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Pledge Element 2 - Develop a Local Climate Action Plan

Planning Increases Mitigation and Adaptation Effectiveness

A local Climate Action Plan describes the policies and measures that a local government will enact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the community's resilience to unavoidable climate change. It identifies the goals and basis of the planning project, along with actions to be implemented, funding, responsibility and schedules.

Localities whose planning is extensive and up to date may find it more efficient to incorporate climate action measures into existing plans. However, it is important to develop goals for GHG reduction and climate adaptation, to inventory GHG emissions and identify resources at risk from climate change, to set emission reduction and adaptation targets, to develop action plans and climate action metrics, and to include all this information in any plans that embody elements of the climate action plan.

A link in each topic on this overview leads directly to the related section of the Climate Action Planning how-to page. Case studies show the variety of ways in which communities approach climate planning.

DEC's Office of Climate Change has presented webinars on Local Climate Action Planning. To view the PowerPoint presentations, please click on the links located on the right hand side of this page under "Important Links."

First Steps to a Local Climate Action Plan

To develop a local plan, many communities convene a task force of stakeholders, usually including elected and appointed officials and municipal staff who may be involved with implementing recommendations, as well as interested groups and individual citizens.

Some local governments develop climate action plans over time as a series of individual, sector-based policies or plans that define goals within a particular area, such as buildings or fleets. For full effectiveness, these components ultimately must be tied to a broader emissions reduction goal and accompanied by adaptation goals and provisions to increase the community's resilience to unavoidable climate change.

Emissions Reduction Goals and Targets

A greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goal or target is a framework to guide the planning, implementation and evaluation of reduction measures. The GHG emissions reduction goal or target is usually given as a percentage by which a local government plans to reduce GHG emissions in its community and/or government operations below base-year levels by a chosen future target year, while accounting for projected growth in emissions between the base and target years. For long-term goals, some communities set incremental targets, such as a percent reduction by a target year with a partial reduction (stated as a target percentage) to be achieved annually or over some other interval.

Components of a Local Climate Action Plan

To provide the basis for decisionmaking and funding, local climate action plans typically include a rationale, generation and evaluation of options for action, a funding strategy, implementation priorities, project schedule and timeline and a plan for involving all community stakeholders, both in and out of government. For long-term success, it is especially important also to identify ways the community will measure its progress toward achieving emissions reduction and adaptation goals.

Problem Statement or Rationale

The rationale or problem statement is an important guide to local planners. Local climate action plans are based on two findings: 1) that human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are changing the earth's climate in ways that place at risk the local community's environment, public health and safety, and 2) that local government and citizens are contributing GHG emissions and have the power to mitigate (reduce) emissions and to adapt the community to unavoidable climate change.

Action items -- Development and Evaluation

The best way for a community to generate a list of GHG mitigation options is analysis of the municipality's emissions inventory. Climate change adaptation strategies begin with an assessment of the community's risk from higher temperatures, sea level rise and other outcomes of a changing climate.

Policies and actions adopted by other communities also can help generate a list of action items. Typical local government measures include energy-efficiency improvements to municipal buildings. As with any planning process, metrics grow out of the climate action plan's goals and implementation steps. Thus metrics will probably include a mix of such indicators as measured reductions in emissions or energy consumption, projects completed and status of public participation and support. and water-treatment facilities; streetlight retrofits; public-transit improvements; installation of renewable-power applications; improved waste-management practices, and land use policies that reduce vehicle-miles-traveled. This guide includes methods and examples for many action items that local governments could implement to reduce GHG emissions and become resilient to climate change.

The local climate action plan should develop estimated budget, cost savings and environmental benefits for each option, and should outline an implementation strategy that includes responsibility and timelines.

Funding Strategy and Implementation Priorities

Realistically, availability of funding and technical assistance often drives local implementation priorities and schedule. A climate action plan positions the municipality to seize the opportunity when funding or other assistance becomes available.

Projects that promote energy and resource efficiency most likely will save municipalities money in the long run. However, short-term barriers such as municipal budget constraints and debt limits, lack of technical expertise or of staff time to plan or implement projects can impede even money-saving projects. To help overcome these barriers, communities can learn about best practices and tools (and often can seek funding) through state and federal agencies, and through non-governmental organizations such as ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability. Technical and financial assistance are available to help local governments manage energy use and reduce GHG emissions. Financial evaluation tools can help local planners calculate the cost savings from proposed projects. Innovative Financing Strategies, such as tax-exempt municipal lease purchase agreements, energy performance contracts and funding through a local utility or state agency can help communities overcome financial barriers to implementing a local action plan. Other sections of this guide give more detail on tools and assistance to help local governments implement climate action plans.

Detailed Implementation Strategy

An implementation strategy is an important tool for prioritizing actions identified in a local action plan. An implementation strategy will indicate the individual or department responsible for overseeing the project as well as a timeline. Climate protection strategies are easier to implement when communities share best practices and develop partnerships. Participation in the Climate Smart Communities network and other government climate consortia will support local governments as they carry out their action plans.

Climate Action Planning Metrics

As with any planning process, metrics grow out of the climate action plan's goals and implementation steps. Thus metrics will probably include a mix of such indicators as measured reductions in emissions or energy consumption, projects completed and status of public participation and support.

Engage Staff, Stakeholders and Community

For climate protection to become a community priority, a public discussion of the need and the planning process should involve all who will make climate protection decisions in their day-to-day activities, including elected officials, municipal staff, community stakeholders and local citizens. This discussion must become an ongoing part of the community's dialogue, as plan elements are completed, barriers encountered and results achieved.

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