In September 2021, Governor Newsom passed a budget with $15 billion allocated for climate resilience and natural resource management, and just two months later, the Biden Administration passed the $1 trillion Infrastructure Bill with $47 billion designated for climate resilience. With local and international reminders of the huge amount of work left to do, government agencies are scrambling to make these funding infusions available to local governments and community-based organizations where adaptation work is most critical. In the interim, we can take this opportunity to prepare the Bay Area—a region with robust resources, yet perhaps even greater climate-related risks—with the tools necessary for leveraging these one-time funds to build lasting climate resilience.
When California’s Legislative Analyst Office asked local municipalities what their greatest barriers to adaptation are, they found that it was rarely a lack of data that prevented action, but instead, insufficient funding and capacity. With the Bay Area poised to receive a significant influx of capital in the coming years, our team at Greenbelt Alliance is working to build capacity at the local level to ensure that these climate investments are strategic, coordinated, and centered around the experience and knowledge of frontline communities. Without adequate local capacity, no amount of additional funding will be enough.
The Key to Building Local Capacity: Governance
Local capacity can mean a number of things, including:
- The ability of city or county staff to engage in climate adaptation planning
- The political will of local policymakers to prioritize funds and staff for climate adaptation projects
- The knowledge and expertise of stakeholders to address complex adaptation challenges
- The engagement of non-governmental organizations in bolstering public-sector capacity and knowledge
One common term that is used to describe these many vital functions is governance.
Governance is an ambiguous, far-reaching term that refers to the structures of multiple public and private players involved in planning, implementing, and sustaining climate adaptation action. Key aspects of climate adaptation governance are accountability, decision-making ability, monitoring, and fair and equitable processes.
In the Bay Area, we have a wealth of top-notch agencies, institutions, and non-profit organizations working in the climate adaptation space, yet we are still experiencing a “governance gap”, or a lack of coordination and accountability within and between actors to overcome institutional barriers to action (Lubell, 2021). This governance gap has resulted in uncoordinated projects happening on a largely ad-hoc basis, and often with inadequate public processes and monitoring mechanisms in place. Uncoordinated adaptation efforts are not just inefficient, they are inequitable. For example, a recent study found that a seawall built to protect one portion of the Bay’s shoreline may worsen flood impacts and economic damages for other communities (Hummel, 2021).
Filling the Governance Gap: A Look at Innovative Approaches Around the Country
To reduce the adaptation deficit the Bay Area is facing, we will need to think beyond our existing systems to find tools to close the governance gap and prepare for the future in the face of a changing climate. This will have to happen as a region, but also (and arguably more urgently) at the community scale. Thankfully, places around the country, and around the world, have gotten the ball rolling in thinking through how we might fill this gap.
Here are some case studies we’ve been following:
How Greenbelt Alliance is Bringing Resilience Districts to Life in the Bay Area
In learning from these case studies and building on existing scholarship, Greenbelt Alliance will continue to develop innovative capacity building strategies that uplift frontline communities and nature-based solutions simultaneously.
Our community partners around the region are a testament to the power of local advocacy and the importance of having citizen experts in the fight for equitable climate adaptation. To capitalize on this local knowledge and power, Greenbelt Alliance is developing a Bay Area iteration of the Resilience District concept as a mechanism for implementing vital climate adaptation projects, providing a platform for ongoing community engagement, and generating local funding for ongoing resilience needs.
We are building off past work in Contra Costa County, including the Resilient By Design competition, interest by the County’s Public Works department, and most recently, a report prepared for the County assessing various options for creating Resilience Districts for unincorporated areas. A broad range of stakeholders have agreed that new approaches are needed to advance climate governance and equitable adaptation, but the question still remains: what does this look like in practice?
While we celebrate recent wins in Contra Costa County (Measure X allocations of $500,000 annually for expanded staff capacity to address climate equity and resilience!), we are also looking towards the future. In doing so, Greenbelt Alliance is advocating for a Resilience District pilot project in Contra Costa that would assess critical questions while building local capacity through community engagement and action-focused planning. Stay tuned for updates on Greenbelt Alliance’s work on filling the climate governance gap!
Photo: Benches Park by James Bueti© courtesy Green Benefit District