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July 11, 2011

Grand Rapids Emphasizes Climate Adaptation in Its Sustainability Plan

Grand Rapids, MI This article originally appeared on ICLEI USA's Local Action blog.

Grand Rapids has joined the handful of sustainability leaders that have codified their climate adaptation work in an approved plan. The City Commission amended and updated the city's five-year Sustainability Plan, which now includes specific language on the need to prepare for climate-change impacts, and actions to help the community build resilience to anticipated impacts that will affect the environment and economy of Michigan, such as more frequent heat waves and increased frequency of heavy rainstorms and snowstorms.

Why is this noteworthy? Two reasons. The City's sustainability measures related to climate adaptation will now be tracked and reported annually, (along with many other targets and outcomes in the Sustainability Plan). This level of accountability ensures progress and creates transparency to the community. Grand Rapids' Office of Energy and Sustainability also works very closely with other city departments and city managers to achieve buy-in on the need for resiliency-related efforts. Buy-in is an essential step for any sustainability initiative, and a prerequisite for Grand Rapids' sustainability plan. This success can be attributed to teamwork and the assignment of champions for each outcome and its targets in the plan. Ask any planner or sustainability coordinator and you'll likely hear that getting buy-in is no easy task, so it speaks to the city's effective internal processes.

Adaptation Planning Is Common Sense

ICLEI strongly encourages its members to mainstream climate and disaster risk reduction into their conventional planning processes, project design, and development decision-making—and Grand Rapids provides a great example of how to go about this work.

"It's just good common sense to prepare for the future, and to take into account the climate impacts that are already occurring or that we know are coming," says Haris Alibasic, Legislative and Sustainability Director in the Office of Energy and Sustainability. "This is a significant step forward for us, and right now we’re reviewing all our plans, policies, ordinances, guidelines, and codes and other documents to determine where we need to incorporate climate adaptation and mitigation strategies to make our efforts consistent. Adaptation planning is an extension of good governance."

Grand Rapids Leads on Climate Protection

Last year the City established itself as a national leader on climate adaptation after its selection by ICLEI as one of eight inaugural communities to pilot the tools and resources in our new Climate Resilient Communities (CRC) program, the nation’s first comprehensive program to help local governments prepare their communities for climate change impacts.

Through its Sustainability Plan, the City is now working toward outcomes and targets that achieve multiple sustainability benefits, including climate preparedness and greenhouse gas mitigation. A few examples:

  • Increasing the tree canopy to regulate temperature and offset the urban heat island effect, scrub the air of pollution, preserve natural habitat for urban wildlife, improve water conservation, and enhance parks and greenspaces for residents to enjoy.
  • Adding pervious or porous pavement to slow stormwater runoff during floods and preserve water quality in the Grand River.
  • Powering 100 percent of city operations with renewable power (by 2020) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the City in case of power outages during heat waves.
  • Improving City preparedness and response to disasters and emergencies such as extreme heat events

The City is already making remarkable headway. After only nine months, the City has made progress on 82 percent of its five-year targets within the Sustainability Plan, and completed 20 percent of them.

-- Don Knapp, ICLEI USA

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