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Smart Growth and Climate Change


EPA offers extensive information about climate change through its Climate Change portal. If you are looking for information about climate change generally, please check that web page first. This page deals with climate change as it relates to land use and development.

Smart growth and climate change intersect in two main areas: mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions from development) and adaptation (making communities more resilient to the effects of a changing climate).

Mitigation: The way we develop our communities has significant impacts on greenhouse gas emissions. Reusing existing infrastructure and buildings takes advantage of previous investments and the energy already used to build them. Redevelopment projects or new developments that are built compactly; in areas close to existing homes, jobs, stores, parks, schools, and other destinations; and with the infrastructure to support safe and pleasant walking, biking, and transit use have been shown to create less of an impact on the climate than conventional developments. Not only do these types of communities have many environmental benefits, including better stormwater management and more efficient use of resources, they also allow people to get around more easily without a car.

According to EPA's Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2006 (April 2008), roughly 20 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions come from passenger vehicles. Lower-carbon fuels and higher gas mileage standards can reduce the CO2  emissions from passenger vehicles, but the growth in population and in vehicle miles traveled would eventually outpace these reductions. An important third strategy to reduce CO2 from vehicles is to address the underlying development patterns that give people no choice but to drive.

Growing CoolerLink to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, a study published in 2008 by the Urban Land Institute and partially funded by EPA, examined the research on compact development, vehicle miles traveled, and carbon dioxide emissions to determine how more efficient development patterns could help reduce our impact on the climate. The study concluded that compact development can reduce vehicle miles traveled by 20 to 40 percent compared to conventional development patterns. Based on the amount of development that will take place and the percentage of that development that could reasonably be expected to be compact infill, the study estimated that compact development could reduce CO2 emissions by 7 to 10 percent in 2050. A subsequent study, Moving Cooler Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, found that a combination of more compact development and investments in transit and other transportation options could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation by 9 to 15 percent by 2050.

Adaptation: In some places, the effects of climate change are already observable. Most scientists believe that further climate change is inevitable. The U.S. Global Change Research Program published a report in 2009 noting some of the possible effects of climate change in regions around the United States. Depending on the region, these could include more and stronger storms, more drought, more frequent excessive-heat events, rising sea levels, and more flooding. These effects will vary depending on the region, so knowledge of the changes forecast for your region is essential. The National Academies' Transportation Research Board also reported in 2008Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer that transportation infrastructure could be vulnerable to flooding and land subsidence due to climate change. This report suggested that climate change adaptation should be included in transportation and land use planning.

Smart growth strategies could help communities adapt to these changes. By building more compactly and determining what land to preserve and what to develop, communities can build resilience to the weather-related effects of climate change. Besides helping communities prepare for an uncertain future, these strategies can also help them deal with natural disasters, economic changes like rising fuel prices, and other challenges that could arise regardless of climate change. Some strategies communities could consider include:

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EPA Resources

Using Smart Growth Strategies to Create More Resilient Communities in the Washington, D.C., Region (2013)
Report from a technical assistance project with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments that gives local governments policy options to consider when preparing for climate risks while also meeting other environmental, economic, and social goals.

Climate Change Adaptation for States, Tribes, and Local Governments (2013) Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer
Webinar series hosted by North Carolina State University, in cooperation with EPA’s Office of Strategic Environmental Management, on a variety of adaptation-related issues.

Iowa Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Report (PDF) (64 pp, 880K, About PDF) (2011)
Describes results from a project in which EPA and FEMA worked with state and local leaders in Iowa to figure out how the latest science on changing weather patterns due to climate change could be integrated into local and state planning efforts to adapt to and mitigate future natural disasters.

Location Efficiency and Housing Type – Boiling it Down to BTUs (2011)
Jonathan Rose Companies for EPA.
Examines how a home's location and access to transit affect a household's energy use, compared to using energy-efficiency measures in homes and cars.

The Local Climate and Energy Program and the State Technical Forum jointly held webcasts on climate change adaptation for state and local governments in November and December 2010 and January 2011. PowerPoints and recordings from these webcasts, along with related papers and websites, are available at http://www.epa.gov/statelocalclimate/web-podcasts/local-webcasts.html#adap1.

The Local Climate and Energy Strategy Guide — Smart Growth: A Guide to Developing and Implementing Greenhouse Gas Reduction Programs (PDF) (55 pp, 400K, About PDF) describes how smart growth strategies can help local governments reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve quality of life. In March 2010, the Local Climate & Energy Program hosted a webcast discussing the issues discussed in this paper and featuring presentations from local leaders in Arlington, VA, and Boise, ID. The PowerPoints, a transcript of the webcast, and audio recordings are available at http://www.epa.gov/statelocalclimate/web-podcasts/local-webcasts.html#cpd1.

EPA's portal for climate change information includes information about the science of climate change, health and environmental effects, U.S. climate policy, climate economics, and what you can do, as well as an extensive list of related links.

EPA's portal for energy information links to information about energy and climate change, clean and renewable energy, energy efficiency, transportation's energy impacts, and ways to save energy.

The Aging Initiative includes information about the health effects on climate change on older adults.

The Climate Change Division works to assess and address global climate change and the associated risks to human health and the environment.

The Green Building Program has information on EPA's activities in healthier and more resource-efficient models of construction, renovation, operation, maintenance, and demolition of buildings.

The Heat Island Effect pages include information about heat islands and ways to mitigate the higher temperatures these urban and suburban areas can cause.

The State and Local Climate and Energy Program provides technical assistance, analytical tools, and outreach support to state and local governments' climate and clean energy efforts.

Transportation and Air Quality Partnerships are partnerships with small and large businesses, citizen groups, industry, manufacturers, trade associations, and state and local governments to improve environmental performance in transportation.

EPA is one of the participating agencies in the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which integrates federal research on climate and global change.  The GCRP web site includes many publications on climate change mitigation and adaptation, including the 2009 report Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, which summarizes the impacts of climate change in different regions of the U.S. and on various aspects of society and the economy such as energy, water, agriculture, and health.

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Other Resources

Progress Report of the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force: Recommended Actions in Support of a National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (PDF) (72 pp, 1MB, About PDF),Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer The White House Council on Environmental Quality. This report, delivered to President Obama in October 2010, outlines recommendations from an interagency task force on actions the federal government can take to prepare for and adapt to climate change. EPA staff participated on the task force and many of its workgroups.

Getting Smart About Climate Change Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, by ICMA and the Smart Growth Network.  This 2010 report, done under a cooperative agreement with EPA, outlines nine strategies for successfully applying smart growth principles to climate concerns on the local and regional levels.

Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change, by Reid Ewing, Keith Bartholomew, Steve Winkelman, Jerry Walters, and Don Chen.  This book, published by the Urban Land Institute in 2008, connects compact, walkable development with CO2 reductions. The book is available for sale at the ULI bookstore Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer; Smart Growth America has the first chapter of the book is available online for free. Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer

Moving Cooler: An Analysis of Transportation Strategies for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, by Cambridge Systematics, Inc. This 2009 report, cosponsored by EPA, examines the greenhouse gas reductions from and costs of almost 50 transportation strategies, individually and in various combinations, including smart growth strategies such as more efficient land use, better public transportation, and encouraging walking and biking.

The Washington State Department of Commerce reviewed more than 60 tools that help local governments assess the greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and land use and published their Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Analysis Tools in 2009 describing in detail the 8 tools most appropriate for Washington localities. The tools include spreadsheet-based, sketch planning, and modeling tools, and the report includes guidance to help communities determine which tool is best for them. While the report is aimed at Washington communities, it contains helpful information for other places that want to learn more about available tools to measure the greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and development.

Smart Growth America's Energy and Climate page Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimersummarizes the research on smart growth and climate change.

The American Public Transportation Association has two relevant publications: Public Transportation Reduces Greenhouse Gases and Conserves Energy Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer (Sept. 2007) and The Broader Connection between Public Transportation, Energy Conservation and Greenhouse Gas Reduction Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer (Feb. 2008).

The Center for Clean Air Policy Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer has many resources on both mitigation and adaptation, including the Urban Leaders Adaptation Initiative. Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer

The Funders' Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities published Energy and Smart Growth: It's About How and Where We Build (PDF) (20 pp, 526K,About PDF) Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer in 2004 to explain the links between energy use and development patterns.

King County, Washington, published Preparing for Climate Change: A Guidebook for Local, Regional and State Governments Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer in 2007 to help communities adapt to climate change.

Cool Mayors for Climate Protection Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer lists mayors who have committed their cities to reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign or the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, and the actions cities are taking.

ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer has many resources to help local governments mitigate and adapt to climate change, including software tools and training.

The Center for Climate Strategies Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer helps states develop climate action plans, including land use and transportation elements.

The Playbook for Green Buildings + Neighborhoods Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer is a web-based resource that provides strategies, tips, and tools that cities and counties can use to take immediate action on climate change through green building, green neighborhoods, and sustainable infrastructure. A consortium of more than 20 local governments, non-profit organizations, government agencies (including EPA), and utilities produced the playbook to help promote the goals set out in the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.

The Transportation Research Board of the National Academies published The Potential Impacts of Climate Change on U.S. Transportation Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer in 2008. This report explores the consequences of climate change for U.S. transportation infrastructure and operations.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Transportation and Climate Change Clearinghouse is a one-stop source of information on transportation and climate change issues. It includes information on greenhouse gas inventories, analytic methods and tools, greenhouse gas reduction strategies, potential impacts of climate change on transportation infrastructure, and approaches for integrating climate change considerations into transportation decision making.

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