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Greenbuild Blog

For Cities, Climate Resilience is the Path Toward a Safer and More Sustainable Future

By Jennifer Easton

November 30, 2023

“The world just sweltered through its hottest August on record”—this September 2023 headline from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a pointed reminder of how the progression of climate change has come to impact our daily lives in highly tangible and increasingly frequent ways. 

There has been no shortage of examples of this in 2023. In August, the Maui wildfires displaced thousands and claimed the lives of nearly 100 people. Two months prior, smoke from Canadian wildfires blanketed U.S. cities: Chicago recorded the worst air quality in the world on June 27. In both cases, experts found that climate change played a role

Storms also made headlines: Super Typhoon Mawar, 2023’s most powerful storm, resulted in a disaster declaration in Guam in May, and by September, every tropical ocean basin in the world had produced a Category 5 storm for the first time on record.  

In all of these instances, city planning and infrastructure played a central role in disaster response: the ability of cities to prepare for, withstand and respond to extreme weather and environmental events is directly correlated to the well-being and safety of inhabitants, whether they’re seeking refuge indoors from air pollution caused by a distant source, or living directly within a wildfire- or storm-prone region. 

Climate resilience must be a priority for global cities 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines climate resilience as “the capacity of a system to maintain function in the face of stresses imposed by climate change and to adapt the system to be better prepared for future climate impacts.”

In cities, climate resilience interventions, compiled by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), can include: 

  • Climate risk and vulnerability assessments, disclosure and monitoring
  • Early warning systems and early action
  • Preparedness: contingency plans/emergency response
  • Climate risk governance and capacity-building
  • Nature-based solutions used to reduce risks across sectors
  • Climate-proofing infrastructure and services
  • Risk transfer: insurance and social protection
  • Sharing of knowledge and best practices on climate risk management
  • Volume, quality and access of public and private finance

Frameworks like LEED for Cities and Communities provide a template and a process for putting a broad array of climate resilience measures into place, helping cities take an holistic approach to address the complex challenges posed by climate change and create more livable and adaptable urban environments.

The rating system, which is already in use by more than 300 cities and communities globally, addresses resilience through design planning for potential impacts of natural disasters, site development plans that provide flood control measures, maintaining landscapes to reduce the risk of wildfire, and support for community recovery during catastrophic events. 

Royal Oak, Michigan, which earned LEED for Cities certification in 2020, employs a number of resilience strategies designed to safeguard the city’s ability to operate and care for its residents. To ensure power surety and resiliency, Royal Oak has generators in place for the fire and police departments, traffic signals, and health care facilities and laboratories. The city performs a water distribution reliability study every five years. 

Climate resilience in our cities will significantly impact the way our shared future plays out, and the tools that help accelerate it at the city-level are of more importance than ever. This year’s high volume of environmental events culminated in a United Nations (UN) report, released on Oct. 25, stating that the world is approaching multiple risk tipping points, but with a notable message of optimism for the path forward: 

“Luckily, we are able to see the danger ahead of us. Changing our behaviors and priorities can shape a path towards a bright, sustainable and equitable future.” 

For more educational content on climate resilience, visit Streamly