Climate Action Planning in 4 Easy Steps
Marissa Fink, Southern Maine Sustainability Fellow, explains how you can create a climate action plan within your community (or household!).
A Climate Action Plan (or CAP) is an important step that municipalities around the state are taking to work toward reducing their climate impact and prepare for the effects of climate change. A CAP includes goals like reducing greenhouse gas emissions and implementing climate change adaptation strategies. The first CAP that I learned about at the start of my service term was Maine Won’t Wait, adopted in December 2020 for the State of Maine. In my term of service at the Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission, I am learning firsthand the steps of the climate action planning process. These steps can be applied to an entire state (like Maine Won’t Wait), an individual city or town (like the CAPs I work on as part of my service term), or even your household. Here’s how!
1. Gather data
Does your town have certain landmarks or infrastructure that are vital to the community? Are there specific neighborhoods that are more vulnerable to flooding than others? What about emissions: how much CO2 is being released into the atmosphere, and from what sources? These are all valuable pieces of data that will be collected during this first step. This information is important because in order to make a plan, you first need to take stock of where you’re starting. This initial data gathered in step 1 will serve as the baseline from which you will set goals later on.
In addition, it’s important early on to establish who the key players will be in creating this plan. Maybe they are a grassroots community task force, a planning commission, or a town planner. Once you have your team established and organized, it will be much easier to communicate and create an effective CAP together.
2. Get input from the community
Now that you’ve gathered data on things like greenhouse gas emissions and areas of town that are most vulnerable to climate impacts, it’s time to get input from the people who spend time in these places every day. Think about the place where you live: What do you love about your town? Is it a specific downtown spot where people gather to socialize and enjoy local businesses? Is it a sense of tight-knit community that you have with your neighbors? Or is it certain natural landmarks, like a beautiful coastline or local forest? Finding out what is truly important to the community is vital to a CAP. Once you know what the community’s priorities are and what is most important to them, you will know what to prioritize as you begin the next step.
3. Lay out goals and strategies
Goals and strategies make up the bulk of a Climate Action Plan. First, it’s important to sit down with your team and clarify: How is a goal different than a strategy? These definitions may seem basic, but when writing a plan that will inform how your community moves forward for years to come, it’s important to make sure we have them right!
A goal is a specific desired result that you commit to achieving. A strategy is an action you plan to take to meet that goal. For example, a goal may be, “Reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2035.” A strategy to meet that goal may be, “Reduce municipal energy use by switching all streetlights to LEDs.” I like to envision a goal as an umbrella, with the strategies fitting in underneath. Or, if you like buckets, a goal is a big bucket filled with strategies. However you picture it, a goal is a desired result and a strategy is how we get there.
There are lots of possible goals and strategies that can go into your CAP. This is where your data and community input will come in handy. For example, maybe your town has a pedestrian walkway along the coast that was identified as an important landmark by community members. Knowing this, one of your goals may be to protect the walkway from sea level rise, and an associated strategy may be to relocate the walkway further inland. This method can be used for all types of goals, from emissions reduction to land use to transportation: use your data and community input to inform your vision for the future, and lay out your roadmap to get there. Once you complete your goals and strategies lists with input from your team and community, you can review and finalize your CAP.
You did it! Now it’s time to get your finalized plan adopted and put into action (and time to have a party to celebrate all your hard work).
This list is, of course, an oversimplification of the CAP process. If there’s one thing we know about addressing the climate crisis, we know that it’s complicated! It’s important to remember that we can’t expect ourselves to solve the climate crisis overnight, and we certainly can’t do it alone. We are all a small, and crucial, piece of the puzzle. Our work as Resilience Corps Fellows doesn’t just serve the present; it serves generations to come. I am proud to say that I am a part of it!
Marissa grew up in Holmdel, New Jersey, before moving across the country to Salem, Oregon to double major in music and environmental science at Willamette University. While in college, Marissa participated in a month-long sustainability-focused study abroad program in Kawagoe, Japan. After graduating from Willamette in 2020, Marissa worked as an outdoor educator for the Appalachian Mountain Club in New Hampshire, as well as working for the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry. In their free time, Marissa enjoys crocheting, running, biking, and making music with friends. As a Resilience Corps Fellow, Marissa is excited to help municipalities prepare for how climate change will continue to affect their communities and build toward sustainable futures.