gas inventory and Climate Action Plan. So even though we don’t have staff, they’ve been such a strong partner. What’s been great is the initiatives they’re working on for our region — their transportation 2050 plan, improving air quality — those are things that our coalition’s efforts are helping to address. There has been some great synergy there, and one of the real successes.

Cooper Martin: I know that the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) voted to enter the Global Covenant of Mayors. What was that discussion like?

Councilwoman Lindsey Constance:There was a big meeting where they were debating that [decision to get involved]. So Mike and I and [MARC sustainability director] Tom Jacobs presented to MARC about our Coalition — how it got started, and the mission — and we shared this opportunity with the Global Covenant of Mayors to be one of the very first regions in the country to address climate change collectively. We proposed that to them, and we answered their questions. And they ended up voting for moving forward on the Climate Action Plan. That work is starting in October. We’re having our first technical session in which we’re working on that — so awesome! Stay tuned.

Cooper Martin: At the summit, you mentioned that the Coalition is coming out with a climate action guide for local officials. Can you give us a preview of what that will contain and when we can expect it?

Councilwoman Lindsey Constance: It’s called the Climate Action Playbook, and a lot of it is essentially modeled after the book Drawdown. It has solutions around food and agriculture, transportation, buildings, and what key strategies and solutions municipalities can use. For example, green infrastructure, composting programs, etc.

We’ve had a lot of elected officials working on it. We’ve had America Regional Council working on it. We’ve had key nonprofits in certain sectors working on it. We’ve had professional architecture and engineering firms working on it. We’ve had quite a few experts working on this and it will be given out in December, after the municipal elections, so all the newly elected and those who kept their seats will get a copy.

Cooper Martin: In one or two sentences, can you tell us your long-term dream for the coalition and how you see it enduring?

Councilwoman Lindsey Constance: Well, I would say the long-term dream is that we are able to work with cities, counties and our regional planning organization to advance climate solutions that really improve and invigorate our local economy, public health and quality of life. And in 10 or 20 years when we look back, we have a healthier region because of the work of those in the coalition.

Cooper-Martin-small.jpgAbout the Author: Cooper Martin is the director of sustainability at the National League of Cities.