Author: John R. Nolon; Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus; Co-counsel, Land Use Law Center

In the recently released Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Climate Resilient Development is described as a principal strategy for achieving “deep and sustained emissions reductions and . . . a livable and sustainable future for all.” Implementation of this strategy depends on the aggressive and innovative reform of land use planning and regulation by local governments, complemented by state, federal, civic, and private sector assistance.

Our Land Use Law Center began to build a framework for Climate Resilient Development (CRD) in March of 2022, just after Working Group II of the IPCC released its contribution to AR6. Its focus on urban development and conservation is clear:

Urban systems are critical for achieving deep emissions reductions and advancing climate resilient development (emphasis added). Key adaptation and mitigation elements in cities include considering climate change impacts and risks … in the design and planning of settlements and infrastructure; land use planning to achieve compact urban form, co-location of jobs and housing; supporting public transport and active mobility (e.g., walking and cycling); the efficient design, construction, retrofit, and use of buildings; reducing and changing energy and material consumption; sufficiency; material substitution; and electrification in combination with low emissions sources.

The Land Use Law Center’s team began its work on CRD by looking at the historical development of local climate action planning. In 1993, the City of Portland became the first city to adopt a discrete Climate Action Plan (CAP). It, like succeeding climate plans in other cities at the time, modeled climate change mitigation by focusing on public buildings, vehicle fleets, and procurement, auditing the results, and gradually expanding their reach. Though CAPs evolved slowly at first, they began drawing on municipal land use regulatory authority to mitigate emissions from private sector development. Many of these strategies achieved low carbon development by creating walkable, compact development: incorporating initiatives such as transit oriented development, mixed-use development, floating zones, overlay zones, bonus density development, in-fill construction, etc.

The evolution of CAPs and their implementing strategies continues; local governments are increasing the breadth and depth of their involvement in CRD. They are moving horizontally to adapt to climate change as well as to mitigate it, while creating resilient neighborhoods that are equitable and feasible over time. Vertically, local governments are drilling deeper by, for example, requiring new developments to incorporate forward thinking initiatives such as requiring low carbon building materials, EV charging stations, less impervious parking, multi-modal streets, equitable transit, mitigation of wildfire damage, control of urban flooding, and to conform to rating standards contained in the USGBC’s LEED for Cities and Communities. This city-oriented rating system was initiated in 2016; over 125 cities in the U.S. have been certified based on their compliance with a number of criteria that relate to the city’s sustainable development strategies. Rating criteria focus on multiple CRD related objectives such as environmental, ecological, economic, equity, and public health considerations.

Students are now publishing their findings in a variety of national journals and rapidly populating GreenLaw with descriptions and analyses of discrete CRD initiatives. Their articles include an ELI guide to CRD published last year in its Environmental Law Reporter, as well as several forthcoming journal articles on low carbon building materials, CAPs, the LEED for Cities rating system, low impact development, decarbonized transportation, and hazard mitigation, among other topics. Student research has uncovered and organized an impressive array of local strategies that align squarely with key adaptation and mitigation elements that the IPCC lists in describing CRD in the IPCC’s AR6 Synthesis Report. The results demonstrate that CRD is practically and legally achievable in the U.S. and that, when integrated, these land use strategies create a comprehensive climate change management framework for local, state, and federal policy makers.

The research results of our CRD team will be summarized in concise articles and posted on the Haub Law School’s online environmental law publication: GreenLaw. Stay tuned.