Cities are home to about 50 percent of the world’s population, but they generate 80 percent of our planet’s greenhouse gases – the primary human contributor to global warming and climate change. As a result, many communities are experiencing increasing threats of fires, droughts, floods, severe weather, population displacement, and others. Community leaders and citizens around the world must be informed, motivated, coordinated and empowered to be part of the solution. Unfortunately, many communities and many innocent lives have already been lost.
Unfortunately, few local communities have the ability to engage their citizens in developing a common vision around this issue. 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.
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.
Most city leaders need help developing 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 also 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).
The Greener Cities program will help fill this void with two core components – a comprehensive and dynamic online portal and a prestigious international awards program. Both can be hosted in your city and produced in partnership with other stakeholders, which will help attract thousands of influential leaders to our host city each year. As a partner in the Greener Cities program, the host city will further position itself as the leader in international business and sustainability.
In partnership with our stakeholders, we propose developing a massive, multilingual, multidimensional information portal on this site that will help communities around the world expedite the development and implementation of master plans and mitigation plans. It will help them undertake actions and achieve results around sustainability, climate change, preparedness, and efficiency. It will offer a comprehensive framework and the tools necessary to generate realistic visions and plans, including the critical collaboration necessary to maximize efforts at the local level. This program will empower citizens, schools, businesses, community leaders and government entities to develop low-impact, sustainable communities for future generations. Such efforts will improve the health, efficiency and sustainability of communities around the world.
“Where national governments can’t or won’t lead, cities will,” said former Toronto Mayor David Miller.
This online portal will include success stories, best practices, decision matrices, networking opportunities, and many other resources, including a comprehensive workbook that each community and individual organizations can complete on their own to help define the appropriate local options and priorities. These resources will help guide each community through the evaluation and decision-making process.
Community groups and governments will use the portal to evaluate local issues such as recycling, energy efficiency, transportation, alternative energy, reforestation, buying local, water conservation, and many other considerations. The process will encourage the development of local work groups and help to determine where each community should put its efforts for maximum impact.
Most importantly, we will encourage leaders from around the world to post case studies, best practices, research, results, advice, and other resources. User-generated content will become the backbone of the site.
Secondly, we will create the “Champions of Sustainability” to recognize cities and communities around the world on at least three vital fronts every year. The award entries will help feed best practices and networking resources into the online portal.
Each year, we will announce a call for entries around the world. Civic leaders and other stakeholders from around the world will converge upon our host city for a 3-4 day event, including local tours to innovative sites and facilities, trade show, presentations, workshops and a black-tie award ceremony. (We will finalize the dates and agenda in cooperation with our partners.)
We seek the involvement of government, communities, corporations, universities, and NGO’s from around the world.