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Climate Resilience: The New Dimension of Emerald Cities’ Triple Bottom Line of Environment, Economy & Equity

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(This is the first in a series of posts based on Emerald Cities Collaborative’s June 12 forum in Washington, D.C., on climate resilience in American cities.)ECC CEO Denise Fairchild

Against the backdrop of recently-proposed regulations to reduce carbon emissions and the advent of the U.S. hurricane season, the Emerald Cities Collaborative (ECC) convened a half-day forum in Washington, D.C., to explore how to build a climate-resilient economy that combines sustainability with equity for low-income, minority communities. 

“The High Road to Climate Resilience in American Cities” drew about 100 participants from the ECC board and staff, community and environmental organizations, business, labor, government and academia.   

Infrastructure, Economies, Civic Societies
Following expert panels on three aspects of resilience – infrastructure, economies and civic societies – each table of audience members discussed and jotted down what they see as the opportunities for and threats to building climate resilience. ECC will submit those thoughts to the Council on Environmental Quality’s State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, which is advising the Obama Administration on how the federal government can respond to the needs of communities dealing with the impacts of climate change. 

The task force provides a web form for recommendations from the public as well. It also suggests that communities, companies, schools and organizations partner with task force members (listed on the website above) to host meetings, town halls and public events where constituents can contribute recommendations and engage on the importance of climate preparedness. 

ECC CEO and President Denise Fairchild kicked off the event by framing the discussion in terms of ECC’s “triple bottom line” of environment, economy and equity. She made it clear that climate resilience is an imperative as ECC works to realize its three-fold mission in low-income communities of color. 

Resilience Requires Equity
Indeed, the theme that emerged throughout the proceedings was that those communities must be included on an equitable basis in all aspects of planning for climate resilience and rebuilding after disasters. Most important, these measures must incorporate sustainability, particularly for poor and minority neighborhoods that have historically experienced both a disproportionate share of environmental hazards and a lesser share of community resources. 

Fairchild made these important points:

  • Resilience is about building high-road economies that value our environment, a strong economy and equity.
  • Resilience places the environment at the centerpiece of decision making and takes an “eco-system approach” to planning and development.
  • Our physical infrastructure must be more agile, adaptable and capable of operating under duress and conditions of uncertainty.
  • Our water, power and food distribution systems must be restructured and rebuilt, not only to prevent climate change but also to withstand extreme weather events.
  • Above all, climate resilience requires a new, sturdier, high-functioning civic infrastructure that:
    • Encourages mutual aid and support;
    • Encompasses equity and social justice;
    • Includes a key role for community institutions; and
    • Not only cares for the most vulnerable populations but also includes them as full participants in the making of resilient economies and communities. 

“In short,” Fairchild concluded, “ A conversation about climate resilience is a conversation about ECC’s vision, aspirations and commitment.”

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