Building community resilience in an uncertain future

Building community resilience in an uncertain future

By Anderson Kehbila

October 31, 2011

It was a standing room only crowd at Carbon Talks October 25, brown bag lunch dialogue on Resilient Cities with Boyd Cohen.

Cohen opened his presentation by calling on governments to act now or pay a hefty price for the impacts of climate change. He demonstrated through a series of slides that business-as-usual would cost the U.S. economy a minimum of $1.8 trillion by 2020 if the federal government fails to address the risks associated with climate change.

According to Cohen, cities constitute about 50% of the world’s population and are in a unique position to act.  Unlike federal governments, the United Nations or the European Union, they do not require multilateral agreements or large-scale investments to transition to a low-carbon economy.  But what they do require is courageous local politicians taking drastic and sometimes controversial measures to avert the potential devastating impacts of climate change.

These measures, Cohen submits, range from cycling to work in Copenhagen, through floodable and elevated parks in Curitiba to solar thermal energy in Barcelona. Other initiatives include sustainable parks in Stockholm, renewable energy generation in Vancouver and rail transit use in Paris (See Cohen’s previous blog for a comprehensive ranking of top 10 cities and their corresponding initiatives).

Cohen also recognizes that simple energy efficiency measures such as better insulation, energy star windows and doors, LED lighting, reduced travel, high efficient heating and cooling equipments are crucial in the fight against climate change. They hold tremendous promise in energy cost savings, greenhouse gas reduction, air quality improvement, comfortable work environments and better productivity.

In addition to combating climate change, adaptation and mitigation measures can become economic engines spawning innovation and job creation. China’s booming solar industry is one example of a nation moving quickly to corner the growing renewable energy market. Cohen suggested that rather than lagging behind the U.S. on major climate policies, Canada should follow China’s example and consider how to position itself in this new global low-carbon economy.

That will require a blend of incentives and regulations to guide behavioral change to green procurement, maintenance, reuse and recycling. Although Cohen does not believe that consumer choices will bring about the changes hoped for, he emphasizes the need for companies to develop environmentally friendly products that provide real value to customers in terms of aesthetics, durability and cost savings.

As Cohen puts it, adaptation and mitigation strategies should be seen as business opportunities to transform our urban centers into the driving forces for a low-carbon economy. That will require courageous municipal politicians to leverage innovative strategies into emerging policies. If cities take their bold actions further still, change may start to happen at other levels of government.

(Icon photo courtesy of Peggy Reimchen, Flickr)

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