The Importance of Municipal Climate Action Plans

What are they and how do they impact your project or organization?

The Importance of Municipal Climate Action Plans

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What are Climate Action Plans and what are the impacts? 

climate action planCities and developed land are a top source of greenhouse emissions, producing between 67 and 72 percent of carbon dioxide and methane emissions in 2020. As the global population migrates toward urban centers, cities will represent an increasing share of greenhouse gas emissions in the years to come. This represents a huge opportunity to make meaningful progress in emissions reduction! To organize their efforts, cities worldwide are creating location-specific Climate Action Plans to reduce emissions, energy and water use, and adapt to the realities of climate change.

Climate Action Plan (CAP): What Is It?

At its most basic level, a climate action plan (CAP) is a roadmap that guides an organization toward achieving its emissions reduction goals while making it more resilient to the effects of climate change. CAPs have been implemented at various levels of government (national, state, county, and city) and by organizations such as businesses, nonprofits, schools, and more. Focusing on energy consumption reduction and renewable energy sources, as well as water use, are almost always top priorities, but there is so much more. 

According to Ballotpedia, 35 of America's top cities have climate action plans. Among them is our hometown of Cleveland and other cities in which Emerald works, like Miami, Baltimore, San Francisco, Louisville, and Columbus. Not there yet are New Orleans and Pittsburgh.

A CAP is a tool for community engagement, as both Cleveland and New York show us. Sustainable Cleveland is a community of Cleveland citizens from all walks of life, working together to make Cleveland a vibrant community with thriving businesses and a flourishing natural environment -- doing the work to support the CAP goals. The NYC Climate Action Alliance was created to recruit citizens to help roll out the City’s CAP and is a network of community members to help tackle some of the climate challenges. They operate through an inclusive and non-partisan alliance to educate and empower New Yorkers to scale up proven climate solutions in their everyday life.

Smaller cities and suburbs are also getting on board with the CAP initiative. For example, the City of Lakewood (a suburb of Cleveland) is home to a few of Emerald's team members and is in the process of creating the City of Lakewood CAP and a community team.

Cities & Climate

Cities are a leading source of emissions, but they also can make impactful changes through targeted changes within their jurisdiction. By developing and implementing a CAP, cities benefit from:

  • Transparent Goals: CAPs help prioritize strategies and chart a course to achieve. Since they include benchmarks for reducing emissions, progress reports show how the CAP is improving the local ecosystem, making the community a healthier place, and accomplishing other locally determined goals.
  • Accountability: By publicly stating goals, a city government is held accountable for making progress and can make course corrections if necessary.
  • Equitable Solutions: Many CAPs apply an equity lens to a city’s efforts, ensuring that those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change in our communities are engaged and included when seeking solutions.


A well-developed and thoughtful CAP will also provide a community with additional benefits upon implementation. For example, a CAP could:


  • Improve public transportation: A CAP that calls for improved and more accessible transit options for a community will see less traffic congestion, better air quality, and more equitable access to mobility for all residents.
  • Improve building performance for people and planet: CAPs that prioritize more efficient and sustainable buildings are more likely to see healthier indoor spaces for residents, employees, and visitors, and reduced energy costs.
  • Improve the local economy: A CAP that includes goals for a more diversified and resilient local economy creates systems to reduce vulnerability to price fluctuations of global energy markets and supply chain disruptions. Focusing on the local economy also increases regional business growth and local wealth creation.


Elements of a Good Climate Action Plan


Not all climate action plans are the same. Yet, the elements of leading CAPs include:

  • Data and goals rooted in science
  • Tracking to IPCC's goal of limiting warming to 1.5° C
  • Clear, defined targets
  • Short-, medium-, and long-term goals
  • Targets and objectives to be supported by strategies for implementation (the math must add up!)
  • A budget and schedule with action items for responsible parties to be held accountable
  • A process that reviews the plan through a DEI lens (diversity, equity, and inclusion)
  • Goals and metrics for energy independence -- such as diversifying the energy supply to include (more) clean power and electrifying systems and fleets
  • Identified funding sources to spur action
  • Encouragement of public-private partnerships, investments, and funding opportunities
  • A compelling vision that reimagines communities to be more sustainable, inclusive, and resilient

Your Role with Climate Action Plans

As cities around the world continue to develop and implement climate action plans, other stakeholders -- businesses, nonprofits, and schools -- will be positioned to contribute to the success of these efforts. One thing is for sure: CAPs don't happen without stakeholder engagement. Your call to action lets your local elected leaders know you care about the environment and want to see your city proactively addressing its impact on the planet. And, you can do the same where you work.

To learn how your business can be part of the solution, consider how a Sustainability Roadmap can help you get started.

What is a Sustainability Roadmap?

Guide to Energy MOdeling

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