State and municipal governments across the US are developing work plans and budgets to secure a slice of the $250 million allocated by the Inflation Reduction Act for climate action planning. Are they positioning themselves to make the most of these budgets? What kind of work plan is required to catalyze the transformations necessary to slash greenhouse gases? Can emissions be slashed while preparing communities to weather extreme storms and other climate impacts?
SSG has developed climate action plans for over 100 communities—from small rural towns to entire states—which has taught us the following five best practices.
1.Climate planning must involve deep community engagement.
Those who are affected by a decision deserve a say in shaping that decision. Under-resourcing public engagement can kill a climate action plan before it starts. Successfully slashing greenhouse gases and improving climate resilience requires meaningful community participation. A robust public engagement process can help ensure the plan brings community members along so they are ready to implement it.
2.Determining the economic and social impacts of climate actions helps improve quality of life.
Climate action plans aren’t only about reducing greenhouse gas emissions: they’re about transforming energy use and, in turn, our society. Climate actions can create jobs in the construction sector, renewable energy sector, and more. Measures that reduce air pollution associated with fossil fuels lead to better public health. Actions like energy efficiency retrofits and making cycling more accessible can improve quality of life, among other benefits. Not to mention, climate actions can reduce the cost of energy, leaving more dollars in everyone’s pockets.
3.Financial and spatial modeling provide critical insights.
Energy consumption varies across neighborhoods, as do the financial impacts of energy costs—shaped by income, industry, the location of buildings, and more. Analyzing the impact of climate actions right down to the neighborhood level is critical for designing effective climate action policies. It also helps pinpoint inequities and design climate actions to ease them.
For example, in the City of Vancouver, we used spatial and financial modeling to see how households with different demographics across the city would be affected by new parking and transportation regulations that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This analysis informed policy-makers as to the potential negative impacts such policies could have on low-income groups, and provided direction on how to alleviate these impacts neighborhood by neighborhood.
4.Being keenly aware of the long-term lock-in effects of new infrastructure and development reduces greenhouse gas emissions and avoids costly future interventions.
Infrastructure and development (land-use) decisions made today have energy, emissions, and financial consequences that will continue for centuries. Planning approval for a spread out development? People who live there will have no choice but to use cars to move around for decades to come, plus municipalities will lose scads of money on infrastructure servicing costs. Approving a new compact neighborhood? Residents will have many options to get around—including walking, biking, or taking transit—plus municipal infrastructure maintenance costs will be minimal. Climate action plans that apply a climate lens to such decisions ensure that decisions today do not limit options or lead to major costs to reduce emissions in the future.
5.Tracking your progress makes sure you’re on track (and have the budget for it!)
A climate action plan’s monitoring and evaluation mechanisms help ensure accountability. Reporting on progress is also a great way to keep the public engaged and highlight the fruits of climate action investments.
Carbon budgets are the current best practice in climate action accountability. They set a legal cap on how much a city can emit—ever—and require municipal governments to plan budgetary decisions in line with this commitment. We developed the first North American carbon budget and accounting framework for the City of Edmonton and hope that one day every city in North America will have one.
The CPRG Process
The Climate Pollution Reduction Grants (CPRG) offers non-competitive grants to states, 67 identified metropolitan areas, and Tribes to develop climate action plans over the next four years. Smaller municipalities can partner with their states or metropolitan area, or apply for the funding themselves if their state did not submit a Notice of Intent by the deadline. The planning process enables grantees to identify the types of actions that will lead to the greatest reductions in emissions for their communities.
The second phase of CPRG funding is a competitive process that will fund implementation of the actions identified by the Climate Actions Plans. The funding provides resources to make the transition from fossil fuel dependent infrastructure to laying the groundwork for energy efficient, climate resilient communities. States and municipalities will be able to obtain funding for actions aligned with the plans from the first phase.
With the catastrophic effects of climate change exacerbating social inequities across the country, finding a more just, resilient and sustainable path forward is urgent. The CPRG for planning and implementation provides the resources for necessary actions. Let’s use this opportunity to plan for a healthy and equitable future for all.
Have questions about climate action planning and how we could help your community? Give us a shout via firstname.lastname@example.org.