Climate Action Planning Steps for Cities
The following steps are recommended for cities engaging in the process of creating and implementing a climate action plan. For a description of the qualities that help make a climate action plan effective, see Building an Effective Climate Action Plan.
1 Establish a Core Leadership Team
For success, a strong climate action plan needs a core leadership team with key players who will capture the city’s vision and carry it forward. They should be people within the city (elected and/or staff) who have the authority and responsibility to chart the course of action, and the ability to enlist a broad following within city government. Support of at least some city council members is critical. One or two knowledgeable stakeholders outside of government could be useful. Assistance from a consultant may be helpful.
2 Understand Your Community’s Emissions
Before tackling the greenhouse gas emissions problem, a city should first inventory all emission sources in the community — including industries, utilities, ports, airports, and city government. Several data resources will have to be researched. Organizations such as ICLEI offer recommended protocols and software to guide a city through the emissions inventory process.
King County cities which have already done their inventories, found that the Buildings and the Transportation sectors, together, account for 70% to 90% of GHG emissions. Rocky Mountain Institute’s 2017 Carbon-Free City Handbook says this is typical across the U.S. So, other cities can expect similar results.
3 Set Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets
Early in the planning process, the leadership team should identify community-wide GHG emission reduction targets, and then have the city council commit to achieving them.
The King County Cities Climate Collaboration (K4C) has committed to reducing emissions 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. These commitments are consistent with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommendations and with the Paris Climate Accord.
4 Draft a Community and City Government Engagement Strategy
Successful climate action plans require broad engagement and support throughout the community and across city government departments. All interests — i.e. neighborhoods, churches, community organizations, businesses, etc.– must be included. A phased engagement strategy is recommended.
First identify a few key stakeholders from the community who could later help engage others. Then, determine the best way to engage those key players and introduce them to the core leadership team.
Similarly, consider how best to engage influential city officials not already on the core team who could help facilitate inter-departmental cooperation on climate matters.
Once key players are engaged, determine the best means and tools to gain the support of the broader community. Keep in mind that climate change causes and solutions are complex and not widely known; also, the reason for urgency is not well understood. Consequently, development of an education program covering such fundamentals is recommended before publicly outlining a specific climate action plan.
Finally, special thought and attention must be given to the early engagement of traditionally marginalized sectors of the community. Their participation is needed to ensure that the specific actions which are later proposed, reflect the city’s sensitivity to equity and social justice.
5 List Climate Actions and Draft Priorities
Because of the urgency in reducing GHG emissions, it is important to identify actions that will be most impactful. Many of those will likely be related to emissions associated with the Buildings and the Transportation sectors.
People for Climate Action (PCA) has recently reviewed municipal climate action plans in King County and across the country. Based on that research, we have prioritized 169 actions in our Climate Action Priorities for Cities Workbook. (To request a copy of the workbook, please email email@example.com.) PCA ranks 31 of those actions as being highest priority. Another potentially useful reference is King County’s Climate Action Toolkit.
When choosing actions it would be important to identify related benefits such as public health, social equity, jobs, economy and natural environment enhancements. Any significant cost to city government or the community should also be identified, as should potential cost savings.
After drafting a list of the most impactful and high priority actions to undertake, consideration could be given to a second group of actions that would complement those. Be sure to also include actions that will help to educate the public.
Once a draft of desirable actions is completed, key and trusted stakeholders inside and outside of city government should be invited to review and comment.
6 Launch a Community Wide Education and Engagement Program
After key stakeholders are comfortable with the drafted list of desired actions, the education and engagement strategy developed in Step 4 can be launched. It may take several forms, such as town halls, webinars, neighborhood group meetings, presentations to organizations, public media, etc. Phases of engagement may continue as the climate action plan is formalized and adopted.
7 Obtain City Council Approval of the Drafted Plan
After the public has been introduced to an outline of the draft plan, with the support of key stakeholders, it should be presented to the City Council for discussion and adoption.
8 Implement Emissions Reduction Actions
Once the City Council has approved the plan, implementation details should be developed for each action, including: budget, timeline, who is responsible, and how progress will be measured. A City Council may wish to review aspects of the implementation plan.
Be sure to set up tracking systems before starting a program or changing an existing city policy.
Once underway, remember that the plan can be always be modified. Allow flexibility to adjust and pivot as you learn more about what works and what does not.
9 Track & Report Progress
It is critical to measure and report progress on emissions reductions and the associated co-benefits in order to sustain funding for the plan. Changes in emissions should be tracked annually and compared with the baseline inventory determined in Step 2. Publicly report accomplishments, so as to promote public awareness and keep stakeholders engaged.
10 Periodically Update the Climate Action Plan
Regular periodic review of the plan is essential to its ultimate success. Because of the need for rapid progress in emissions reduction, a plan may need to be modified or improved to maintain a timely trajectory toward GHG reduction commitments.