Net Zero in Aspen
Aspen, Colorado, aims to reach zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Because buildings produce 57% of Aspen’s emissions, meeting that goal means a rapid decarbonization of the city’s buildings. But in this Rocky Mountain resort city with historic structures and heating systems that are difficult to retrofit, the pursuit of energy efficiency poses unique challenges. That’s why Aspen put together a stakeholder committee to provide recommendations on a Building Performance Standard (BPS) that sets energy efficiency and electrification requirements for buildings without exacerbating the already extreme lack of affordability for Aspen’s middle-income renters, homebuyers, and small businesses. While several U.S. cities and states have begun developing similar BPS policies to reach climate goals, Aspen is the first small-sized city to do so, and it faces a regional labor shortage, with few to no workers able to afford its housing costs (despite the need for a trained workforce and good jobs to enable the BPS policy to succeed).
CBI has facilitated Aspen’s BPS committee since January 2023. The process has brought together climate organizations, environmental justice groups, representatives from energy industries, and both building-users and property-owners to help the City design the contours of the BPS policy. The committee is considering, for instance, what size buildings the policy should encompass, considering equity concerns, climate effects, and the question of which efficiency targets will enable the City to reach its climate goals while still being achievable for individual buildings. Most BPS policies in the U.S. do not cover small buildings or homes, but in Aspen many residences are larger than most mid-sized commercial or multi-family buildings, and many consider them essential to the climate solution. Other questions relate to timeframes for meeting building performance standards, performance metrics, and approaches to enforcement of the new standards. The City is auditing several key buildings over the summer, including commercial and multi-family buildings with affordable housing units, to understand what it would take to reduce their energy use and electrify them. This data will be considered by the committee in the fall.
Nuclear Waste Storage in Canada
The disposal of nuclear material raises substantial questions of environmental hazards and safety risks—especially at the early stage of site selection, for communities that might host the material, and for communities who have experienced environmental injustice. This calls for transparent communication with communities, and consideration of the concerns and demands of those communities. CBI has completed an initial scoping assessment for Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), resulting in design of an overarching 4-phased strategy for NWMO’s engagement with Indigenous Peoples regarding the potential consent-based siting of high-level nuclear waste in Ontario.
Overlapping Land Claims in Canada's Northwest Territories
In Canada’s Northwest Territories, the Akaitcho Dene First Nations and the Métis Nation have had overlapping land claims to thousands of square miles, established by an agreement in 1988 between Indigenous governments and the Canadian government. Disputes prompted by those overlapping claims have gone unresolved for decades.
Recently, CBI facilitated a process that led to Indigenous leaders of both nations signing a community-level agreement to collaborate on land, governance, and economic development challenges. The 2-party mediation included both in-person and virtual meetings over the last three years, and it continues. Meetings with Chiefs and leaders have moved the process along, and face-to-face community events have broadened the base of trust and mutual understanding. In addition to the agreement to work jointly and broadly on these issues, the parties have also committed to work on similar issues at the local level in a community with particularly close ties between the two Indigenous Nations.
The Future of Vermont Agriculture
Farming in Vermont’s pastoral landscape has long defined the state in the world’s imagination, drawing tourists while feeding communities in the state and beyond. Tens of thousands of Vermont’s jobs are in the agricultural sector, which generates billions of dollars. Faced with economic pressures across multiple agricultural sectors, land use pressures, and challenges posed by inflation, the Governor’s Commission on the Future of Vermont Agriculture has sought to ensure that all Vermonters can access nutritious, local food and that the state’s agricultural businesses can continue to thrive.
CBI is in its third year facilitating the Commission’s efforts, bringing together environmental advocates, experts on agriculture and food business, and leaders from the world of marketing, branding, and agritourism. The process led to an Action Plan with steps including support for climate-smart farming practices, dairy modernization, an expansion of food distribution possibilities, and an increase in access to healthy food. Now, after the pandemic’s years of disruption to food supply chains and tourism, Vermont is looking forward to maintaining the farming essential for both health and economic stability.
Vermont Payment for Ecosystem Services
In January 2023, the Vermont Payment for Ecosystem Services and Soil Health Working Group delivered its final recommendations to the Vermont Legislature. The Working Group, facilitated by CBI, involving farmers, farmer advocates, service providers, conservation agents, and local to federal agency staff, designed a $1 million pilot to assist Vermont farmers in delivering ecosystem benefits in the soil (e.g., improved carbon sequestration), in the field (e.g., more diverse cover crops to support biodiversity), and at edge of field (e.g., increased stormwater retention) while considering outcomes in other parts of the farm. The new program, supplementing the federal Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), will increase enrollment in that program, be eligible to all Vermont farmers in good standing, and create a model for application not only in Vermont but in other states. The work was supported by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (AAFM) with extensive research provided by the University of Vermont and its partners.
Sacramento Water Forum
California’s American River is essential to the Sacramento area. Steelhead trout and salmon inhabit its waters, where kayaking and other recreational boating are popular activities—it’s a scenic setting for hiking trails, too. Founded decades ago, the Sacramento Water Forum (WF) is a diverse group of stakeholders working together to manage this river, thereby providing a reliable and safe water supply and preserving the fishery, wildlife, recreation, and aesthetic values of the lower American River.
Now, more than 20 years after the first Water Forum Agreement, which resulted in farsighted water management solutions, CBI is facilitating a set of Water Forum 2.0 (WF 2.0) negotiation processes. These include caucuses representing environmental interests, business interests, public agency interests, and water purveyors, who are convening to rethink the older agreement and cooperatively address looming threats from climate change. Those threats include increased frequency of critically low Folsom reservoir storage; reduced surface water; and an increase in water temperatures, causing significant consequences for riverine species and water operations. Participants in WF 2.0 hope to come to agreement by 2025. Most recently, in April of 2023, the caucuses celebrated a highly successful solution brainstorming session; the results then go to three multi-interest working groups addressing water supply sustainability, river corridor health, and river flows and operations.
Lithium Partnership in Chile
Chile’s largest salt flat is the Salar de Atacama. It’s home to Indigenous Atacameño communities, and it’s a major tourist destination, known for its volcanic landscape and rare birds. The Salar de Atacama is also, however, one of the world’s largest sources of lithium. As the transition continues toward electric vehicles that depend on lithium batteries, the world’s eyes are increasingly on the potential effects of lithium mining on this fragile desert environment, its water resources, and the people who live there.
Through CBI’s facilitation of a roundtable process funded by the Responsible Lithium Partnership, a wide range of stakeholders have come together to look together at sustainability of lithium mining, with an initial focus on water. Representatives of indigenous communities have participated; leaders from sectors including mining, agriculture, and tourism have been involved; and representatives from the Chilean government are in the conversation, too. The partnership has led to an initial plan for water sustainability, with early actions implemented already, including communications campaigns around sustainable water use and studies of water use in the region. The roundtable, which is the first time this diverse group of actors has worked together on these issues, will implement a handful of additional projects this year and finalize their forward-looking plan.