THE BLOG
10/08/2014 06:27 pm ET Updated Dec 08, 2014

How Cities Can Help Fight Climate Change

The new proposals to combat climate change announced today by President Obama will leverage innovative climate strategies which are already at work and which have been proven effective. If successful, these proposals will help deliver powerful nature-based climate solutions from cities to rural communities.

One of the most widely appreciated ways to slow climate change is by replanting native forests to absorb carbon dioxide that would otherwise contribute to global warming. U.S. forests capture and store about 13 percent of the nation's carbon emissions each year, so increasing the amount of land covered by trees can make a real dent in atmospheric carbon.

To capture this potential, the President's proposals will support initiatives such as the replanting of forests along the lower Mississippi River, replacing trees cut over the past century. As part of this broad effort, The Trust for Public Land has committed to replanting another 3,750 acres, which will naturally capture 1.2 million tons of CO2 -- like taking 265,000 cars off the road for a year.

The White House plan also offers opportunities for cities to harness nature for climate benefit. Eighty percent of Americans now live in cities, so any effective climate response must include urban areas. Where city parks were once largely focused on recreation, scenic beauty and quality of life, now they also are seen as tools to reduce carbon emissions and protect city residents from the extremes of a changing climate.

There are four specific actions cities can undertake to become climate-smart:

• CONNECT: Greenways and trails support commuting and shopping by bike or on foot, taking cars and their carbon emissions off the road.
• PROTECT: Natural coastlines and river fronts absorb flooding and pounding waves, buffering cities from climate-driven storms.
• COOL: Parks and trees cool surrounding neighborhoods and offer refuge from escalating heat waves.
• ABSORB: Modernized "water-smart" parks, playgrounds and alleys absorb run-off water from storms, which will help reduce street flooding that ends up polluting rivers, bays and harbors

As city leaders build for the future, they will face important choices about how they can use their parks and trails to help deal with climate change.

Some cities are already stepping up:

• In Chicago and the suburbs of Seattle, officials are using 21st-century computer mapping and modeling tools to create new trails which provide maximum access for people and help take cars off the highways.
• Two years after the devastation of the Sandy storm, New York is protecting waterside wetlands that will help absorb more than 500,000 gallons of storm water annually.
• Los Angeles is converting some of its more than 900 miles of alleys into "green alleys" to cool and connect inner-city neighborhoods while recharging groundwater supplies.

Addressing climate change is one of the major challenges of the 21st century. There is no single answer to the climate dilemma, but the President's plan will help communities devise and implement new strategies.

Our children, and their children, will be the beneficiaries.