Climate Action Planning for Your Community

by | August 12, 2022

Two things for you today:

  • Exciting news for our CS community.
  • Key takeaways on climate action planning for your town.

We hired a Community Weaver!!

This is a big milestone. For the first time ever, there will be two people working on Crowdsourcing Sustainability full-time.

At its core, this is an investment in you. I believe in you. And I believe in the power of this community to keep leveling up our collective impact by deepening our connections to one another, helping each other on our journeys, and working together towards a safe, healthy, and just world for all.

Our new Community Weaver is super excited to support us on this journey. You’ll start getting to know each other next week. She’s wonderful. And I’m just really grateful to have her onboard. I think you will be too 🙂

Keys to Climate Action Planning for your Community

One of the most effective yet overlooked levers that each of us can pull on to accelerate climate solutions is at the local level.

This is where your vote has the most weight. It’s the level of government where things can be done the quickest. And perhaps most importantly, it’s where the majority of your relationships are – aka it’s where you have the most power to organize and make things happen.

That’s why I was excited to speak with two leading experts on local climate action planning: Adrienne Greve and Michael Boswell.

Michael and Adrienne are co-authors of the book: “Climate Action Planning: A Guide to Creating Low-Carbon, Resilient Communities”. They’re Professors of City & Regional Planning at California Polytechnic State University and have worked on dozens of climate action plans around the world.

You can find some key takeaways below but highly recommend you watch or listen to the whole thing if this is something you are working on or would like to engage with in the future!


Some Key Takeaways

Before diving in, I think it’s important to get on the same page about what a climate action plan actually is. At it’s core, a climate action plan is created to answer two questions:

  1. How will the community get on the path to zero emissions?
  2. How will the community prepare themselves and their infrastructure for the increasingly extreme impacts of the planetary emergency most relevant to them? What can they do to be as resilient as possible?

(Aka, stop making the problem worse asap. And prepare yourselves for all the changes that are going to make life in your community harder.)

Pretty much every policy and investment decision local governments make affects these two critical challenges. So a good climate action plan is integrated into the fabric of everything the government does.

I’d also add that the best plans, like Ithaca, New York’s Green New Deal that our recent guests are working on, are rooted in justice.

Big picture: Where do we stand?

Globally, at least 12,494 cities or local governments representing over 1 billion people have a climate action plan (5,590) or are working on one (6,894).

A similar number of people, about 13% of the world’s population, live in the 2,252 jurisdictions that have declared a climate emergency.

Looking at the US specifically, our best estimate is that at least 600 local governments have or are working on climate action plans. This is just 3% of local governments in the US but it includes many of the big ones. Over 470 mayors representing 74 million people in 48 states have committed to upholding the Paris Agreement via the Climate Mayors network. And the Global Covenant of Mayors has 170 US cities and towns signed on, representing 78 million people (24% of the population).

Even though 64% of people globally believe climate change is an emergency, most local governments don’t have a climate action plan yet. And the only people who can really create and implement one are the people who live there.

If you don’t already know where your community stands on climate action planning, definitely look into it and consider helping – there’s lots of good work to be done in this space!

There are lots of cities with fantastic plans to learn from

While it’s impossible to list them all, here are a few that Adrienne and Michael mentioned in our conversation to check out for inspiration:

Copenhagen’s CPH 2025 Climate Plan is the most ambitious plan in the world, aiming for carbon neutrality by 2025!

Oakland’s 2030 Equitable Climate Action Plan does a great job centering environmental and climate justice.

Portland, Oregon created the US’s first climate action plan in 1993 and there’s a lot to be learned from their reporting, monitoring, and lessons shared along the way. One of the keys for them has been partnering with and delegating to community groups to get stuff done.

Oslo, Norway is one of the fastest moving cities on climate action, which we need a lot more of. In 2016 they passed their Climate and Energy Strategy which set targets of reducing emissions 50% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 95% by 2030 (2020 updated plan is here).

There are tons of towns and cities around the world doing amazing things. Some others that were highlighted for various reasons were Curitiba, Brazil, Ethiopia’s rural strategy, Eskişehir, Turkey, San Carlos, CA, San Luis Obispo, CA, Boulder, CO, Ithaca, NY, Kansas City, MO, Miami-Dade, FL, and New York, NY.

Citizens: Four key areas to focus on for success

1. Building political will

Talk to your elected officials. Talk to your friends and neighbors. Get down to city hall and demand action on climate change. This is the #1 job of citizens to get the ball rolling.

2. Building partnerships

As the saying goes, there is strength in numbers. The more people and groups that you can bring on board to advocate for creating a climate action plan, the better.

(Think: environmental groups, local businesses, chambers of commerce, neighborhood groups, nonprofits, large employers, etc.)

Find common ground and establish relationships to build a coalition.

3. Education & Highlighting Co-benefits

Educate yourself. There’s always going to be more to learn.

Educate your community, thoughtfully. Meet people where they are. Don’t assume they know what you know.

Key questions to learn and be ready to answer:

  • What is climate change? What are the issues?
  • What impacts are going to be felt locally?
  • What are the sources of our community’s emissions?
  • What can we do?
  • Why’s it good to do?

Ground conversations in what your community already cares about.

Are you experiencing increased flooding, wildfires, heatwaves, or drought? Talk about mitigating and adapting to that.

Are people really focused on jobs, saving money, public health, environmental justice, reducing traffic, or energy security? Talk about the climate actions you can take that would make those things better.

4. Persistence is everything

“The plan is not the goal. There’s lots of places that have a beautiful plan that just collects dust. You’ve got to implement it which is an ongoing thing…you have to stay at it…implementing it takes ongoing engagement whether that’s continuing to do education and outreach of your city staff, whether it’s continuing to have the conversations, continuing to go to meetings…I think it’s really important to get clear in your head that like yeah this is just a thing you do on an ongoing basis. And I think a lot of times there’s so much work and advocacy that goes into getting the plan that we forget that the plan is just the starting line. It’s so far from the finish line. So you’ve got to stay at it!” – Adrienne Greve

Elected officials: Three keys to getting started on a climate action plan

1. Greenhouse gas emissions inventory

How much greenhouse gases are you emitting and from what sources?

This will help you determine what needs to be done and how to prioritize policy and investments.

How to do it: You can learn yourself, work with an org like ICLEI, hire a consultant, or even get help from a nearby university.

2. Climate vulnerability assessment

As climate change continues to get worse, how is it going to impact our community?

Adrienne recommends checking out the CA Adaptation Planning Guide for anyone working on this. And looking into the resiliency dividend to help make the case that investments in resiliency save you money over time.

3. Build an interdisciplinary team

Build a team that has representation from every aspect of municipal government because every department has a role to play.

Make sure the person or office doing this work is reporting directly to the mayor or a city manager.

There’s obviously a lot more that goes into creating and implementing a successful plan! For instance, conducting a greenhouse gas emissions inventory and a climate vulnerability assessment both fall under the “Assess Impacts & Risks” step on the image above. If you want to do a deeper dive on the “how” of this process, I’d highly recommend you check out Adrienne and Michael’s bookICLEIUSDNGCoMWRIC40, or 100 Resilient Cities.

Making the economic case

Project Drawdown has some strong research on this:

“Unfounded arguments about the economic inviability of climate action persist but are patently false...How much money will a given solution cost, or save, when compared with the status quo technology or practice it replaces? …Overall, net operational savings exceed net implementation costs four to five times over: an initial cost of $22.5–28.4 trillion versus $95.1–145.5 trillion saved. If we consider the monetary value of co-benefits (e.g., healthcare savings from reduced air pollution) and avoided climate damages (e.g., agricultural losses), the financial case becomes even stronger.” – The Drawdown Review

In our conversation, Adrienne narrowed in on the “avoided climate damages” mentioned above saying that for every $1 invested now, you’d save $4 later.

Michael also mentioned that Lancaster, CA’s climate action plan is explicitly focused on positive economic returns and jobs for the community (you can find these charts on pages 19-21).

Final thoughts and advice

One of my favorite points that Michael made was about linking climate guilt to demanding systemic action.

A lot of people experience climate guilt for our individual carbon footprints. But the truth is it’s impossible for the average person to do no harm in today’s world because we live in a broken system.

So next time you feel this way, turn that guilt into determination to change the systems around you. If we demand our elected officials (and help them) to make the systems we live in safe, healthy, and just – climate positive behaviors will not only be easier for you to do, they’ll be the status quo for everyone.

And as Adrienne made clear, it’s impossible to understate how important it is to be persistent when it comes to creating and implementing a climate action plan for your community. This is a marathon not a sprint. And living in climate positive and resilient communities will make our lives so much better. So invest in work with others and find ways to have some fun along the way!

This post originally featured in the Crowdsourcing Sustainability newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter below!

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