Climate change-clever communities: Consultation, creativity and capacity

By Raili Lakanen

The environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change are present at many scales. As a delegation, we’ve mostly focused on the United Nations process as the appropriate venue for dealing with global climate change issues – and it is the best option, a framework within which we should continue to work! – but the bulk of the implementation of many climate change mitigation and adaptation measures will necessarily occur at a local level.

Sustainable communities may be creative in the use of public space, such as this farmers’ market in Manhattan

One way that cities and communities can take charge of their climate change-impacted future is through sustainability planning. Sustainable development is frequently characterized by the definition coined in the 1987 “Our Common Future” report (also commonly known as the Brundtland report), which states that “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Within this definition is an acknowledgement of needs (as well as both inter- and intra-generational equity) – ensuring everyone has sufficient resources to survive. This will become increasingly more difficult as the need to quickly adapt to climate change impacts becomes a reality in more regions around the world. 

A first step in meeting communities’ needs is to, well, find out what those needs and values may be. To that end, I think that an engaged, educated and empowered public can help develop and support positive environmental actions within municipalities.

Earlier this month, I presented on an interdisciplinary panel at Massey College examining “the City”. I focused on community sustainability planning – not just examples of well-planned regions, but more so with an emphasis on the process of cultivating a culture of sustainability planning in a region. I suggested that successful sustainability planning could be accomplished through certain measures with a focus on consultation, creativity and capacity.

Consultation is a key process in creating a dialogue between residents and decision makers. Consultation should involve many stakeholders – and here, I would stress the importance of youth participation in sustainability projects! – and start to work through seemingly dissimilar objectives to determine a collaborative consensus. The CYD works on a model of consensus-based decision making, and although it’s not always the quickest way to make a decision, it does offer the opportunity to come up with a solution that all members can live with!

Creativity may tie into the resilience factor of sustainability planning – how does the community deal with challenges and work together to develop new solutions? This may include planting community gardens or organizing farmers’ markets (pictured) to increase local food security, or, it may involve developing climate change adaptation plans. Finally, building capacity is a crucial component of the process; sustainability initiatives can be led by community-based organizations and local champions, but there should be an opportunity for all participants to gain new skills.

Personally, I know that I am grateful for all my personal capacity development while working with the CYD at COP 16, and I hope that this amazing experience will inform my approach to community sustainability planning well into the future…

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