At a time when the economic and social impacts of climate change are becoming ever more evident, the urgency for comprehensive climate action is clear. From droughts across the central and southern U.S. to hurricanes battering the Caribbean, the real-world consequences of climate change are both devastating and costly.


Research suggests that the economic losses due to climate-related disasters in the United States are in the billions, with global annual losses to reach $23 trillion by 2050. Furthermore, the health impacts of climate change, including increased extreme temperatures and respiratory and cardiovascular disease, are severe. Estimates show climate change will lead to 83 million excess deaths globally by 2100 without adequate adaptation policies. 


In response to these pressing challenges, countries and communities are developing and implementing Climate Action Plans (CAPs). These plans are not just documents but roadmaps towards sustainability and resilience in the face of a changing climate. They touch on most parts of a community and can significantly impact businesses, requiring updated business practices and following new regulatory guidelines. 


What is a Climate Action Plan? 

A CAP is a strategic and comprehensive approach to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. They provide a roadmap for local governments to follow as they implement community-wide programs. As of 2022, thirty of the fifty largest U.S. cities and thirty-two U.S. states had CAPs in place.  


CAPs primarily focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, yet can also touch on other climate-related issues. For example, a CAP typically includes greenhouse gas reduction goals and actions the community or state can take to reach those goals. This may include renewable energy goals, electrifying public transportation, implementing stricter energy efficiency criteria for buildings, or recommending company reporting of greenhouse gas emissions. 


The development of a CAP is a multi-step process that involves setting ambitious yet achievable emissions reduction targets, identifying actionable strategies for each sector, and engaging stakeholders in a participatory planning process. This ensures that the plan is not only comprehensive but also tailored to meet the unique needs and capabilities of the community it is designed for. 


The role that CAPs play is significant. They place climate goals into local governance, enabling cities and towns to contribute to regional and global climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts.  


Examples of Communities Implementing Climate Action Plans 

Across the globe, communities are taking bold steps to address climate change through their Climate Action Plans. Let's explore how Nashville and Cleveland are using CAPs to drive change: 


Nashville's Climate Action Plan 

Nashville, Tennessee, launched an ambitious Climate Action Plan in 2021. The plan was developed with the knowledge that the city will face a growing number of climate risks in the next decade, including increased storms and tornadoes, more frequent flooding, and longer periods of extreme heat. The city acknowledged the social and economic burden that comes with these changes and that community-wide actions can reduce their impact.  


Nashville’s emissions topped 11.4 million metric tons in 2017, with about half from transportation and half from building energy use. The long-term goal is to cut annual emissions by 80% by 2050. The plan outlines several potential strategies to meet this goal. However, the primary drivers will hinge on decarbonizing the electrical grid, electrifying vehicles, and shifting energy used in buildings away from fossil fuels (such as natural gas) in favor of electricity.  


Recommendations included in the CAP span across the city and require the involvement of both the public and private sectors. For example, it suggests that businesses be asked to make pledges to reduce emissions and report on progress. For developers, it suggests implementing a carbon goal for new residential buildings, including fines for exceeding emissions. Other recommendations include working with the city’s 100 largest energy customers to develop onsite solar, improve bike and pedestrian safety to incentivize less carbon-intensive transportation, and update city code to increase tree canopy cover and greenspaces.  


While the plan doesn’t create concrete policies, it makes recommendations that the city can follow and signals the general direction of its climate policy.  


Cleveland’s Climate Action Plan 

Cleveland’s Climate Action Plan has been in place since 2013 with planned 5-year updates — the next update is expected in 2024. The city aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030. Its latest greenhouse gas inventory from 2016 showed a 2% decline in overall emissions compared to 2010, while overall economic activity increased. This was primarily achieved through reducing electricity emissions (shifting away from fossil fuels) and reducing natural gas use in buildings.  


The city’s ongoing work focuses on five primary focus areas: energy efficiency & green buildings (as is seen in LEED-certified buildings), clean energy, sustainable transportation, increased green spaces, and local food production. Programs under these categories are estimated to account for a 5.1 million metric ton decline in the city’s annual emissions by 2030. Overall, Cleveland believes achieving its Climate Action Plan goals will stimulate local economic growth, improve quality of life, and improve resilience to changes in the following decades. 


The Impact on Business 

Climate Action Plans can have significant implications for businesses. Communities involved in implementing a CAP may provide incentives to businesses that align with emission reduction measures, while also imposing deterrents, such as lengthier permitting processes, for those that do not comply. Either way, CAPs provide a framework businesses can look to for innovation and leadership in sustainability. Businesses that align with these plans can benefit from reduced operational costs, financial incentives to develop sustainable infrastructure, and increased competitiveness. Failing to meet sustainability guidelines can result in fines and regulatory issues. 


Emerald Built Environments is at the forefront of helping businesses navigate the complexities of sustainability and environmental policy. We help companies integrate sustainable practices into their operations, align with community CAPs, and set an example for environmental stewardship. Learn how we can help your business on its sustainability journey and get ahead of the regulatory curve.


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