Climate Change at the Local Level

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Industry News
Climate Change at the Local Level
By Susan Smith

Climate change has taken on epic proportions as everyone on the planet grows in awareness of their role as stakeholder, and the fact that everyone can make a difference, not just at the universal level but at the local and individual level as well. Where once climate change might have been the domain of a few Birkenstock-clad GreenPeace or Sierra Club members, it is now on the agenda of nearly every technology conference in the U.S.

A technology session at ESRI User Conference 2008 entitled “Climate Change GIS in Local Government” drew a large crowd. Presenters included:

  • Jon Harrison, drafter of ESRI Local Climate Action plans, a member of the City Council and for the past three years, Mayor of Redlands.
  • Greg Knight, Boston Redevelopment Authority, spearheading the Boston Solar Project
  • Beth Jarosz, SANDAG, GIS Analyst for 7 years, with focus on land use and transportation

Jon Harrison opened with the question, Why is climate change a local government issue? In answer to that question, he said, “Globally, cities produce 75% of the GHG emissions produced on earth, but occupy 2 % of the earth’s surface.”

In Redlands, their first user group meeting drew an audience of those interested in establishing a Climate Protection Data Model, and sharing what others are doing in areas such as local government, forestry, and transportation. The audience was concerned with issues such as running out of water, and how the numerous coastal cities in California will be affected by global warming.

A local climate action plan was devised which

  • Defines actions the local government will do to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions
  • Defines actions for residents and businesses within the community to reduce their GHG emissions
  • Set targets and establish tools and methods for measuring progress towards meeting those targets.

“If we work on our cities one pieces at a time we will effect a change,” stated Harrison. Governments are only about 6% inside their jurisdictional boundary, as other people also come from commuting and businesses.

Harrison believes that by using GIS and tracking activity individually, local governments can achieve downward trends. California has the goal of attaining 80% below 1990 emissions by 2050 to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Major categories for local climate action include -
Energy efficiency and conservation
*Water and wastewater systems
Green building
*Waste reduction and recycling
Climate friendly purchasing
*Renewable energy and low carbon fuels (photovoltaics, etc)
*Efficient transportation
*Land use and community design
*Storing and offsetting carbon emissions
*Promoting community and individual action

*Categories where GIS is most helpful

“Land use and community design decisions are made by what’s good for society as a whole,” said Harrison. “Our model is made by the individual who owns it, and allows people to build on agricultural areas.” GIS takes information from existing systems already out there, refines planimetric elements using location and time, and provides improved communication through visualization. Many cities by ordnance are increasing building standards and reducing energy consumption.

Harrison said that the job of cities and counties is to define the role of GIS in a local climate action plan. They need to ask themselves, What are their specific strategies? “They need to think about what the spatial data are to address that,” said Harrison. “Many cities and counties have resources as well as external resources. There is the Climate Change Data Model which just started, and may be able to be integrated with what you have.” ICLEI focused on a robust accounting system focused on a city as a whole, yet the accounting is not yet broken down to neighborhoods, and you can’t see what neighborhoods are doing well. “By using GIS you can see what is working and how to work more effectively.”

Sources for more information on local action plans:

U.S. Conference of Mayors Best Practices

League of California Cities Institute for Local Government - Best Practices

ICLEI – US – Local Action Plan Methodology

Local Government Commission – Policies and Technical Assistance

Harrison suggested that people share through their user group organizations.

Beth Jarosz, GIS Analyst for SANDAG for 7 years, does regional analyses of different types, land use change, and contributed to a chapter in SANDAG’s textbook on the quality of life. She spoke on “The role of GIS in Climate Action Planning at SANDAG,” a planning agency for region and county.

SANDAG got its start in the 1970s with an emphasis on transportation, climate and shoreline and habitat preservation, economic growth, crime, etc. “Being a council of governments, we have incentive funding to foster smart growth among cities,” explained Jarosz.

SANDAG is under contract with the California Energy Commission, doing a pilot project for developing a greenhouse gas reduction strategy using the techniques they use for Climate Action Planning (CAP).

The Project scope of CAP is as follows:

Phase 1 – analysis of GHG reduction options

    Transportation and land use
    Electricity and natural gas

Phase 2 – develop a series of policy recommendations – after analyzing phase 1

The Land use and transportation forecasting process involves a “multimodel forecasting process,” whereby they start out by figuring out the demographic and economic forecasting model. There are about 1 million more people living in San Diego now than in the past 25 years. Many people are living in northern counties and in Mexico and commuting in on the freeway network. “We take that information and do a subregional forecast,” said Jarosz. “We maintain information on each parcel of land and how each of those will build out.”

Cities/county forecast (UDM) works with the transportation forecasting model (TRANSCAD). Growth increases congestion, which creates changes around the region.

The land use and transportation forecasting process is stored in the Landcore geodatabase which stores information about current conditions, keeps planned land use, and the carrying capacity on parcels, such as how much will they change, how many additional units or jobs fit on that parcel of land. Flood plains, and steep slopes are all part of that land information system.

“Our forecast is heavily driven by local plans and policies,” said Jarosz. They use ArcGIS in the Climate Action Plan modeling to:

  • Develop model inputs for land use and transportation
  • To show presentations of ideas

GIS is used in developing an alternative land use scenario –

  • Used ArcMap to select transit stations with high production and attraction –
  • We want people to be walking to their transit stations not driving.
  • GIS used in developing alternative land use scenario –
  • ½ mile buffer around selected transit stations
  • Selected all parcels within buffer that were not cut off from station by a walk barrier
  • Changed planned land use mix and increased density in these target areas. – mix it up so that people could walk or bike to work (work being close to homes)

“In changing land use, it was very easy to turn off and on features like golf courses,” said Jarosz.

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Review Article
  • Climate Change at Neighborhood Level February 07, 2009
    Reviewed by 'Surjit Singh Saini'
    The human factor responsible for Climate change at local level is detectable through GIS very well

      One person found this review helpful.

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