Nature-based solutions as a means to environmental justice in New York City; the importance of nature-based solutions to protect Canadian coastal communities

Opportunities for Growth: Nature-Based Jobs in NYC is a new report released on December 1, from Just Nature NYC, a partnership between the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and The Nature Conservancy in New York .  The report argues that nature-based solutions “ are vital to improving environmental health and building climate resilience – particularly in environmental justice communities. Climate scientists project that the frequency of annual heat waves in NYC will increase three to-five-fold by 2050, and heat waves are expected to last longer than those of the recent past.”

The report breaks new ground with a discussion and definition of a nature-based job:

“Nature-based jobs (NBJs) are defined as jobs that directly contribute to natural infrastructure and nature-based ecosystems with the goal of enhancing human health and well-being and promoting biodiversity.”  

Using that definition, the report determined that were 45,560 nature-based jobs in the New York City in 2020, in such positions as landscape architects, construction managers and tree trimmers and pruners. It notes projected growth for each role between 2020 and 2025, with the most expected growth to be in the professions of soil and plant scientists (expected to grow by 41 percent) and conservation scientists (with a growth of 27 percent). With a focus on the environmental justice benefits,  the authors call for near-term growth of nature-based jobs; increasing job equity, accessibility, and quality; and the need to promote deeper public appreciation of nature-based solutions.  Summaries are available in  “To Combat Climate Change, NYC Needs More Nature-Based Jobs: Report”  (City Limits, Dec. 6)  and  a December 1 summary in The Medium.

Another report arguing for the importance of nature-based solutions was published by the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo in December.  Rising Tides and Shifting Sands: Combining Natural and Grey Infrastructure to Protect Canada’s Coastal Communities  assesses the urgent dangers of flood and storm damages on Canada’s East and West Coasts, and discusses the current status of coastal protection measures. It differentiates between grey infrastructure (the hard, engineered measures such as seawalls) and nature-based solutions (which depend on, or mimic, natural systems to manage flood and erosion risk).   The report argues that nature-based solutions are underutilized, and in addition to offering protection, deliver multiple benefits, including improved biodiversity, carbon sequestration and storage, enhanced wellbeing and opportunities for recreational activities.

Rising Tides and Shifting Sands recommends scale-up of nature-based solutions through: 1. Developing national standards to support consistent evaluation of the benefits of nature-based solutions;  2. Developing national monitoring standards for coastal protection measures, focused on nature-based solutions; and 3.  Building  capacity to finance and deliver nature-based solutions by engaging the private sector. (“ Public-private partnerships can potentially assist in financing, delivering, monitoring, and maintaining nature-based solutions. The insurance industry can also assist in managing construction risks and offering innovative insurance products that provide funds to restore natural features protecting the coastline, should they be damaged during extreme events.”)

Architects, planners, and engineers working for climate change mitigation and adaptation

low carbon resilience coverA joint statement, “Advancing Integrated Climate Action”  was released in Fall 2018 by the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects , Canadian Institute of Planners , Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, and the Canadian Water & Wastewater Association, acknowledging their ethical and civic responsibilities to address climate change issues, undertaking to improve professional development, and calling on all levels of government and Indigenous leaders to  show meaningful leadership in “advocating for integrated climate action and upholding commitments in the Paris Agreement.”  The 3-page Joint Statement, which includes much more,  is here.

What lies behind this statement? A team of researchers at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, in cooperation with the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) in Victoria, surveyed and interviewed planning professionals in British Columbia, and provincial and national professional associations on the issue of “low carbon resilience (LCR)”. The final report of their research,  Low Carbon Resilience: Best Practices for Professionals – Final Report   , was released in December 2018, providing case studies, tools and resources. The report includes a conceptual model of Low Carbon Resilience, as well as  best practices case studies of how LCR can be mainstreamed – for example,  local government planning in the City of Hamburg, Germany ; the British Columbia Energy Step Code ;  and the construction and operation of a major health facility, the Christus Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christie Texas . The report also addresses the needs and possibilities for training and continuing professional development, and describes the database of key LCR-related tools and resources which is under construction.

An earlier report,  Professionals’ Best Practices for Low Carbon Resilience Summary of Phase One Engagement of Professionals and Professional Associations and Proposed Research Agenda summarizes the responses regarding individual attitudes and the role of professional associations .  The report identified “siloed thinking among professions” as a barrier to climate change action – leading, for example, to a lack of awareness of  the interconnections between zoning requirements, agricultural uses, biodiversity and infrastructure engineering in decisions about development and infrastructure planning.

The rationale behind the research:  “This project focused on the key role professionals play as change agents in climate action, and what is needed for all sectors to advance uptake of LCR-based practices. Communities and businesses rely on professional planners, engineers, developers, lawyers, and other experts for guidance, design, development, implementation, operations, maintenance and replacement of all aspects of society’s systems. Professionals are seminal in supporting and supplementing capacity at the local scale, where climate change impacts are felt most prominently, and where the greatest burden of response typically resides. It is therefore urgent that professionals are equipped to help local governments think through cost-effective plans that transcend outdated planning.”

It should be noted that Canadian professional engineers are an important part of this system, and  have long addressed their professional role related to climate change.  Engineers Canada’s  most recent Policy Statement on Climate Change details that history, sets out their position and makes recommendations for government.  In May 2018, Engineers Canada issued comprehensive guidelines for standards, practice and professional development in  National Guideline: Principles of Climate Adaptation and Mitigation for Engineers.

Union/Community Cooperation Builds on De Blasio’s Proposal to Reduce NYC GHG Emissions

A strategy document released in December tackles the triple bottom line, with ten proposals that would create jobs – up to 40,000 per year – while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change. The report is notable for two reasons: it was produced by a broad group of community, environmental and labour union groups in New York, including ALIGN, the National AFL-CIO, the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the BlueGreen Alliance, and the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance.
Secondly, the  proposals in Climate Works for All: A Platform for Reducing Emissions, Protecting Our Communities, and Creating Good Jobs for New Yorkers are specific and detailed. They include mandatory energy efficiency retrofits for large buildings; installing solar energy systems on the rooftops of the 100 largest schools in New York City; investing in microgrids; investing in more bus lines and restoring train lines; improved flood protection and storm water management; improved commercial waste management and recycling.
For each of the ten proposals, there is a detailed discussion which includes consideration of workforce issues: for example, the energy efficiency retrofit proposal includes a recommendation that, “building owners should ensure that building operators are trained in energy-efficient operations. To this end, the City Council should pass Intro 13-2014, a bill that will require large buildings in New York City to have at least one building operator who is certified in energy efficient building maintenance”.

Cities Making Progress in the Fight against Climate Change

A new global network, The Compact of Mayors, was announced at the New York Climate Summit in September, to expand city-level GHG reduction strategies; make existing targets and plans public; and make annual progress reports using a newly-standardized measurement system that is compatible with international practices. The new Compact will work with existing organizations and global networks of cities (C40, Cities Climate Leadership Group, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, and United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG). See a summary at: http://www.iclei.org/details/article/global-mayors-compact-shows-unity-and-ambition-to-tackle-climate-change-1.html, read The Compact document at: http://www.iclei.org/fileadmin/user_upload/ICLEI_WS/Documents/advocacy/Climate_Summit_2014/Compact_of_Mayors_Doc.pdf, or see the World Resources Institute blog at: http://www.wri.org/blog/2014/09/compact-mayors-cities-lead-tackling-climate-change-un-summit/.

At their annual meeting on September 23, the B.C. Mayors Climate Leadership Council reviewed their accomplishments since the group was founded 5 years ago. Climate Action Plans have been established in 50% of municipalities in British Columbia, covering 75% of B.C.’s population. 31 local governments achieved carbon neutrality for their operations in 2012. See the press release at: http://www.toolkit.bc.ca/News/BC-Municipalities-Marching-Ahead-Climate-Action. For more information about action in cities across Canada, see the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Partners for Climate Protection latest National Measures Report at: http://www.fcm.ca/Documents/reports/PCP/2014/PCP_National_Measures_Report_2013_EN.pdf (the PCP is part of the global ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability). See also Best Practices in Climate Resilience from Six North American Cities (from City of Toronto, June 2014) at: http://www1.toronto.ca/City%20Of%20Toronto/Environment%20and%20Energy/Programs%20for%20Businesses/Images/16-06-2014%20Best%20Practices%20in%20Climate%20Resilience.pdf.

The Carbon Disclosure Project surveyed 207 cities worldwide in its new report, Protecting Our Capital: How Climate Adaptation In Cities Creates a Resilient Place for Business. The survey included the following Canadian cities: Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Brandon, Winnipeg, Burlington, Hamilton, London, Toronto, and Montreal. The report attempts to identify the alignment of how companies and the cities in which they operate perceive climate-related risks. It finds most commonality in recognizing risks from increased temperatures and heatwaves, which have immediate impacts across the public and private sectors. It is assumed that cities that develop reasonable risk assessment and reduction strategies will be better positioned to attract and retain business. See https://www.cdp.net/CDPResults/CDP-global-cities-report-2014.pdf.