Developing Urban Climate Adaptation Indicators

The Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) in partnership with the Institute for Sustainable Communities evaluated seven existing sets of climate indicators to determine if any of these frameworks could be adapted to serve city-level needs for evaluating and reporting progress on climate adaptation goals.  This report summarizes their assessment.  They determined that none of the existing frameworks serve the needs of cities perfectly, but many offer insights that can guide USDN members as they develop their own sets of indicators.

The seven sets of indicators reviewed in this study are: C40’s Climate Risk and Adaptation Framework and Taxonomy (CRAFT); CDP’s Climate Adaptation Reporting; The City of Boston’s Draft Climate Change Adaptation Framework; ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability’s  Preparing for Climate Change: A guidebook for Local, Regional, and State Governments; the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit; Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN); Rockefeller’s City Resilience Framework, and International Organization for Standardization’s Indicators for Sustainable Development and Resilience in Cities.

For each framework, the report assesses:

  • The practicality of framework for government officials;
  • The goals of the framework and intended audience;
  • How adaptable the framework is for diverse political, geographic, and economic contexts;
  • how bottom-up versus top-down the framework is; and
  • If the framework considers equity and ensures that disadvantaged communities are involved.

Based on the review of the seven framework, the report concludes that developing climate indicators is a challenging process and that none of the existing framework fit the needs of USDN cities perfectly. In most cases, cities will need to develop their own set of indicators that match their unique needs and goals. This will best be done by focusing on a few principles for developing good indicators:

  1. Focus on purpose: indicators should be matched to the vision and goals of an adaptation plan, assign responsibility to specific agencies, be relevant to those who will use them, be readily understood by the general public, and be decision-relevant;
  2. Think in systems: indicators should reflect a “systems” perspective drawing on bundles of individual indicators that tell a larger story. For example, an indicator around flood risk would need to include metrics such as the amount of impervious surface, projected rainfall, and capacity of stormwater systems;
  3. Be evidence based: indicators should be directly connected to a climate goal, account for inequalities and differences within a community, account for uncertainty, and be based on performance and consequence. Compared to an indicator measuring the number of trees planted, a better indicator would be the temperature reduced (in target neighborhoods) from tree canopy during a heat event.

This project was supported through the USDN Innovation Fund. Washington, DC led the USDN working group, which also included members from Aspen, CO; Baltimore, MD; Berkeley, CA; Boston, MA; Cleveland, OH, and Vancouver, BC.


Publication Date: 2016

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