Climate change is already impacting regions worldwide, and the effects will only intensify going forward.
In North America, we are regularly experiencing harsher winters, hotter summers, and extreme weather-related events, such as hurricanes, floods, droughts, wildfires, and landslides. These events have a catastrophic impact on towns and cities that aren’t designed with the infrastructure needed to handle new threats and challenges.
To address rapidly changing climate conditions, local governments are adopting climate action plans that identify and adapt community goals for health and safety, economic growth, sustainable energy, and quality of life as climate-driven changes occur.
What Is a Climate Action Plan?
A climate action plan (CAP) is a comprehensive, science-based strategy that defines specific actions a local government will take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The primary function of a CAP is to find the most cost-effective ways to reduce emissions. However, the plan may also include clean energy targets, resilience strategies, and social and economic goals. A CAP provides a framework to support these actions and includes directives to address climate changes already occurring in specific regions.
5 Things Local Governments Should Include in Their Climate Action Plans
Climate change will impact areas differently depending on their geography, infrastructure, industry, and social structure, so climate action plans are highly targeted toward the region they are written for.
Although the specifics of your plan will be unique to your city, five common elements should be included in every CAP:
1. Inventory of Emission Sources
This baseline survey includes existing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, such as power generation, electricity usage, natural gas, public and private transportation, local industry and manufacturing emissions, and solid waste.
2. Emission Reduction Goals
Without goals, your emission reduction effort lacks context and purpose. The CAP should clearly define targets for the initiative and include scheduled interim check-ins to track compliance and monitor progress toward the goals.
3. Data-Backed, Prioritized Reduction Actions
Your CAP cannot succeed without accurate, trustworthy data to drive decision-making. Tools like ICLEI’s Temperate Adaptation Planner provide essential data to ensure the climate actions outlined in your plan are the “right” actions for your community’s priorities and needs.
4. Implementation Strategy, Including Resources
To ensure transparency and streamline workflows, the CAP should unambiguously define who is responsible for implementing each step of the plan, how progress will be tracked, and what resources are needed to achieve the goals and targets defined in the plan.
5. Funding Mechanisms
Funds for climate action initiatives may need to be sourced from other programs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean cuts to services. Priority-based budgeting can uncover hidden or underutilized funds that can be reallocated to finance the climate change mitigation efforts in the CAP.
Pittsburgh, PA’s climate action initiative is an excellent example of priority-based budgeting at work.
During the American Cities Climate Challenge, city leaders put together an ambitious climate action plan, then began looking for ways to fund it. Using ResourceX’s priority-based budgeting tools, the city reoriented existing budgets. As a result, Pittsburgh repurposed $41 million for climate, equity, and economic recovery without raising taxes.
How to Recognize and Address Specific Climate Action Needs in Your Communities
To ensure your city’s climate action plan is inclusive and aligns with community priorities, you need to get out and speak with members of your community. Building a resilient, equitable CAP isn’t possible without input from the residents.
Here are three ways to create a CAP that meets the highest needs:
Collaborate with community groups.
Local and regional groups have their finger on the pulse of the community in a way that city hall does not. Meeting with stakeholders and group leaders will help surface concerns and pain points that must be addressed in the CAP.
Determine resident priorities.
Soliciting feedback from community members is the most straightforward way to find out what is most important to residents. To get input from the largest segment of the community, use various methods to connect, including educational outreach, surveys and polls, and public engagement opportunities.
Focus on equity.
Prioritizing equity in the CAP will help protect those residents who will be most affected by climate change. Including initiatives for safe, affordable housing, affordable clean energy, and affordable clean transportation will create a safety net for at-risk populations in your city.
Climate Action Plan Success Stories
There are no hard and fast rules for creating a climate change plan that will help local governments achieve their community’s goals. The most important thing is to ensure your plan is flexible and responsive to changes in priorities and lessons learned from successes and failures.
Priority-based budgeting allows local governments to pivot and reallocate resources in their climate change plan using data, insights, and community input to drive decisions.
Read The Essential Guide to Priority-Based Budgeting to learn how real communities use priority-based budgeting to pursue meaningful change and support emerging priorities