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Climate Action for Regions, Cities, and Businesses

Apr 4, 2018 6 MIN. READ
How subnationals can move from pledge to implementation.

Power to the sub-nationals! Businesses, cities, and regions around the world, otherwise known as subnational actors, have made aggressive pledges to take action on climate change.

Extreme weather impacts in the last year are reminders of the importance of this type of climate action—from the devastating hurricanes and fires in the Americas, to the deadly flooding in India, to the destabilizing droughts in the Middle East.

Some governments and businesses have extensive resources and dedicated staff to follow through on their pledges. Most do not.

Finger pressing button on a keyboard

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were an easy button that organizations could hit to move from pledge to implementation, or to encourage those on the sidelines to make a commitment?

Although we don’t have a button, we do have some straightforward principles and approaches that can help organizations take rapid, cost-effective action to:

  • Set a baseline and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and
  • Understand and address climate risks and tailor adaptive action.

Assess your current situation and articulate your goals. First, you need to have a good sense of what success will look like before you begin your planning. This can begin with a simple process of articulating goals with your organization and stakeholders – ideally, S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound). Second, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. This goes for both climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. You’ll need both a baseline measurement to identify your starting point and an approach for measuring progress along the way.

Measuring the benefits of mitigation and adaptation can also help to build the business case for further action. As mentioned in an earlier blog post, there are some well-established principles and tools for GHG monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) that organizations may be able to deploy. The GHG Protocol’s Corporate Standard and the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories provide a great foundation for businesses and governments respectively to create an emissions baseline. Measuring climate risk is a less established type of analysis. The climate risk analysis tools we developed for the World Bank and the U.S. Agency for International Development are freely available and intended for use by people not trained in climate science.

There are also a number of tools available for quickly and consistently assessing what attainable goals can look like and what actions they should encompass. Tools such as the Clean Energy Emission Reduction (CLEER) tool can help organizations consider a wide range of low-emissions options across a large array of GHG-emitting sources. As you put these plans into action, don’t forget to identify and take credit for the actions you already take that reduce your emissions or increase your resilience.

Adopt a plan and don’t reinvent the wheel. First time creating a climate action plan? You don’t need to start from scratch. A number of networks and organizations — such as those mentioned in the “who’s in” box above — offer public versions of their successful plans as examples.

Philadelphia climate-ready

Identify plans of organizations that are similar to yours and adapt aspects of their plans that make sense within the context of your organization. For example, the plan we helped the City of Philadelphia develop outlines specific adaptation actions across all of the city’s major departments. Many of these actions could be applied directly to other cities.

In addition, seek to mainstream your understanding of climate risk into existing processes and management activities (e.g., USAID’s approach for mainstreaming climate risk analysis into its project development cycle). This can also be done for mitigation by incorporating mitigation aspects into decision-making and investments (e.g., establishing organizational requirements for energy efficient and green products purchasing or power purchase decisions).

Get some quick wins. One mistake we see organizations make is letting the perfect be the enemy of the good — they take years to develop strategic plans without making any tactical progress. To avoid this pitfall, pair low-regrets measures with thoughtful, holistic, long-term plans to address climate mitigation and improve resilience. Early wins can go a long way towards building institutional and financing support for more expensive, long-term approaches.

There are low-cost, low-risk, high-return options that most organizations can deploy quickly to pursue a resilient, low emissions pathway. For example, many energy efficiency measures such as upgrading to LED lighting have been proven to save money, reduce emissions, and increase resilience. The Fast-Track Adaptation approach that we developed describes concrete approaches to quickly begin to address climate risks.

Seek funding from new sources. Although the benefit-cost ratios of mitigation and adaptation approaches can be large, many organizations may lack the upfront capital to pursue them. When that’s the case, consider new funding sources such as:

  • Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs that can be used by local and state governments to fund the upfront energy efficiency, renewable energy, or resiliency improvements on commercial and residential properties.
  • Green Bonds and Climate Bonds. These are similar to conventional bonds, except the proceeds are earmarked to finance new and existing projects with environmental (including climate-specific) benefits.
  • Pay for Success Contracts and Environmental Impact Bonds. These are financing agreements in which private investors provide upfront capital for the delivery of services. A backend payor (usually a government) repays the capital if the contractually agreed upon outcomes are achieved (e.g., increases in resilience).
  • National Programs. Cities and regions may have access to funding and technical assistance from national programs to support planning, assessments, and projects, such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s State Energy Program. Funding in the form of tax credits or incentives for energy efficient or resilient projects may also be available for cities and regions to access to offset capital project costs.

Forge relationships with like-minded actors. A wide range of organizations are willing to lend a hand or share examples of successes and failures. Just to name a few:

  • C40 network connects large cities around the world, enabling them to collaborate, share knowledge, and drive meaningful, measurable, and sustainable action.
  • U.S. Climate Alliance is a coalition of states that is driving toward measurable action through workstreams on clean energy finance, power sector modernization, building transformation, advanced transportation, natural resources, and climate resilience.
  • CDP helps companies and governments to measure and manage their climate impacts.
  • American Society for Adaptation Professionals and the FEMA Resilient Nation Partnership Network provide resources to help organizations manage their climate risks.

Adaptively manage. Even the best-laid plans do not always play out as expected. Changing policy and management environments, climate conditions, socioeconomic contexts, and technology innovations require organizations to stay nimble.

This requires a good measurement plan (see above) to know when change is happening and how effective existing measures are, as well as a management approach that recognizes that the measures adopted at the outset will likely need to be modified over time.

One thing that can help to facilitate this so-called adaptive management is an understanding of what organizational maturation and success should look like. A Capability Maturity Model can be adopted that recognizes the typical barriers and keys to success that will be required to navigate from initiation through to a highly refined approach to addressing climate change.

What Are You Doing to Take Action?

We applaud all those taking climate action, whether in the private sector or in local, state, or national governments. Given the current national-level uncertainty about climate policy in the United States, subnational action is more important than ever.

How are you making change happen in your community? Let us know on Twitter or LinkedIn, or drop us a line directly by emailing Peter.Schultz@icf.com, Deborah.Harris@icf.com, or Cassandra.Bhat@icf.com.

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