Grand Rapids Publishes Climate Resiliency Report

PictureNote: Haris will be joining TriplePundit for a live chat on Wednesday, December 11 at 2pm Pacific/5pm Eastern.

By Haris Alibašić

The climate knot

“Climate change impacts each sector in isolation, but it also impacts the interaction of each to others and the function of the system as a whole.  Therefore, understanding the needs of the community, major relationships between sectors, and the ability of the sectors to provide those needs in a changing climate world is key to building resilience.”  (Grand Rapids Climate Resiliency Report, 2013)

System approach to understanding localization of climate change

Using the system-wide approach to understanding climate change and concrete impacts on the local community, West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) in partnership with the City of Grand Rapids, developed the first of its kind, Climate Resiliency Report. After over 12 months of collaboration, interviews, and research, the report was presented to the City Commission on December 3, 2013, and made available to the public. Impressive aspects of the report include its focus on localization of climate change impact, and a specific set of recommendations to build resiliency in the local community and strengthen disaster recovery and resilience by local government. Goals of the report are to potentially initiate discussion and further enhance projects, policies, programs, and planning actions enabling Grand Rapids to mitigate the effects of climate change, to adapt to its impacts, and to utilize emerging sustainability opportunities.

The report was funded from a portion of the grant sponsored by Walmart, which the City of Grand Rapids received as part of the 2012 U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Award, recognizing the City and Mayor George K. Heartwell as the nation’s top winner in the large cities category. The winning communities were acknowledged for their commitment to sustainability planning and local climate protection efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In the words of Nicholas Occhipinti, WMEAC Policy Director, and one of the co-authors of the report,

[The report was] developed using local experts’ knowledge of climate science and in-depth analysis of existing data. Twenty-five interviews were conducted with contributions from a broad range of community sectors. Interviewees represented the following perspectives:  Insurance, Academia, Regional Planning, Transportation, Food Systems, Emergency Preparedness, Sustainability, Environmental Services, Community Infrastructure, Forestry, Finance, Public Safety, Built Environment, Community Essential Needs, Engineering, and Energy.”

Partnership opportunities in the sustainability field in Grand Rapids also contributed to the report. Universities in Grand Rapids have been proven partners on the issues of sustainability and climate resiliency for the City. Dr. Elena Lioubimtseva from Grand Valley State University used the MAGICC/SCENGEN 5.2.3 (Model for the Assessment of Greenhouse-gas Induced Climate Change with the Regional Scenario Generator) modeling software for an analysis of Grand Rapids to square area of 2.5o (175 miles) by 2.5o (175 miles).

Localization of climate science

As described in the report and further explained by Aaron Ferguson from WMEAC, second co-author of the report, “The climate change variables of temperature and precipitation were projected through the years 2022 and 2042 to coincide with the City’s 20-year Master Planning process. Temperatures and precipitation were compared to baseline annual average and monthly average data from 1961-1990.” A sample of the analysis and findings from the report that describe climate change impact in Grand Rapids area:

  • Average temperature and precipitation will increase by 1.1oC and 2.6 percent, respectively, by 2022, and further increase by 2.2oC and 8.5 percent, respectively, by 2042.
  • Seasonally, the largest increases in temperature are projected to occur during the winter. The least in summer.
  • The largest percent increase in precipitation is predicted to occur in the winter and spring months.
  • Summer is the only season projected to actually become drier.
  • The Great Lakes region can expect more variable and volatile weather. This trend could lead to more extreme weather events such as storms producing greater than one inch of rain in 24 hours, increased frequency of consecutive days above 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity, and more freeze-thaw cycles in winter and spring.

Conclusions and recommendations

The report also provides a number of conclusions and recommendations in the areas of process improvements – social, economic, and environmental – as described in a sample of recommendations below.

  • Under processes, organizations should use an economic, triple bottom line cost-benefit approach in financing and implementation of major projects.
  • Under crime prevention, the report suggests the use of crime prevention tools through environmental design of parks and public spaces, and opening lines of communication with community and neighborhood organizations.
  • The report concludes that the city should seek to move from a centralized energy system, toward a more distributed energy system, energy efficiency, and renewable energy systems.
  • Continue to encourage the construction of best-in-class green building projects.
  • Research and implement climate-resilient street maintenance and construction practices, particularly for materials and physical infrastructure.
  • Adopt a strong Urban Tree Canopy goal – at least 40 percent – and implement a forestry program addressing heat island, air quality, and other resiliency values delivered by a diverse, healthy urban tree canopy.

Future work

The report will directly support and link to various aspects and targets of the City’s Sustainability Plan. It provides an opportunity for regional and state-wide discussions on the impact of climate change, but also for specific discussions on policies and tools to implement climate resiliency in communities and regions. As concluded in the report, Grand Rapids needs an individual or organizations to own and champion climate resiliency in the community. In a broader sense, the report itself can serve as a template for similar reports for other local governments.

For more information about the sustainability work being done in Grand Rapids, visit

The Grand Rapids Resiliency Report can be downloaded here

Haris Alibašić directs the City of Grand Rapids’ Office of Energy and Sustainability and teaches graduate courses in public administration and sustainability at Grand Valley State University. Mr. Alibašić is a Ph.D. candidate in Public Policy and Administration at Walden University, with a research focus on sustainability, energy and public policy, and is a recipient of the Commitment to Social Change doctoral scholarship.

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