For too many mayors and municipal leaders, climate action remains a task that seems out of reach. Cities often have limited resources to devote towards developing a comprehensive climate action plan, the absence of funds to allocate to a full time sustainability office, or simply may not know what the best course of action towards sustainability solutions is. These factors prevent far too many cities from taking that first step towards climate action.
However, getting your city on the path to sustainability is a worthwhile pursuit. Investing in climate solutions has proven to grow local economies, and provide stable, well paying jobs for residents. Cleaner air and water make cities healthier places to live and raise families. Climate-wise infrastructure and investments can help decrease commute times for workers, connect neighborhoods, and provide new options for getting around. And finally, climate action is a political winner—with a growing number of Americans reporting that they want and expect their leaders to commit to more environmentally conscious policies.
Fortunately, there are some initial first step any mayor can take to bring these benefits to their community and residents. Here are just a few:
1: Identify Needs
One of the most challenging hurdles in developing a climate action plan is simply identifying areas within your city that need addressing. For some, the low-hanging fruit may be obvious. Water conservation, recycling programs, and increasing energy efficiency standards are almost universally needed. However, in many cities, solutions may be less clear.
One new tool that community leaders can add to their climate action toolkit was just introduced at last week’s Climate Week NYC. A collaboration between C40, the Compact of Mayors, and the World Bank, the new tool—CURB: Climate Action for Urban Sustainability—gives local leaders access to an innovative new resource for planning climate action. CURB helps city and community officials lay out the best plan of action by examining the unique situation of each city. It gives mayors the ability to identify the most effective course of climate action, the anticipated costs, and the potential economic and environmental benefits.
A similar tool developed by Siemens, the City Performance Tool (CyPT), has already proven itself here on the West coast. The program analyzes and identifies where resources can be allocated to make the greatest impact. In San Francisco, CyPT is being put to use to help the city reach its bold climate goals—targeting areas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, like transportation, energy consumption in buildings, and power generation.
These new tools provide a starting point for cities that want to take action, but are unsure of which course will be the most economically feasible, and will have the greatest impact.
2: Build Relationships
To make that first step towards action an easier one to take, organizations have begun to help cities collaborate, learn from one another, and share resources for effecting change. For instance, groups like ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, the Compact of Mayors, and C40 Cities all represent coalitions of large and small cities devoted to sustainability and making communities cleaner, greener places to live.
Cities can also partner with groups outside of the municipal sector. School districts and institutions of higher education are already investing in school and community garden programs, installing solar panels, and encourage educating their youth about the importance of climate action. The faith community and church leaders are inspiring their congregations to consider the moral and theological imperatives to being active stewards of the environment. And the business community is investing in energy efficiency to reduce costs and increase profits. The expertise of members in your community that are already engaged in climate action should be leveraged to make any city climate action plan the most effective possible.
Path to Positive Communities, in particular, provides a landing pad for mayors and leaders from all sectors of communities—including business, health, the nonprofit world, and faith. The organization creates a network for connecting with leaders with proven track records, sets up forums, and provides valuable resources.
3: Include Your Community
The key to a sustained and successful climate action program is having residents active and involved. The best way to accomplish this is to establish clear lines of communications. Residents should know why acting on climate is important, how projects in the city are going to affect them, and how they can do their part.
Fortunately, an increasing body of research conducted by ecoAmerica provides some simple guidelines for accomplishing this. Let’s Talk Climate and 15 Steps to Create Effective Climate Communications are two indispensable resources that can be put to use immediately. Together, they provide a simple guideline for effectively communicating the need to take climate action, the benefits of acting, and how residents can get involved.
Climate change is already underway, and as a leader in your community, you have a unique opportunity to improve the lives of residents and the environment. Begin by targeting the best course of action, collaborating with others who have shared experiences and overcome many of the challenges of taking action. Communicate the importance of action with residents in your community. The time to act is now. To get started today, check out the resources and join with likeminded climate leaders at Path to Positive Communities!
Stuart Wood is a writer at Path to Positive Communities and an adjunct professor. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Claremont Graduate University, where he focused on climate change, political communications and psychology. Email him at [email protected]
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