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6 Easy Steps to Turbo Boost Climate Action in Local Government

Posted By Daniel Kreeger, Association of Climate Change Officers, Thursday, April 7, 2016

While nations deliberate on national and international policy related to climate change, local governments worldwide are faced with the daunting challenge of addressing the localized implications of climate change on their communities and operations.  Ultimately, climate change poses an unparalleled volume and diversity of challenges for any organization, much less local governments who frequently do not (or may not think they) have sufficient resources to successfully address these considerations.

Let’s think about this as a maturity model. First you come to accept that you have a problem.  Once you’ve done so, a public administrator or elected leader will task someone to be responsible for addressing the issue.  In this case, an environmental professional, sustainability director or resilience officer may have been hired or designated from existing staff.  This is a great start, but even in the best of circumstances, a few people here and there trying to address the scope of implications facing that community is truly insufficient.  I would compare this to mice trying to move a battleship. 

Just think how difficult it is to change procurement guidelines, zoning and building codes, incorporate climate change into master planning efforts, engage the community, and develop innovative financing strategies, to name a few tasks.

So you’ve developed a nice core group within local government that has really begun to move the needle on climate action.  Now what? Here are a few practical, incredibly effective steps you should be taking to turbo boost climate action:

  1. Building Awareness– Climate change is changing the way we deliver local government services. Every employee needs to at least have an awareness of what climate change is and how it’s going to affect the community.  In the case of the City of Fort Lauderdale, the City worked with the CLEO Institute to develop a 2-hour session that every city employee was required to attend over a span of a few months.  Yes, even the maintenance field crews were included.  Why?  Because you need to open your  staff’s eyes to a dynamically changing world around them, foster the culture of change in your organization, engage every employee so that they will self-activate and become part of the solution, establish ambassadors at every turn and build public will.
  2. Training for Decision Makers– The name of the game here is making sure that your management understands that climate change is a critical imperative so that you can get them to become constructive assets to your climate action planning.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it also wasn’t built by one person.  You’re going to need your senior leaders in civil works, natural resources, parks and recreation, emergency management, transportation, fleet management, civil engineering and other key roles to be assets. They need to experience that moment when they realize climate change is affecting their job.  They also need the tools to modernize their profession. There are a plethora of free and/or very reasonably priced options available. You’ll be able to find courses that are taught by your local universities, the NOAA Climate Office and through ACCO’s Climate Fundamentals Academies (we’ll even help you build the capacity to administer and teach these on your own).  You can find online resources as well.  Be sure to select courses that are at least downscaled to your region so that attendees are learning about specific implications that affect their jobs and their homes – when they see that their neighborhood is in a flood zone and projections for what that means with a foot of sea level rise, you’ll get their attention.  In many instances, these professionals will also be able to leverage such training to satisfy continuing education requirements that they need to address for their own professional credentials.
  3. Customized Training for Key Leaders and Professionals– At some point, you need to move from awareness to building specific competencies and skills based upon a particular need.  What you want an infrastructure professional to be able to do and know is very different than what you might want a supply chain professional to know.  So once you have covered foundational training that addresses the masses, look at options to access or develop training specific to their professional functions.  ACCO is developing these sorts of courses, but credentialing bodies such as the American Institute of ArchitectsAmerican Society of Civil Engineers and American Planning Association will answer the charge if they hear from employers that these skills are needed.  Again, these professionals will also be able to leverage such training to satisfy continuing education requirements that they need to address for their professional credentials.
  4. Updating Job Descriptions– Your head of civil works has just retired and you’re looking to replace that person.  Before you do, take a look at the job description and requirements and see what you can do to ensure that you are getting applicants who have better skills suited for this transformation.  The more you incorporate climate-related competencies into job descriptions, the better your pool of candidates will be – and perhaps most importantly, when credentialing bodies and universities see this change in job requirements, they will update their curriculum requirements.  In the long run, taking this critical step will ensure that it becomes integrated throughout your workforce.  If you’re not sure what skills and competencies to include in a job description, reach out to the corresponding credentialing body to ask them what they’re hearing about the nexus of climate change and their credential.  If that doesn’t work, come to ACCO and we’ll help you work through that process.
  5. Updating RFPs, Procurements & Contracts– Make sure that you engage service providers, vendors and consultants that understand your climate risks.  Procure goods and services from those that can help you achieve your mitigation, adaptation and resilience goals. Every dollar that you put out to purchase goods and services or build and maintain infrastructure is a dollar that should be wisely spent.  If you’re purchasing a good that is sourced from a water-intensive vendor or region while you’ve declared a water-reduction goal for the city hardly seems sensible.  Of course, neither is investing millions of dollars in an infrastructure project that doesn’t account for foreseeable risks posed by climate change.  This is a risk management conversation.  While the risks that any specific impact of climate change may seem low in probability, if the magnitude of the realization of that risk is costly or intolerable, then you have a business case for accounting for this today.
  6. Engage the Community– You’ve just accomplished a fantastic project building a levee to reduce flood risk.  Congratulations.  The problem is that the average person walking by has no idea what was done.  If you want to build public will, you need to engage them regularly, and even need to get creative with generating buzz and awareness.  The City of Miami Beach is raising roads in the Sunset Harbor area of the island by 2.5 feet.  They’ve branded the effort “Flooding Solutions” and even created a hashtag, #MBRisingAbove, and a web site at www.MBRisingAbove.com.  Public support is needed for this type of expensive investment in adaptation to reduce risk.  Showcase your efforts. And remember that we all have short memories: that flood that washed away a road 3 years ago is a distant memory to most.  Engaging the community on these concerns will help to ensure that these issues are a primary dialogue in mayoral elections—just ask Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine, whose campaign focused intensively on the city’s flood problems related to sea level rise and stormwater management.

Changing culture and building public will isn’t rocket science, but it takes concerted, strategic effort.  Everything is by design.  Create the structure, find the right people, give them the tools they need and you have reinvented local government. Put a game plan together that exponentially increases the number of assets you have in this battle.  Think about what assets you need, where you need them, and go make that happen.  It’s amazing what you can accomplish in just a few years using these basic steps.

Tags:  adaptation  capacity building  climate  climate change  education  engagement  training 

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Vulnerability Assessment Training Bootcamp: A Participant Synopsis

Posted By Lia Nicholson, Government of Antigua & Barbuda, Tuesday, October 7, 2014

On Wednesday September 24th, I suspended my post-Climate Summit activities with the United Nations to attend the Association of Climate Change Officers (ACCO) bootcamp, “Conducting a Vulnerability Assessment and Developing an Adaptation Plan.” The training was attended by the private sector, government, and non-governmental organizations, both domestic and international, as a precursor to the Rising Seas Summit, held on September 24-26 in New York and in partnership with Climate Week NYC.

Personally, the training was a high priority as the following week I was to begin a year-long fellowship, supported by the Gruber Program, to implement adaptation solutions in three flood-prone communities in the small island state of Antigua & Barbuda. The mandate of the project, implemented by the Government’s Environment Division, was to develop and implement adaptation solutions in consultation with community members. ACCO’s training presented an opportunity to expand my portfolio of assessment and consultation tools.

The session was moderated by Adam Whelchel, Director of Science at the Nature Conservancy, who introduced a panel of four speakers. Each speaker presented a case study, followed by breakout groups for participants to work on one of the four cases.

Olga Dominguez, formerly the Assistant Administrator at the Office of Strategic Infrastructure in the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, presented the Washington DC case. Adaptation challenges were ecological, notably the extensive marshlands and one and a half foot tidal range, as well as political, with a framework of complex property rights and resources that are, “owned by everybody and nobody.”

The Commissioner of the Department of Environment in the City of Boston, Nancy Girard, presented the case study for Boston. Nancy presented maps dating to 1630 and contrasted the cartography with the city’s present layout, highlighting the extent of development on coastal infill and consequential resilience challenges.

Pinar Balci, Director of the Bureau of Environmental Planning and Analysis in the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, presented the case for New York. Pinar highlighted the Catskills watershed and coastal challenges of adaptation. She emphasized the importance of establishing climatic thresholds for planning—given the range of climate projections and timeframes, “what are we going to protect ourselves from?”

The fourth and final case was Providence, Rhode Island, presented by Hope Herron, Senior Policy Analyst & Climate Adaptation Specialist at Tetra Tech. The adaptation challenges that Providence faces include the submergence of the airport, seaport, and historical districts in a 100-year flood event and sea level rise projections. Hope focused in on the public health impacts of climate change, citing the spread of the vector-borne Lyme disease transmitted through ticks. A rise in temperatures and longer summers leads to ticks remaining active for longer and inhabiting more regions.

Providence was my case study group. We began by responding to the question, “What excites you most about climate change.” It was an unexpected but welcome take on the topic, and the ice-breaker question elicited just that—participants described daily motivations to be excited to work on one of the most complex issues of our times.

Hope, our group facilitator, presented a matrix developed by the Adam Whelchel at the Nature Conservancy, to guide our vulnerability assessment discussion (Table 1). The first step was to identify priority hazards, followed by vulnerable assets in three categories—infrastructure, societal assets, and ecosystems. Finally, we filled in the matrix with actionable items that would mitigate the hazards, guided by the following questions: what infrastructure is exposed? What makes it vulnerable? What are the consequences of inaction? Each actionable item was ranked by high, medium or low priority, and by short-term or long-term implementation.

The matrix generated a rich discussion; yet due to limited time we only scratched the surface of the issues, assets and actions for Providence. With more time, we could take the analysis further by defining our thresholds, as recommended by Pinar.

A notable point of discussion was the challenge of isolating interlinked hazards. For example, despite similarities, storm surge is an infrequent, extreme hazard that can require different adaptation responses, such as emergency measures, compared to slow-onset sea level rise. At the same time, however, the two hazards can be mitigated by, for example, retreat policies.

On a similar note, solutions are also interlinked, and an action that mitigates risks to one vulnerable asset can mitigate risks in another category. For example, the actions that we identified for water systems—hardening infrastructure, planning and implementing retreat—can also be applied to power supply/energy infrastructure. Identifying synergies is important because the two sectors may be managed by different government entities. The risk matrix is a useful tool for defining and clarifying underlying assumptions about priority hazards, assets, and actions that converge to formulate a city-wide policy response to climate change.

 Attached Files:

Tags:  Adaptation  Sea Level Rise  Vulnerability 

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Framing Climate Change as a National Security Threat

Posted By Meaghan Bresnahan, Association of Climate Change Officers, Thursday, July 31, 2014
At the National Security and Climate Change discussion in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, it was noted repeatedly that although many people may not yet realize it, climate change is impacting the world here and now. As Ian Kraucunas of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory stated, “We are already seeing an increase in certain types of events that are consistent with what [scientists] would expect from climate change, although we can’t attribute any one event to it.”

It is therefore vital that the United States, at the national and local levels, rapidly advances its adaptation and mitigation plans. As such, Kraucunas called on scientists to do a better job of informing decision making by targeting their scientific conclusions and putting them in context for legislators. The panelists further urged those active in the climate change discussion to frame it from a national security point of view.

Craig Gannett of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation noted that the definition of a national security threat has expanded to include massive disruptions caused by climate change. Climate change will increasingly lead to droughts, floods, wildfires, and sea level rise. These effects are going to be major stressors on already unstable nations, potentially increasing the likelihood that they devolve into conflict. Our military will provide aid for increasingly frequent and severe disasters, stretching our own resources even thinner. Domestic agricultural production is also likely to be negatively impacted, and transport may become more difficult and expensive.

Larry Phillips, the chair of the King County Council, summarized the issue elegantly: “Climate change threatens economic security, which is the foundation of national security.” Kraucunas further noted that “climate change is complicating existing threats to national security and raising new ones.”

The melting ice in the Arctic is creating one of those new challenges for the Navy. Commander John Marburger indicated that there will be a potential threat to global security as Arctic sea ice continues to decline and traffic through this newly opened route increases. However, he also stated that the Arctic provides the United States “a chance to get [adaptation] right the first time” through preparation, planning, and international collaboration.

Alice Hill, a senior advisor on the White House National Security Council, highlighted one of the United States’ most decisive efforts toward addressing climate change: President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. The plan’s three pillars involve mitigation, adaptation, and leading international efforts. The more success we have at the local and federal levels with the first two pillars, the better we will be able to address this evolving national security threat. Further, the longer we wait to take action, the more expensive it will be to combat the effects of climate change. To put it another way, Marburger stated, “disaster prevention is less expensive than disaster relief.”

Kraucunas concluded, “There are things we can do to avoid the unmanageable and to manage the unavoidable.” The sooner the United States initiates serious measures toward mitigation and adaptation, the more we minimize the threat of climate change to our national security.

Tags:  Adaptation  Climate Action Plan  National Security 

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