Local Governments Answer America’s Climate Change Wake-Up Call

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At this point, the effects of climate change on American communities are difficult to ignore. 2012 was officially the warmest year ever recorded in the US, with 362 all-time record highs (and zero record lows), and the second-most occurrences of extreme weather on record.

Breezy Point, New York damage Hurricane Sandy
Hurricane Sandy damage image via Shutterstock

But a lack of federal leadership has left local governments on their own to plan climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. They’re where extreme weather is most acutely felt, the first line of defense in times of climate crisis, and tell the truest account of climate change’s impact on America.

These factors may seem like the perfect recipe for failure, but they’re leading cities and counties across the country to take innovative resiliency action to protect lives, strengthen infrastructure, and preserve local economies, according to ICLEI USA.

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ICLEI is the leading network of local governments working to address climate and sustainability challenges. Representing more than 1,000 members worldwide, it’s finding that local impacts drive local action.

“2012 has been a wake-up call for local governments,” said Michael Schmitz, ICLEI USA executive director. “While it’s been easy for members of Congress to pretend like this isn’t happening, America’s city and county governments don’t have that luxury.”

Local Impacts Driving Real Action

A recent survey of 300 local governments laid out the reality of climate change in America: 74% perceived changes in the climate, and 59% are pursuing adaptation planning for hotter temperatures, more intense storms, and higher sea levels.

Storm surge barrier
Storm surge barrier image via Shutterstock

ICLEI has highlighted 20 communities across the continental US leading the charge and responding to extreme weather by planning for the future. Among the more notable examples:

  • Atlanta, GA – Experiencing hotter seasons that worsen urban heat island effects. Responding with a climate action plan, including cool roof/pavement standards and 10,000 new planted shade trees.
  • Chicago, IL – Experiencing extreme heat and flooding. Responding with the landmark Chicago Climate Action Plan and the most installed green roof square footage in America.
  • Eugene, OR – Experiencing major wildfires and ultra-dry conditions. Responding by increasing water conservation, reducing demand on hydroelectric power, and planting drought-resistant trees.
  • Miami Dade County, FL – Experiencing severe flooding, identified as the most vulnerable city in the world to sea level rise. Responding by addressing sea level rise and disaster response in urban planning, and investing millions in flood mitigation projects.
  • New York, NY – Experienced $19 billion in damage from Superstorm Sandy. Responding with a $2.4 billion green infrastructure plan, restoring barrier wetlands, and requiring a climate risk assessment for new developments.


Toward A Resilient Future

These communities are leading America’s climate change response, and their experiences are also being used to help even more local governments take action. ICLEI has published a series of guidelines and tools to empower elected officials to plan for climate adaptation and mitigation, while boosting renewables and energy efficiency.

Reports continue to predict delaying action to address climate change will only increase the local effects. “We need to build more resilient communities that can withstand the impacts of climate change,” continued Schmitz.

Thankfully, with ICLEI’s resources at hand and the experiences of other communities to guide a path forward, more and more local governments may soon be able to take their first steps toward a more sustainable future.

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