Climate Change Programs and Projects in Local Governments
by Catherine Greene
"Cities are more likely to pursue environmental projects if they have mayors who care about such issues."
Climate change, specifically the ways local and federal governments mitigate and adapt to it, has become a highly salient topic. Currently, while 195 countries have agreed to the Paris Agreement on lowering their carbon emissions, the U.S. has withdrawn from the Agreement. Various local governments, including Atlanta and New York City, have still decided to ignore this withdrawal and plan to follow the Paris treaty’s emission guidelines in the upcoming years (Tabuchi & Fountain 2017).
This trend of lower level governmental climate change action is not new. Local governments have been designing and implementing environmental and climate change related projects for decades. Whether unilaterally or in tandem with memberships in coalitions such as the Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI), cities, counties, and states have been expressing their support for environmentally sustainable governance and attempting to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change (Kraus, Yi, & Feiock 2016). But how much do they actually implement and support such projects?
Many academics studying this issue noted that local governments who were enthusiastic about lowering emissions and adapting their locales to a climate-changed world may find it difficult to go beyond the planning stages. For example, local governments may feel secure enough to develop climate change plans but balk at the cost of implementing necessary changes. With already strained resources, local governments may wish to spend their money on more immediately pressing issues such as infrastructure and sewer maintenance (Larson et. al. 2016; Nordgren, Stults, & Meerow 2016; Kraus, Yi, & Feiock 2016).
According to Hultquist, Wood, and Romsdahl (2017), cities are more likely to pursue environmental projects if they have mayors who care about such issues, and if communities are more likely to immediately feel the effects of climate change. They also found that communities uncertain about the human influence on global warming were more likely to adopt policies and project that adapted their communities to the problem, instead of policies seeking to mitigate or lessen the effects of climate change.
For this report, various local governments were surveyed in order to study the climate change projects being adopted in the upcoming fiscal year. Of those surveyed, a majority with environmental programs were members of the ICLEI. A clear majority of ICLEI members were also from locales in Florida or California, those states more likely to feel the effects of climate change first. Out of all local governments surveyed however, scarce few considered climate change and environmental issues a priority.
The local governments most interested in implementing climate change related programs were those located on the coast. Already these cities, such as Miami and Boston, are seeing increased flooding from sea level rise. For example, beginning last year the City of Benicia in California committed to spending over $17 million on the creation of tide gates, a Water lift station, and the implementation of their Urban Waterfront Enhancement and Master Plan. Furthermore, they plan to spend $3 million in the future on flood protection for their Wastewater Treatment Plant. These enhancements will lessen the dangers of sea level rise in their city, directly adapting the locale to a climate-changed world (ICF International et. al 2016).
While Benicia is closer to implementing change, other cities like Berkeley, California, are much more typical of local governments working on climate related programs. In the fiscal year of 2018, Berkeley plans to create a Waterfront Master Plan and consult with Waterfront Real Estate experts and Landscape architects in order to better refine construction regulations in waterfront areas. The combined cost of these consultations will be $325,000 (City of Berkeley 2017).
Like Berkeley, most of those local governments spending money on climate change related projects are focusing on the planning and consultation stage. In some cases, projects to add sustainability improvements to official facilities are in progress, such as in Davis, California and Denver, Colorado. In other cases, cities are focusing on updating their climate projection technology or consulting with those who have such technology, to better predict the conditions they’ll be adapting to in upcoming decades. These cities include Boston, Massachusetts and Keene, New Hampshire (City of Davis 2017; Hancock 2017; City of Boston 2017; City of Keene 2017).
The most interesting climate related project in the upcoming fiscal year is in Cincinnati, Ohio. The city is planning to spend over $180,000 this fiscal year on Methane Capture. While methane emissions are less noted in climate change discourse compared to carbon emissions, scientists are also concerned about the possible effects of this gas on the current warming patterns (City of Cincinnati 2017).
City of Berkeley. Fiscal Years 2018 & 2019 Proposed Capital Improvement Program. Berkeley, California, 2017. http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/uploadedFiles/Manager/Budget/FY%202018%20%20FY%202019%20Proposed%20CIP%20Budget%20Book%20rev%2052317.pdf.
City of Boston. Environment, Energy, & Open Space: 2018 Budget. Boston, Massachusetts, 2017. https://budget.boston.gov/img/pdfs/volume-2-by-cabinet/07-environment-energy-and-open-space-cabinet.pdf.
City of Cincinnati. Fiscal Years 2018-2019 All Funds Budget Volume II: City Manager’s Recommended Capital Improvement Program. Cincinnati, Ohio, 2017. http://www.cincinnati-oh.gov/finance/assets/File/FINAL%205-10-17%20Capital%20Recommended.pdf.
City of Davis. Manager’s Transmittal Proposed 17-18 Budget. Davis, California, 2017. http://documents.cityofdavis.org/Media/Default/Documents/PDF/Finance/2017-2018-Budget/Proposed/00c.-Manager's-Transmittal-Proposed-17-18-Budget.pdf.
City of Keene. Operating Budget 2017-2018. Keene, New Hampshire, 2017. https://ci.keene.nh.us/sites/default/files/Finance/2017-2018%20Operating%20Budget.pdf.
Hancock, Michael. Mayor’s 2017 Budget. Denver, Colorado, 2017. https://www.denvergov.org/content/dam/denvergov/Portals/344/documents/Budget/Mayors_2017_Budget.pdf.
Hultquist, Andy, Robert Wood, and Rebecca Romsdahl. 2017. “The Relationship Between Climate Change Policy and Socioeconomic Change in the U.S. Great Plains.” Urban Affairs Review 53, no. 1: 138-174. Accessed July 26, 2017. doi: 10.1177/1078087415609737.
ICF International, PlaceWorks, Moffat & Nichol, and Michael Baker International. Climate Change Adaptation Plan: Preparing Benicia for a Resilient Future. Benicia, California, October 2016. http://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/vertical/sites/%7BF991A639-AAED-4E1A-9735-86EA195E2C8D%7D/uploads/Final_Adaptation_Plan.pdf.
Krause, Rachel M., Hongtao Yi, and Richard C. Feiock. 2016. "Applying Policy Termination Theory to the Abandonment of Climate Protection Initiatives by U.S. Local Governments." Policy Studies Journal 44, no. 2: 176-195. Accessed July 26, 2017. doi: 10.1111/psj.12117.
Larson, Lincoln, T. Lauber, David Kay, and Bethany Cutts. 2016. “Local Government Capacity to Respond to Environmental Change: Insights from Towns in New York State.” Environmental Management 60: 118-135. Accessed July 26, 2017. doi: 10.1007/s00267-017-0860-1.
Nordgren, John, Missy Stults, and Sara Meerow. 2016. “Supporting Local Climate Change Adaptation: Where We Are and Where We Need To Go.” Environmental Science and Policy 66: 344-352. Accessed July 26, 2017. doi: 10.1016/j.envsci.2016.05.006.
Tabuchi, Hiroko and Henry Fountain. “Bucking Trump, These Cities, States, and Companies Commit to Paris Accord.” New York Times, June 1, 2017. Accessed July 26, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/01/climate/american-cities-climate-standards.html.
About our Analyst
Catherine Greene is an Intern for GovDirections. She is a student at the University of Georgia currently studying for a dual degree for a Bachelor’s in International Affairs and a Master’s in Public Administration. She plans to graduate in May 2018 and begin a career in Policy Analysis.