Cities Key To Climate Solution
About 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities. This population alone generates 80 percent of our planet’s greenhouse gases. Many communities are bracing for the increasing threats of fires, droughts, floods, severe weather, population displacement, and others. Community leaders and citizens around the world must be informed, motivated and empowered to defend themselves, while becoming part of the total climate solution.
“Few local governments have the ability to engage their citizens in developing a common vision around the cause of global warming and climate change,” said Gary Chandler, CEO of Crossbow Communications, a PR firm that specializes in health and environmental issues. “Cities are part of the problem and the solution.”
To address that challenge, Crossbow has developed a global platform to help cities exchange experience, while promoting changes and defense plans. Some need guidance on a collaborative process to achieve consensus. Others need help outlining the spectrum of actions that they can take to cut pollution, save energy, conserve water and promote health and sustainability. Other communities around the world already are in contingency mode and need help mitigating the impacts of climate change on their homes and businesses.
“The program is called Greener Cities,” Chandler said. “It’s a global collaborative of best practices, resources and awards. Cities and communities around the world can join.”
Many community leaders need coaching to bring all stakeholder groups to the table to discuss opportunities, threats, resources, and priorities. As communities begin planning, they need comprehensive guidance regarding the full range of possible actions to consider in their plans. Many communities are limiting their sustainability visions to the energy efficiency of city buildings and vehicle fleets. They need to learn from other cities that have embraced a broader spectrum of possible actions such as investments, tax policies, water use, tree management, open space, expanded recycling efforts, and many others.
The concept of sustainable living is not new, but it is experiencing growing interest again because of rising energy costs, depleted natural resources, polluted natural resources, population growth, and concerns about climate change and diminishing resources. At the local level, comprehensive and collaborative visioning and planning efforts, followed by numerous actions, will be a key to success. Civic leaders need guidance and resources to engage all stakeholders. They need role models, case studies, networks, mentors, financial assistance, and incentives to help them exchange experiences and resources. These resources and processes can help minimize civic gridlock and promote rapid progress in our race for sustainability for future generations.
The results of a recent survey conducted by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), the first of its kind, measures how and to what extent local governments are acting to promote sustainability. It indicates that most city leaders need help on many levels to develop successful sustainability plans.
“Sustainability has emerged as a major public policy issue facing countries throughout the world,” writes James H. Svara, director of the Center for Urban Innovation and Professor in the School of Public Affairs. “Sustainability requires a broad range of actions that must include contributions from all levels of government, from all sectors of the economy, and from all of the citizenry. City and county governments are uniquely positioned to make a significant contribution to the effort. They are directly involved in providing or regulating many of the human activities that affect resource use, promote economic development, and affect the protection and inclusion of persons from all economic levels and racial and ethnic groups.
Overall, the responses to the ICMA survey demonstrate two opposing tendencies: most local governments are becoming active in sustainability, but most governments are involved at a relatively low level and most of the possible sustainability actions are not being widely utilized. Most governments lack goals, targets, or specific plans. Only a quarter of local governments have citizen committees and staff dedicated to sustainability, and only one in six have a separate budget to promote sustainability although local governments are spending money on specific actions.
Although the motivation for local action is on the rise, most communities still lack the direction and framework for quick and effective visioning and planning on sustainability. They need guidance to develop and undertake comprehensive and collaborative planning that can make a difference. Although the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and other programs are taking steps in the right direction, they are limited in scope and fail to offer comprehensive guidance, including collaborative planning that specifically embraces citizen engagement and empowerment. Communities need a toolkit of resources and a template that can guide localized efforts to overcome possible political gridlock. Local leaders need the guidance and tools necessary to educate, inspire, and manage stakeholder input from all segments of their communities. They need to form a collective brain trust for communities around the globe. In addition, many civic leaders need funding to assist with planning and implementation. The Greener Cities program can help facilitate funding for some initiatives through Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) and carbon offsets to finance some of the projects (voluntary and regulated offsets).