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The state of local climate action planning

By Michael McCormick and Carolyn Yvellez

​The context, opportunity, and need around local climate action is changing. But is local climate planning keeping up? Farallon Strategies staff collaborated with a group of practitioners, convened by City Scale, to answer this question.

The State of U.S. Local Climate Action Planning is a collective statement based on the reflections of a group of climate practitioners that worked, over a series of conversations in 2019, to identify the state of local climate action planning, and how the field can improve to meet aggressive GHG reduction targets while providing community benefit. We found that local climate action planning had reached an inflection point, and progress has become stagnant. In order to achieve the rapid transformational GHG reductions needed, the field must identify lessons learned from the last decade and move beyond traditional climate action planning processes to prioritizing implementation.The work ahead does not live with a single organization or small group of people: we hope these observations support reflection, spark dialogue, and fuel an appetite to work in new direction with new partners. 

This statement was drafted in fall 2019—prior to the emergence of COVID-19, prior to the renewed reckoning with structural racism following the murder of George Floyd, prior to the deeply unequal economic impacts of the pandemic, and prior to the 2020 elections and their aftermath that laid bare the fragility of democratic norms. Personal and community priorities have shifted, a new federal administration is vigorously linking climate change with economic justice, municipal and state budgets are upended, and the global geopolitical order is evolving rapidly.

This is a moment to re-assess, consider where we have been as local climate practitioners, what we have learned, and how we might proceed in the new circumstances ahead. Over the last 18 months, we have heard increasing awareness and discussion around many of the observations outlined in our statement, but even with how much our world has changed in the past 18 months nearly all of our observations remain relevant. 

“The local climate action movement has plateaued…We believe that the next generation of local climate action must be a collective effort, centered around people and values, and focused on opportunities for dramatic systems change.” – The State of U.S. Local Climate Action Planning

In the spirit of collective learning, we share this statement as an expression of the state of the local government climate field in 2019, acknowledging that 2020 brought its own set of unique challenges that will further influence the climate action field moving forward.   

Thank you to City Scale for convening this group of thoughtful and collaborative climate professionals, to the contributors below, and to the vast number of perspectives we brought in through engagement of our networks on this issue since 2019.

​Contributors to this statement include:

  • Michael Armstrong, City Scale
  • Derik Broekhoff, Stockholm Environment Institute
  • Katherine Gajewski, City Scale
  • Miya Kitahara, StopWaste
  • ​Michael McCormick, Farallon Strategies
  • Sarah McKinstry-Wu, Urban Sustainability Directors Network
  • Ariella Maron, City Scale
  • Hoi-Fei Mok, PhD, climate equity specialist
  • Tracy Morgenstern, Urban Sustainability Directors Network
  • Michael Steinhoff, Kim Lundgren Associates
  • Brian Swett, formerly City of Boston

Check out the full report here:  The State of Local Climate Planning

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