The federal climate research program was AWOL from the 2008 ICLEI Local Action Summit for North America, where more than 300 local elected officials and their staff, from Alaska to Florida, gathered to help one another tackle the hard choices that global climatic disruption presents for normal decisionmaking.
From May 14-16, the Albuquerque Convention Center was a hotbed of complex problem-solving and knowledge-sharing on climate and sustainability efforts at the local level. Mayors, county executives, water managers, land use planners, and sustainability staffers from cities, towns, and counties dotting the US landscape were there to learn what works, what doesn’t, and how to navigate the future.
The host organization – “ICLEI—Local Governments for Sustainability”—originated as the International Council for Local Energy Initiatives at the World Congress of Local Governments for a Sustainable Future, in 1990 at the United Nations in New York City. Now in its 18th year, ICLEI serves as a capacity-building network, clearinghouse, and hub for consulting expertise for more than 800 local governments worldwide, and has built an impressive array of results-oriented campaigns and programs for both mitigating and adapting to climate change. For three days at this year’s Local Action Summit, local elected officials and their key staff attended plenary sessions designed to inform and inspire, and participated actively in lengthy break-out sessions formatted for serious, detailed problem-solving and one-on-one networking.
The wide-ranging agenda covered water resources (especially what to do in cases of droughts and floods), transportation challenges, energy use and production, and agriculture. It spanned just about every economic sector, and made impressive attempts to cover every imaginable decision that local planners face every day.
Anne Polansky, Senior Associate with CSW, attended the conference, and repeatedly raised the fundamental question: “What do local officials need and/or want from the federal climate programs?” With just a few notable exceptions, the question drew a collection of responses ranging from blank stares, shrugs of indifference, sighs of frustration, and a few sharp comments, the most notable being: “This administration has been a total ‘no-show.’”
In our recommendations to the next President, being developed collaboratively through our National Climate Change Preparedness Initiative, we will call for the next administration to connect solidly with ICLEI, its Executive Director Michelle Wyman, its talented staff, and, most importantly, with its experienced members, who are much in need of guidance, information exchange, expert assessment, and mutual support. Local officials from Juneau to Sarasota joined ICLEI with a judgment that this group was their best bet – and, in all likelihood, in recognition that their national government has essentially disconnected climate change research and assessment from local stakeholders.