Columbus Ohio picturedResults from a national survey of planning practitioners provide insight into the types of tools and templates that local governments need to see progress on climate action. The Great Plains Institute collaborated with American Planning Association (APA) divisions on an in-depth survey that identified opportunities to support cities on climate action—from climate goals to implementation. We recently presented the survey results during two APA webinars with our association colleagues (video recording and slides available below).

A few key takeaways from the survey:

  • The majority of communities or agencies responding to the survey had adopted or plan to adopt climate plans or goals within another plan.
  • Most respondents were at least somewhat familiar with local climate action planning.
  • Respondents identified the need for a combination of new or improved resources and data to help them achieve climate or carbon-reduction outcomes in their work, including example climate actions, templates for development review and agreements, and data to set and measure progress, along with opportunities to learn from peers.

Cities face challenges in moving from goals to action on energy and climate

Cities are home to over 50 percent of the world’s 7.8 billion inhabitants. Cities account for an estimated 70 percent of all global CO2 emissions and consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy generation. Fortunately, local communities—across the United States and the world—have not only been identified as key players in climate and energy work but have emerged as leaders.

Setting ambitious goals for greenhouse gas emissions reductions and converting to carbon-free electricity, 2019 saw over 10,000 cities worldwide commit to the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy. An incomplete inventory by the CDP found 198 communities globally had set a renewable energy target as of 2017. The Sierra Club saw similar breadth in its inventory of US communities with 100 percent clean energy commitments.

Cities and counties are adopting climate plans and climate goals at an accelerating rate. As a result, planners are asked to incorporate energy, climate, and related issues in long-term planning; develop and implement new standards for private development and new designs for infrastructure; and create new processes that incorporate carbon reduction actions and resilience needs.

Regardless of the metric, it’s clear that there is local momentum and leadership on setting goals and action priorities on climate and energy. However, some communities get gridlocked at the goal-setting phase, while for others, goal setting and long-term action priorities do not always directly translate into action. Once communities set goals and action priorities, local government planners still need to integrate and implement them. Common obstacles, like lack of data or direction, can stymie the process. Because local communities are such important actors in achieving progress on climate action, providing the resources, data, and tools that planners need is essential.

Survey results identify the tools and resources needed for local climate action

In spring 2020, the Great Plains Institute partnered with two divisions of the American Planning Association (APA)—the Sustainable Communities Division (SCD) and the Environment, Natural Resources, and Energy Division (ENRE) on the exciting frontier of local climate planning tools and templates.

Great Plains Institute staff, in collaboration with the two APA divisions, developed and administered an in-depth survey to planning practitioners across the country. The survey interrogated what types of tools and resources best serve local communities in pivoting from goal to action and where there were gaps in templates and resources that could prevent communities from achieving success in climate action implementation.

While you can view the full results in our presentation (slides here) and the video, here is one example of the tools or templates that respondents indicated would best enable planners to achieve climate or carbon-reduction outcomes in their work.

A sample survey question and results

Watch the video to learn about the full results from the survey presented in our recent APA webinar, “Preparing to Plan for Climate Change—What Tools Do We Need?”

My colleague Brian Ross and I presented the survey results along with our APA colleagues Jim Riordan and Matt Bucchin. Brian Ross, AICP, LEED Green Associate, is a senior program director at GPI; Jim Riordan, AICP, LEED AP is an environmental planner and senior project manager with Weston & Sampson, Inc.; and Matt Bucchin, AICP, LEED Green Associate, serves as the director of planning at Halff Associates, Inc.

This webinar also placed the APA Sustainable Communities “climate champions” programs in the context of pending new climate policy initiatives and research by APA, and engaged webinar participants to contribute to the ongoing effort to build the planning toolkit to meet these new challenges.

Next Steps: GPI working with local governments and planning professionals

With 300 responses from planning professionals in over 40 states, the Great Plains Institute is excited to leverage the insights of the survey to start developing tools and templates to assist local government planners as they work towards climate action implementation, including templates on development review guidelines, model ordinances for zoning best practices, example climate goals, and more. The work also poses important questions for the future of climate planning:

  • How do planning and development review change when carbon emissions become part of meeting local policy?
  • Do local government planners have the tools for addressing climate goals?
  • What new tools, templates, or data are needed to enable the realization of local climate goals?

Visit GPI’s Services page to learn more how our experienced staff collaborates with local governments and businesses to develop and implement actionable strategies for achieving energy and emissions reduction goals. Contact Brian Ross to work with our planning team at [email protected].

Sign up for GPI’s monthly newsletter to find out about the release of climate planning tools and templates for practitioners in fall 2020.

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