Elisabeth Haub Law School of Law
Pace University
Land Use Law Center
Supervisor: John R. Nolon, Distinguished Professor
Blog No. 36 of the Land Use, Human Health, and Equity Project
Editor: Brooke Mercaldi
Contributing Author: Meg Byerly Williams [*]

Low Carbon and Resilient Land Use: Part 1

Natural disasters are expensive and indiscriminate. Every state in the U.S. has communities that are experiencing declining property values due to more frequent drought, wildfires, flooding, extreme heat, mudslides, and/or storm surges and sea level rise (SLR). The new book Choosing to Succeed: Land Use Law & Climate Control describes these climate change impacts in detail, explaining how these escalating economic costs accrue at the local level where municipalities must respond on the ground to protect vulnerable local residents and their property. In places prone to natural disaster, people are having a harder time obtaining mortgages and casualty insurance and real estate prices are falling.


Natural disasters in these places are relentless. In Morton County, Kansas, where approximately 85% of the land is farmed, farmers are contending with the effects of ongoing drought. Consistently less rainfall has resulted in a lower water table that has destabilized the Ogallala Aquifer, the region’s water source. In addition, warmer temperatures make it more difficult to determine the optimal growing season and area for corn, the region’s most planted crop. In Isle de Jean Charles, an island community in Terrebonne Par­ish, Louisiana, 98% of the island has been inundated with water since 1955. This loss of land has destroyed this island tribal community’s ability to grow crops and raise livestock and continues to threaten the remaining residents’ culture through potential separation from the remaining land. In California, wildfires burn almost every year due to ongoing dry conditions and high winds that increase their size and intensity. The Butte County Camp Fire in 2018 Paradise, California killed 85 people, destroyed thousands of structures and caused approximately over $16 billion dollars in damage. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused flooding all along the coast of New Jersey and New York, destroying properties that subsequently declined in value due to slow federal assistance, higher rebuilding costs, and lender reluctance.


Faced with repeated disasters, governments have focused primarily on top-down solutions to address climate change, guided by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international environmental treaty adopted in 1992 under which Convention’s decision-making body, the Conference of the Parties (COP), holds annual meetings to monitor Convention implementation. From its inception in 1992, the Convention’s framework generally excluded local climate change mitigation initiatives. However, in 2011 at an Expert Meeting on Human Settlement and Infrastructure in Calcutta, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began to explore the local government’s role in mitigating climate change as outlined in A Report to the IPCC on Research Connecting Human Settlements, Infrastructure, and Climate Change. Following this meeting in 2014, the IPCC released its Fifth Assessment Report, which included a chapter that recognized how municipal governments can help mitigate climate change, and in 2015 the Paris Climate Agreement also outlined how local governments can contribute to mitigation.


This was nothing new to municipalities that had already been busy using their state delegated powers to adopt local laws that address climate change. Such local laws can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging people to use personal vehicles less often and by facilitating lower energy consumption in buildings. These laws also help protect green spaces that sequester carbon dioxide and facilitate renewable energy generation that reduces emissions. For example, local governments can adopt transit-oriented and transportation efficient plans and zoning that locate housing near transit to encourage pedestrian and bicycle traffic and reduce vehicle miles traveled. Similarly, zoning regulations that allow mixed-use development enable people to walk from their homes and jobs to the stores and services they access in their everyday lives. Building and energy codes can enable energy efficient technologies, and cluster development regulations can require new developments to protect existing green space. Amendments to zoning can allow solar and wind energy systems of all sizes in appropriate zoning districts while protecting the surrounding community from any associated impacts.


Choosing to Succeed: Land Use Law & Climate Control describes these low carbon land use strategies, as well as ways local governments can adapt to climate change by discouraging investments in properties at risk for storm surge and flooding, adopting hazard mitigation plans, and protecting water supplies. Local governments have the tools they need at their disposal to shape their future in the face of climate change. It is up to municipalities to use them.


For additional resources, the Gaining Ground Information Database is a free resource featuring best practice models used by governments to control the use of land in the public interest. Please direct your search toward the Healthy Communities topic.

[*] Meg Byerly Williams is a ’10 graduate of the joint degree program of the Elisabeth Haub School of Law (JD) and the Yale School of the Environment (MEM). She is In-house Counsel at Skeo Solutions, Inc. where she serves as a regular consultant to the Land Use Law Center. She also serves as the Ex Officio Member of the American Planning Association’s Divisions Council Executive Committee and is Editor of the APA Planning and Law Division’s Case Law Digest.

Brooke Mercaldi is a second-year student at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law and Land Use Scholar in the Land Use Law Center.


The previous blogs in the series are listed here:

  1. Reframing Sustainability: Introducing the Land Use, Human Health, and Equity Project
  2. Planning for Public Health: A New Beginning for Land Use Law
  3. The Role of Density in Combatting Climate Change and COVID-19
  4. Novel Coronavirus Claims Implicate Age-Old Property Rights Questions
  5. State & Local COVID-related Emergency Powers: Individual Rights
  6. COVID-Related Land Use Regulations and Judicial Deference
  7. Mediation of Eviction Disputes May Hold the Key to the Survival of Small Businesses
  8. Using Zoning to Help Eliminate Food Deserts: A Few Steps Forward
  9. Urban Heat Islands and Equity
  10. Urban Heat Island and Equity: What Can Local Governments Do?
  11. The Recovery Lease: Preventing Evictions of Commercial Tenants During the Pandemic
  12. The Role of Hazard Mitigation Planning in Promoting Public Health and Resilience
  13. Hazard Mitigation Planning: A Case Study
  14. Complete Streets: Protecting Public Health
  15. Zoning and Lease Mediation as a Way to Retain Critical Small Businesses
  16. Segregation by Law and the Racial Inequity Pandemic
  17. Combating Food Swamps to Improve Equity and Public Health
  18. The Pandemic Plan for Healthy Buildings
  19. Remediating Distressed Properties to Improve Public Health
  20. Housing, a Crucial Determinant of Health
  21. ADU Introduction
  22. NIMBY Restrictions to Poison the Prospects of Accessory Dwelling Units to Address Housing Insecurity
  23. Zoning to Fill the Missing Middle Housing Gap
  24. Old Tools to Fight Housing Insecurity: Adaptive Reuse and Infill Development
  25. Racial Impact Analyses
  26. A New Era of Equity-Based Comprehensive Planning…Finally
  27. Equity-Based Comprehensive Plans: Land Use Policies to Correct Past Disparities
  28. Reversing the Legacy of Redlining: Reducing Exposure to Toxins and Pollutants Through Land Use Law Reform
  29. Addressing the Four Pandemics – A Case Study
  30. Health Impact Assessments: A New Tool for Analyzing Land Use Plans, Zone Changes, and Development Projects
  31. Putting the “e” in TOD
  32. The Four Pandemics Explained and Addressed by Land Use Law and Policy
  33. Gentrification: Remedies and Consequences
  34. What is Climate Gentrification and Why is it Different?
  35. Using Supportive Housing to Address Homelessness


To subscribe to the GreenLaw Blog, please go to https://greenlaw.blogs.pace.edu/ and click on the “Subscribe” envelope.