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State and Local Climate and Energy Program

Developing an Action Plan

What is a Climate Change Action Plan?

A local climate change action plan lays out specific policy proposals or planning processes, including institutional and policy structures, that a local government will use to develop and implement a climate change mitigation strategy. A climate action plan typically addresses the following:

  • Regional and local risks and vulnerabilities
  • Baseline emissions
  • Goals and targets
  • Identification and screening of mitigation options
  • Estimated results of mitigation actions
  • Recommendations and strategy for implementation

Why Create an Action Plan?

Although climate change is a global issue, many critical actions to address greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can be initiated locally. Local governments can alter GHG emission patterns significantly through their influence and authority over several climate related topics such as municipal utilities, land use and urban forestry, building codes, waste management, transportation, financing, environmental programs, and other relevant policy areas. Additionally, local government actions directly impact and benefit the lives of citizens.

In addition, many climate change mitigation measures generate broader non-climate related benefits. For example, energy efficiency programs lower costs while reducing GHG emissions. Increasing carpools and public transportation reduces pollution and traffic congestion in addition to reducing GHG emissions. Reforestation and urban tree programs not only sequester carbon, but also can reduce the amount of energy used for cooling and provide aesthetic improvement.

Developing a Climate Change Action Plan

Collaborate with Stakeholders Collaboration across local agencies, as well as with the public, businesses, and industry ensures that the strategy reflects a cross-section of perspectives that support it. EPA provides information to assist locals in translating inventory results into actions.
Understand the scope of GHG emissions and identify opportunities for reductions Understanding the scope of GHG emissions is key to identifying trends, sources of increase, and sectors to target. EPA provides methods and tools to assist locals in Developing a GHG Inventory.
Understand vulnerabilities to climate change Local governments can consider Impacts and Adaptation in existing planning and approval processes, especially large infrastructural projects that would be costly to adapt later. For information about potential impacts of climate change, visit the U.S. Global Change Research Program website.
Set goals Quantitative goals provide structure and facilitate the evaluation of progress. Goals should include a specific timeframe, and can be stated in terms of emissions reductions, energy savings, or cost savings. Goals can be sector-specific or more general.
Establish criteria for evaluating mitigation options Examples of evaluation criteria include the following:
  • Timeframe of focus
  • Effectiveness in reducing GHGs
  • Private sector costs and savings
  • Public sector costs
  • Economic gains
  • Social equity
  • Existing institutional capacity or programs
  • Political feasibility
  • Existing legal constraints
  • Enforceability
  • Measurability
  • Co-benefits
Identify options Local governments can consider options that affect the entire community or key sectors, depending upon GHG inventory, goals, and priorities. EPA provides methods and tools to assist local governments in identifying policy options.
Evaluate and select options In evaluating policy options, local governments should determine each option's quantitative impacts on GHGs, the economy, energy supply, air pollution, etc. based on local goals and priorities. This allows governments to rank policy options and facilitates comparison. More information can be found at evaluating policy options.
Establish administrative process for implementation, evaluation, and measurement Local governments should identify mechanisms - including funding mechanisms - and actors for implementing individual options within strategy, and establish progress reporting mechanisms and time frames.

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How to Implement an Action Plan

Design and Implement Policies
After determining the actions, local governments begin to design specific policies and to establish implementation pathways. EPA provides guidance for local governments on Designing and Implementing Programs.

Measure and Evaluate
It is important for local governments to evaluate progress toward their goals in order to adjust their strategy and action plan accordingly. EPA provides methods and tools to assist local governments in Determining Results of their climate and energy programs and policies.

Citizens and stakeholders have important roles in helping mitigate GHGs. Communicating the benefits of programs to mitigate climate change can help gain continued support for policies and programs affecting the community. EPA provides information for local governments on Engaging Stakeholders.

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