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Local Climate Action Plans: Centering Equity in Planning and Implementation

October 7, 2022

While climate change is a global issue with widespread implications, its community impacts—on health, safety, and overall wellbeing—can be most directly addressed at the local level. Local jurisdictions have an important role in identifying appropriate climate action strategies and tools, building partnerships with key government and community stakeholders, and engaging directly with community members to ensure their voices guide the planning process. The first step to harnessing all these resources and activities is conducting data-driven planning through a climate action plan (CAP), which can include approaches to mitigation (e.g., reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and adaptation (e.g., adjusting to impacts from existing and future climate change).

What is a CAP?

CAPs outline strategies and policies to address climate change. For local jurisdictions, the scope will depend on their specific climate risk, or the hazards (e.g., sea level rise and flooding, drought, wildfires), exposure, and vulnerability faced by their particular community.  Climate risks have both socioeconomic and geographic factors. For example, communities located along coasts and low-lying areas are at greater risk of impacts from sea level rise and flooding than other communities, while those located in the Western United States face higher risks of impacts from drought and wildfires.

Historically marginalized communities, including low-income communities and communities of color, are more vulnerable to climate risks regardless of their geographic location. Community needs and the local environment should guide the focus of a CAP to ensure any identified actions, strategies, and policies reflect and address community-specific climate risks. They should also influence the CAP’s overall stakeholder and community engagement strategy, including 1) who should be involved in its development and 2) best practices for engagement.

Thinking about starting a CAP for your community? Read on!

Getting Started

The first step to developing a CAP is to secure funding. Look to a variety of public and private sources, including federal grant funding, public/private partnerships, or local funding through taxes or other sources. The recent Inflation Reduction Act establishes several new funding sources for local jurisdictions to develop and implement climate action efforts, including the Neighborhood Access and Equity Grant, Environmental and Climate Justice Block Grant, Zero Building Energy Code Adoption, and Climate Pollution Reduction Grant programs, among others. Review the requirements early to ensure you will be prepared to respond once the funding notices become available.

Building Strong Partnerships – Who Should Be Involved?

Active stakeholder engagement throughout the CAP development process is essential to its successful implementation. Your partners should represent a wide array of focus areas, but this can also depend on community size and needs. Generally speaking, project stakeholders should include representatives from relevant local government departments or divisions, such as transportation, public works, sustainability, utilities, forestry, engineering, economic development, and housing, among others. Ideally, all departments should be involved to some extent, but some will be more heavily involved than others based on CAP goals. For example, your human resources department could spearhead an employee bike-to-work incentive program, but they may not be involved beyond one or two strategies.

In addition to internal stakeholders, external stakeholders, such as community leaders, community-based organizations (CBOs), local businesses, and other nonprofit groups should be engaged early to ensure an equity-focused approach to the planning process. Community partners should represent the whole community, particularly systemically marginalized groups to ensure all community members can have meaningful input in the design and implementation of the CAP.

Best Practices for Engagement – What Are the Must-Have Components?

  • Establish strong relationships. As they say, it takes a village to create a successful CAP! But really, the most important aspect of climate planning is identifying and engaging the right partners early in the planning process. Community stakeholders can vary based on community priorities, but one key aspect should always be true: your partners should be well-known and trusted by the community. Leverage your partners’ connections to reach a wide audience – especially those whose voices have historically been left out of the planning process.
  • Place equity at the forefront of engagement. It is critical to meet community members where they are. In addition to scheduling in-person and virtual public workshops, attend local events where community members are already gathered, such as a block party, high school event, or religious service. Ensure information is available in relevant languages spoken by the community and provide additional services such as childcare or a free meal to thank participants for their time. Work with CBOs – but ensure they are paid for their time. For more information on equitable community engagement practices, see HUD’s Climate Resilience Education and Outreach Activities Implementation Guide, created by Abt staff.
  • Examine your biases. Everyone has inherent biases, and it is critical to examine those biases prior to engaging with the public. Acknowledge that you and your team may not come from similar backgrounds to the community you are working with and therefore may have differing outlooks and priorities. Allocate time to getting to know the community and building trust with residents. There are many toolkits and online tutorials available for critical self-examination for unconscious bias.
  • Simplify your message and empower the community. Use direct language when communicating with the public so that the overarching ideas are easy to understand. For example, omitting the words “climate change” and instead focusing on issues like extreme heat and flooding can help community members build awareness around climate issues and reach consensus on local priorities. Discuss the CAP in a solution-oriented way to help motivate and empower community members to take action.

Moving Forward

Once you have a CAP in place – along with targeted goals and strategies for climate action – the next (and ongoing) step is implementation. Make sure that all stakeholders continue to have a seat at the table throughout the implementation process. Consider the following actions during implementation and beyond:

  • Work with CAP partners to ensure all relevant stakeholders stay involved – and community members continue to have an opportunity to provide input
  • Consider setting up a working group(s) to identify additional funding and project opportunities
  • Create a central public location (e.g., a webpage) to track implementation efforts
  • Be transparent: measure progress on meeting science-based targets – and report back

Every CAP process has its challenges, but by following best practices, you can create strong community and stakeholder support for climate action in your community.

How Can Abt Help?

Abt supports local and tribal governments with all aspects of climate action planning, from initial assessment and engagement strategy development to planning, implementation, and evaluation. With the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, local jurisdictions will have access to unprecedented new sources of funding for local climate action efforts. Abt can help local governments navigate these funding opportunities and develop equity-driven engagement plans to begin their climate action journey. For an example of Abt’s climate planning work from start to finish, see the Pueblo de San Ildefonso CAP web page.

Contact us to learn more about how we can support local climate action work.

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