Cities have gained considerable importance in the dialogue of climate change and environmental sustainability. A majority of the earth’s growing population is projected to live in cities. Not only are they responsible for a majority of earth’s energy and resource consumption, cities also subsequently produces the highest amount of wastes and emissions, and are therefore most affected by the impacts of climate change – both now and in the future. Solutions to human caused acceleration of climate changes must be locally based – driven by local organizations and individuals. In drafting mitigation and adaptation policies or influencing sustainability practices, local governments are therefore increasingly stressing civic involvement and public engagement in relevant programs and initiatives.

Foliage in Kansas City

Various institutional problems and the lack of a universally accepted local sustainability framework have caused a significant stagnation in the collective progress to create appropriate action plans or meeting emissions or waste reduction targets. Local leadership and innovation strategies, with the support national public opinion in the United States, is key to start and continue the dialogue regarding solutions to global climate change and mitigation schemes from a multidimensional analysis.

In Kansas City, various players like the Mid-America Regional Council, city councils, and the county have invested effort and resources into comprehensive planning for climate protection. Energy, clean air, water quality, natural resources and foresty studies are regularly conducted throughout the city to charter new areas of work in combating this issue.

Aerial shot of Kansas City

Local circumstances and public perceptions tend to shape municipal sustainability practices and determine the conceptual and operational definition of sustainability, and its applicability for a particular region. How it should be measured or what criteria should be used to assess them is left to individual communities. Since, a mainstream and universally accepted term is not applied; sustainability efforts in cities are largely shaped by circumstantial, locally based, internal and external perspectives. At the very basic local level, where action plans are ideally grounded, civic participation greatly influence regional policy making, and political and social circumstances further influence the opinion of the stakeholders who take varied views on the subject and therefore, no coherent action is taken to holistically address this global issue.

Is the debate, therefore, at a stalemate? Is it too late to address these issues, and are we already in the future that we endeavored to halt? Will these incremental attempts at lowering GHG concentrations amount to a large shift in the way we live, or be disorganized initiatives that hamper economic growth?

Credits: Photos by Martin Seliger. Data linked to sources.