Thus far 2019 hasn’t been a stellar year for environmental campaigns. Now another one is ending, not with a bang, but with a redirection and new donation. The Rockefeller Foundation announced on Monday that it was ending its 100 Resilient Cities initiative, the largest privately funded climate-adaptation program in the U.S.
Instead, the Foundation announced a $30 million grant to the Adrienne Arsht Center for Resilience at the Atlantic Council and established a new Climate & Resilience Office to “integrate climate and resilience” throughout its work.
Founded in 2013, the 100 Resilient Cities project helped cities at home and abroad prepare for threats related to climate change. Twenty-four U.S. cities, including New Orleans, Houston, Seattle and Norfolk, Virginia, used the program to help work resilience concerns into their city planning. The Rockefeller Foundation is pointing to these cities as a sign of success and hopes that its new partnership with the Atlantic Council will help maintain the moment.
“The Rockefeller Foundation has been at the forefront of helping address the world’s most complex challenges, and its 100 Resilient Cities initiative has made an indelible impact on the resilience of cities, inside and outside of their network” said Kathy Baughman McLeod, director of the Adrienne Arsht Center for Resilience at the Atlantic Council.
“We are excited to begin a new chapter of this resilience movement.”
According to the Rockefeller Foundation, the initiative “built a robust network of city leaders and partners” and encouraged cities worldwide to rebuild after natural disasters with resilience in mind. That spin makes it sound like the program is no longer needed.
However, observers from the energy industry note that the initiative was working at cross purposes with another effort the Rockefeller Foundation supported–climate change lawsuits filed by cities around the country last year.
“The Rockefellers say they’re shuttering the program because it achieved its objectives of making cities resilient to climate change and other disasters. That’s going to put some cities, including Boulder, New York City, Oakland, and San Francisco, in a tough spot, as they now have to explain to a judge why they’re suing oil and gas companies to pay for infrastructure upgrades even after they’ve been declared ‘resilient’ to climate change,” says Spencer Walrath, research director for for Energy In Depth, a project of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
The cities he listed are amid a series of lawsuits against major energy companies. These lawsuits are an attempt to force energy companies to pay for infrastructure upgrades the cities claim will be necessary to combat the effects of global warming.
The connection between the 100 Resilient Cities project and these politically-motivated climate suits has already been documented. Seven of the 24 U.S. cities in the program are among those who have filed or are considering filing a lawsuit against the energy industry: Oakland, San Francisco, Boulder, New York, Washington DC, Miami, and Seattle. Released email correspondence proved that Sher Edling, the law firm representing a number of the litigants in the climate suits, including Baltimore and the state of Rhode Island, used the list of 100 Resilient Cities participants as a target list when pitching their climate suit.
“Emails have shown that plaintiffs’ attorneys used the 100 Resilient Cities as a roadmap of which cities to target as they shopped around their climate liability lawsuits,” Walrath continued. “In some cases, the lawyers were working directly with the Rockefeller-funded Chief Resilience Officers to gain access to city officials.”
According to information released by the Rockefeller Foundation, funding for these Chief Resilience Officers will continue as planned, even in light of the new announcement. Meanwhile, the Foundation will support local resilience efforts through its U.S. Jobs and Economic Opportunity Initiative.
Still, the closure of the program is unusual, since it was highly regarded. Last year, the Urban Institute credited the 100 Resilient Cities initiative as an “innovation in multiple regards,” including the scale of its interventions and the depth of its engagement.