USAID and its Climate Change Resilient Development project hosted a symposium in mid-March on Advancing Climate Resilient Development at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The project, led by Engility/IRQ, was tagged as a project to watch in ND-GAIN’s 2014 Corporate Adaptation Prize competition. The Wednesday morning panel, Urban Day: Applying Technical Research and Tools in Developing Cities, focused on lessons learned from putting urban adaptation projects in place. A top-notch panel included John Furlow, USAID; Glen Anderson, Engility Corp.; Charles Cadwell, The Urban Institute; and Heather McGray, World Resources Institute (and lead rapporteur).
Heather issued a compelling report and to that, I offer this set of actions for all of us who consider ourselves climate-adaptation catalysts.
- We need to look before we leap, especially when it relates to pilot projects, where a healthy skepticism exists. We deserve to be impatient with small-scale action. The failure to glean lessons from pilots stands as a definite problem. Pilots should be chosen with comparability and scale-out in mind. One potential solution: Select an external group of leaders hold you accountable. In Chicago, we tapped a Green Ribbon Committee for our Chicago Climate Action Plan. At ND-GAIN, Kresge-ND-GAIN Advisors serves as our Urban Adaptation Assessment.
- We must integrate climate resilience into our work. A segregation/distinction between adaptation and development no longer exists. This is beneficial in a variety of ways, especially helping constituents recognize they already have built momentum and achieved success on adaptation (by reviewing their development work from the adaptation perspective.) But we should not assume all development professionals ask the climate adaptation question of their work, and we should continue to provide assets to help them to do so.
- We must emphasize that a good climate tool is one that is customized to the user and crafted from the user perspective. This holds true particularly with the climate scenarios and modeling. While data becomes more and more available, we also need data that is easy to access and interpret. We should invite our IT colleagues to help keep climate leaders on the cutting edge of data access.
- We must step up our collaboration with urban planners*, who climate change practitioners only recently have discovered. This is especially important since adaptation is a local issue. (As I have written about before, urban planners serve on the front lines of response, prevention and opportunity.) Many urban planners reading this might contend they have been pragmatic climate-change practitioners for a long time, dealing with droughts, excessive precipitation, extreme heat, scarce natural resources, and the like.
- We need to grasp that while the Private sector is an important driver of adaptation, it is markets – not plans – that drive what the private sector does. We should make sure plans and markets follow the same direction. To do this, we must understand that market growth pertains to sustaining lives and supporting livelihoods. Generally, the corporate stakeholder is a sustainability stakeholder when helping to build markets. From that perspective, we review the work of corporate stakeholders, provide them with knowledge and collaborate with them in a way that furthers all of our goals.
*and here is a shameless plug for MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning!