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How to Set Up a Climate Smart Coordinator or Task Force

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To determine how climate change will affect the local community and propose a plan of action, municipalities may use an individual energy or climate change coordinator, or establish an energy or climate change task force.

Local coordinators or task forces can provide elected leaders and local government decision makers with information about establishing and implementing climate smart initiatives, can propose new ideas to its local government and can identify funding sources for projects and paybacks from investments.

Establishing a Task Force

A local task force might be an offshoot from an existing municipal committee (e.g., environmental or energy commission, or comprehensive planning committee), or a separately appointed group.

The task force should bring diverse backgrounds to the work. A mix of government staff and citizen volunteers, both experts and non-experts, is recommended to ensure a broad spectrum of opinions and expertise. Elected officials should try to leave their authority "at the door" so that all members feel free to participate fully. A good way to promote interest in the task force is to hold some type of kick-off event and ask for enthusiastic volunteers to serve on the task force or work on subcommittees.

It helps if participants already have a vision of how the community should respond to climate change issues. The size of the task force can be as small as three highly motivated members, or as large as interest and manageability allow.

Suggested Task Force Members Roles
Elected officials Implement policy changes and approve budgets
Department heads Participate in planning, support energy efficiency audits and upgrades. Encourage staff to support the program
Finance department Assist with financial planning, budgeting and grant applications
Facility/road maintenance staff Identify retrofit and maintenance needs; maintain equipment to maximize efficiency
Building inspectors Ensure enforcement of energy and building codes
Conservation Advisory Commission (Towns) or Environmental Advisory Committee (Counties) Integrate climate change into existing environmental programs; help access technical support, grants, loans and other resources
Purchasing or procurement staff Ensure purchasing of energy efficient products and services
Other public representatives and local experts, such as teachers, advocacy groups and providers of volunteer services (such as fire companies) Professional insights, public outreach and intellectual resources (interns; technical advice and resources)
Interested citizens Provide stakeholder insights, reality checking, volunteer work

The governing body or chief executive should designate a task force chair to ensure that there is a single point person to serve as a liaison among the governing body, chief executive and task force members. The chairperson should have a commitment to local climate action, good communication and organizational skills, demonstrated ability to motivate volunteers and the ability to manage relationships among elected officials, municipal staff and volunteers.

Defining the Mission

The coordinator or task force needs a written mission statement to guide its work. The local governing body may wish to provide this charge, but in view of the broad impacts of climate change on communities, it may be better for the governing body to direct the task force to begin its work by writing its own mission statement, for review and approval by the governing body.

Communities may wish to include the following elements in task force mission statements:

  • Identifying ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from local government operations and services and from the community at large;
  • Developing a local action plan to implement emission reductions (or integrate emissions reduction with existing local planning and programs);
  • Identifying local resources that are vulnerable to changes in climate (such as low-lying areas likely to flood; elderly or ill populations vulnerable to lengthy heat waves; sensitive natural resources or agricultural businesses that may be affected by drought, flooding, heat or invasive species);
  • Planning to reduce vulnerability, (or integrating climate adaptation considerations with existing local planning and programs, such as adding cooling centers to senior citizen programs, or considering higher sea levels in development plans).

As an example, the Town of Saugerties, a Climate Smart Community, charged its task force with the following mission:

Developing a strategy and work plan for establishing a baseline for the town's current emissions, for recommending reduction targets, for identifying new strategies for reductions and energy efficiency, and for recommending ways in which these strategies can be incorporated into the town's economic development and planning efforts.

Activities of the Coordinator or Task Force

  • Gather information on energy use in municipal operations to explore areas with energy-saving potential
  • Coordinate the greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory
  • Assess existing land use plans (e.g., comprehensive plan, open space plan) and land use tools to determine if energy and climate change are addressed
  • Gather information on planned projects or large purchases within local government. For example, if the local government is planning to purchase equipment, build a new facility, or start a municipal planning or capital improvement project, there may be opportunities to integrate energy conservation or waste reduction practices into the project or purchase
  • Research existing programs or policies that support GHG reductions and may be expanded or may help task force members identify members of local government staff who are knowledgeable about GHG reduction strategies
  • Gather information on available funding sources, technical assistance and other resources to assist with GHG-reduction projects.
  • Research similar initiatives in other localities. Other local governments in New York have implemented similar projects; the Climate Smart Communities program offers a network of communities active in this area that share best practices and develop partnerships with neighboring communities
  • Draft resolutions and ordinances to implement GHG reductions and adaptation measures
  • Educate residents and businesses on climate change and local climate programs. and seek input for projects that will align with their interests and goals. Encourage citizen action by providing information on best practices and funding available for their own projects. The local government website is an excellent place to display information on the topic

Resource for developing a task force

Vermont Town Energy and Climate Action Guide: Vermont Energy & Climate Action Network, offers a resource to communities interested in establishing town energy committees. The guide provides step-by-step information on how to establish an energy committee and also offers suggestions for state and local resources, funding, model bylaws and more.

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