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Time for Local Governments to Dig Into the Climate Bill

by Don Knapp Sep 29, 2009


Warning sign with question mark

It's anyone's guess as to whether a federal climate bill will pass before the international climate negotiations in December, or pass at all. The legislative process in Washington may seem like a distant concern to local governments with their own local environmental issues, and their own climate mitigation agendas, but it shouldn't be. Or at least that's our stance at ICLEI.

The magnitude of changes that federal climate policy would bring to the state and local levels--as detailed in the House-passed American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES)--is so great that local governments need to begin to grasp it now.

To that end, yesterday we posted our "ICLEI Analysis of the ACES Climate Bill: What Local Governments Need to Know." A cursory glance of it summary findings should widen some eyes:Yes, there are regulatory compliance issues to be understood, but the House-passed bill is also filled with funding opportunities and enhanced programs to support local climate mitigation efforts, clean energy and energy efficiency initiatives, and climate adaptation. Whether it's filled with enough of these provisions to adequately empower local action is a question we'll leave to individual local governments (for more on that front, see City of New York's own analysis of ACES, released last week).

Our analysis of the House-passed bill provides the raw material for local government staff to begin to understand it from a local perspective. We suggest reading the analysis with the following questions in mind:

  • What programs, projects, and funding opportunities within ACES can help local governments reduce emissions and expand clean energy?
  • How will the regulations and requirements in ACES impact local governments? What compliance issues might local governments anticipate?
  • •Does ACES adequately take into account the needs and challenges of local governments, including climate adaptation?
As the Senate version (released today) of a clean energy bill takes shape, watch for more insight from ICLEI, tailored to local governments.


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Cities Sharing Clean Energy Best Practices in Brazil

by Missy Stults, ICLEI Project Manager Sep 23, 2009

Sunny Field of Solar Panels

It may be rainy and slightly chilly (for Brazilian standards), but the elements couldn't keep away approximately 100 local officials, students, and university representatives from the ICLEI Latin American and Caribbean Secretariat (LACS)'s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in Brazilian Cities seminar taking place today and tomorrow in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The seminar brings together local governments and clean energy experts to share best practices and cutting edge technologies that local governments in Brazil and around the world can employ to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and develop more sustainably.

The morning kicked off with a welcome from the Deputy Mayor and Municipal Secretary for the Environment of Porto Alegre, Jose Fortunati and Professor Garcia. The two graciously welcomed participants to their glorious city and provided a brief introduction to some of the great work happening in Porto Alegre, including the newly launched Porto Alegre Reference Center on Renewable Energy (being launched this evening). The Center, which will provide renewable energy information to citizens around the region, is part of an ICLEI project between cities in Brazil, India, and Europe known as the Local Renewables Model Communities Network.

The rest of the day was filled with presentations setting the stage for why and how renewable energy and energy efficiency are and will continue to be critical to tackling the climate change problem. Participants got to learn about solar development in the City of Sao Paulo, Brazil and energy efficiency developments in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Tomorrow, day two of the seminar, will go into more detail around methodologies for using urban waste as an energy source and methodologies for capturing landfill gas. It is during this part of the program that ICLEI LACS will launch its draft "Landfill Use Implementation Guide for Municipalities." The Guide is part of a Methane to Markets program, sponsored by the U.S. EPA, which ICLEI LACS and ICLEI USA have been collaborating on. During the launch of the Guide, ICLEI USA staff will be present to share solid waste management best practices from around the U.S.

To learn more about solid waste best practices in the United States and how your local government can enhance your solid waste collection efforts, please see ICLEI's Recycling and Solid Waste Guide. And coming soon, ICLEI LACS's Landfill Use Implementation Guide for Municipalities (in Portuguese).

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Local Action Roundup

by Don Knapp Sep 23, 2009

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A Systematic Approach to Climate Adaptation

by Don Knapp Sep 14, 2009

Evacuation Route Sign

A new report from the Economics of Climate Adaptation Working Group spells out the how and why of a systems approach to dealing with the impacts of climate change.

Action Resources IconThe aim of "Shaping Climate Resilient Development: A Framework for Decision Making" is to provide decision-makers with a systematic way of answering questions on how to adapt appropriately and cost-effectively to the local and regional impacts of climate change. The report's Executive Summary continues:

Focusing specifically on the economic aspects of adaptation, it outlines a fact-based risk management approach that national and local leaders can use to understand the impact of climate on their economies – and identify actions to minimize that impact at the lowest cost to society.

The report is based on the initial findings of a study by the Economics of Climate Adaptation Working Group, a partnership between the Global Environment Facility, McKinsey & Company, Swiss Re, the Rockefeller Foundation, ClimateWorks Foundation, the European Commission, and Standard Chartered Bank.

The planning process the report advocates for includes the following:

  • A framework to assess and manage total climate risk
  • Tools to support decision-making
  • Steps to implementing a comprehensive strategy for climate-resilient development


Related Resources

Adaptation Series Webinar: Local Strategies to Minimize the Impact of Climate Change

Sept. 23, 1 p.m.

Adapting to the Risks Posed by Climate Change: A Consensus-Building Approach

Oct. 29 training, Cambridge, MA

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New York City Planners Focus on Climate Adaptation

by Don Knapp Sep 14, 2009

New York City storm surge map
click on the image to view it at full size

Rising sea levels, more intense storms, and devastating heat waves threaten to wreak havoc on New York City in the coming decades, and the threat has city planners and engineers, plus regional scientists, utility companies, and government agencies working hard to study the issue and craft a response. Other cities along the eastern seaboard should be paying attention.

A great overview of this topic for any local government decision maker is the excellent article "New York Girds Itself for Heat and Rising Seas" by Bruce Stutz at Yale Environment 360. Stutz spells out the risks and uncertainties  faced by NYC, and how planners are developing a "risk-based, cost-benefit" adaptation strategy:

An Adaptation Task Force, made up of some 20 city departments, New York State and interstate authorities, and power and communications industries, has begun developing an inventory of infrastructures at risk. Working with local communities they hope to develop strategies — from keeping development away from the waterfront, to maintaining sewer systems, to evacuation plans, to protecting waterfront neighborhoods.

Another key quote in the story for local government staff to absorb, from Gary Heath, Director of the Bureau of Operations for the DEP’s Bureau of Environmental Planning and Analysis:

[Adaptation] has to become part of an agency’s working philosophy. Once you recognize climate change as a risk to your infrastructure, then you take it into account in all of your designs and operations. You do it facility by facility.

Climate Progress covered the topic a day later, with an emphasis on NYC planners' need for accurate local predictions on future climate change impacts. By 2050, will sea level rise one and a half feet or three feet? A difference in inches translates to potentially billions more dollars in preparation for a city like New York. From Climate Progress:

Scientists are laboring to make their predictions more reliable. While they do, New York has become an urban experiment in the ways that seaboard cities can adapt to climate change over the next century. For their part, the city’s long-term planners are taking action but are trying to balance the cost of re-engineering the largest city in the U.S. against the uncertainties of climate forecasts.

“We can’t make multibillion-dollar decisions based on the hypothetical,” says Rohit Aggarwala, the city’s director of long-term planning and sustainability.

An additional resource for urban planners beginning to tackle adaptation issues:
In February 2009, the New York City Panel on Climate Change produced a Climate Risk Information report, with climate change scenarios for NYC, infrastructure impacts, and an explanation of its indicators and monitoring.


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EPA Leads on Climate, from the Tailpipe

by Art von Lehe, ICLEI Policy Analyst Sep 14, 2009


Freeway at night

You might recall that in May the Obama Administration announced new auto emissions standards which will have a sweeping effect across the United States lowering greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes while raising fuel economy standards.

On Tuesday, the administration released more details about this historic move.

The Environmental Protection Agency in concert with the Department of Transportation have proposed standards that would impact the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) by making America’s auto fleet more fuel efficient four years ahead of that currently required by Congress in a 2007 energy law.

This would be the first time there has ever been a national standard for greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and is the direct result of the landmark victory in the  2007 Supreme Court case Massachusetts v EPA. The Court found that the EPA had the right to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. The importance of this case cannot be understated, as it has helped pave the way for climate legislation to move through Congress – providing industry with the stark choice between regulation by the EPA or legislation hashed out in Congress.

Obama’s plan for a national fuel economy standard and greenhouse gas standard would result in the prevention of 950 million metric tons of carbon dioxide during the four-year period. This is a tremendous amount of avoided greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), close to a seventh of the GHGs from the entire U.S. economy – as the EIA reported that in 2007 total carbon dioxide equivalent emissions exceeded 7,000 million metric tons. 

A Message for Copenhagen

With the Senate delays on climate policy have come concerns about the ability for the international community to reach an agreement at the Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen in December. “Why and how should the rest of the world move forward with serious action from the US?” the argument goes. The emissions rule bolsters the Obama administration’s ability to negotiate from a stronger position. Taken together with the decade-plus leadership and success from local governments, it is increasingly clear that the U.S. has picked up the climate ball and is running with it.

For more information, see this report from the New York Times.

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The Economic Case for Transit-Oriented Development

by Don Knapp Sep 08, 2009

Bus with motion blur

Tali Trigg at GreenBiz argues that the case for transit-oriented development (TOD) is stronger in a downturn than a bull market.

Trigg says that local governments should view TOD (mixed-use districts, pedestrian- and bike-access, public transit) as a smart investment that "promotes economic development, enhances real estate value, and increases favorable labor access, both for laborers and employers; all of which are key tools for survival in an economically equalized playing field." He mentions Mayor Patrick McCrory of Charlotte, NC (which is an ICLEI member) as one of the visionaries who have grasped this opportunity, and breaks down some compelling numbers:

A planned expansion for Los Angeles's Orange Line bus rapid transit (BRT) is expected to create 210,000 new jobs and $32 billion in economic output over the next 30 years. Cumulatively, public transit on a national level provides $60 billion in public benefits and only costs $31 billion in public investment. In other words, $1 invested in transit gets you $2 in savings, not a bad deal.

As for jobs, investments in transit produce 19 percent more jobs than an equivalent investment in new road and bridge projects. Those are just the direct benefits. Indirectly, public transit saves enough gasoline to fuel 5.8 million cars a year, averting $9 billion in spending on gasoline (2006). And, if you include land value, parking is estimated to cost $500 billion a year; not to mention the accidents and delays that cost Americans $365 billion a year, or a $1 billion a day.

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Local Action Roundup

by Don Knapp Sep 01, 2009

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Looking Toward Copenhagen From the Local Level

by Art von Lehe, ICLEI Policy Analyst Aug 31, 2009

Skyline of Continent Clouds

Local governments have a seat at the table at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December, and will play an important role in international climate negotiations.

Here’s why they matter more than ever:

  • Cities worldwide represent half the world population and account for nearly 80 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions; local engagement and empowerment is therefore an essential element in any international climate agreement.
  • ICLEI member local governments across the world can boost other nations’ confidence that aggressive climate policy is possible because it’s already been implemented with success (including economic success -- far from the disaster predicted by critics) at the local level.
  • Local governments come to Copenhagen with the credibility of not just having led the world on climate mitigation, but also having long been engaged in international climate negotiations. ICLEI Global, for example, is a central partner in the Local Governments Climate Roadmap, and has helped launch the World Mayors & Local Governments Climate Protection Agreement.

Whether a strong agreement can be hammered out in Copenhagen – now less than 100 days away – remains to be seen. Negotiations leading up to the conference have been ending in deadlock, such as the recent round in Bonn, Germany. The central tensions at the table are between the industrialized and developing nations. Industrialized nations like the United States are calling on large developing nations like China and India to slow their fast growing greenhouse gas emissions. However, developing nations are calling for industrialized nations adopt aggressive emissions targets and help finance climate adaptation and emissions reductions. To learn more about the talks in Bonn, see this Environment News Service report.

If your local government is interested in sending representation to the summit in Copenhagen to communicate U.S. local climate action and concerns, there is an opportunity to combine efforts with other local government representatives. For more information, contact Susan Ode at

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State-Local Collaboration on California's Climate Adaptation Plan

by Michael Schmitz, ICLEI California Director Aug 31, 2009

California Blue MapOn Monday, August 31, the State of California held a public stakeholder meeting on its draft plan for adapting to climate change – the first of its kind in the nation – and a key to its success was collaboration between the State and local governments.

The meeting was held in downtown Los Angeles, on a day when the entire basin was covered in a thick layer of smoke as wildfires raged out of control at the edge of the vast metropolis. The nation’s second largest city and the many local governments making up metropolitan LA were facing the future in real time – meeting to plan how to adapt to climate change even as its devastating impacts bore down on their homes and wilderness.

The State’s approach to the draft plan reflects an understanding of the urgency of addressing climate adaptation – and the need to take action now. It also reflects an understanding of how important collaboration will be to achieving adaptation goals. California’s Natural Resources Agency, playing lead agency for the meeting and report, brought together a range of departments to create the plan, including Environmental Protection, Business, Transportation and Housing, Health and Human Services and Agriculture.

But even more significant has been the state-local government collaboration – with the State of California co-hosting this important meeting with the Los Angeles Regional Collaborative for Climate Action and Sustainability.

The Collaborative is made up of local governments and partners from throughout the LA Basin and is committed to taking action on mitigation and adaptation. Santa Monica Mayor Pro Tempore Pam O’Connor, ICLEI Advisory Board member and leader of the Regional Collaborative, was on hand to laud the efforts of the State in aiding local government action. It was a clear signal of the potential impact of the strategy as local government leaders gained guidance while shaping state policy, strengthening California’s working relationships with the front line leaders in the climate protection effort.

The draft California Climate Adaptation Strategy itself does an admirable job of acknowledging and integrating the vital role that local governments must play in effectively adapting to the changing climate. When the plan is implemented, it will offer practical strategies for adaptation to the changing climate that local governments implement and benefit from in both the short- and long-term.

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