Climate action for regions, cities, and businesses: Moving from pledge to implementation

Climate action for regions, cities, and businesses: Moving from pledge to implementation

Last update: 04/06/2021

Businesses, cities, and regions around the world, otherwise known as subnational actors, have made aggressive pledges to take action on climate change, whether to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to impacts, or both. With the return of the U.S. to the Paris Climate Agreement, the opportunity to develop and implement a climate action plan is bigger than ever.

Extreme weather impacts in recent times—from more powerful hurricanes and more frequent wildfires to dangerous flooding and destabilizing droughts—are reminders of the importance of this type of climate action.

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

To overcome resource limitations, you should identify organizations with plans that are similar to yours and adapt aspects of their processes that make sense within the context of your organization.

What is a climate plan?
A climate action plan aims to help governments create a visionary path for minimizing contributions to climate change while building resilience to a changing climate

For example, the climate action and adaptation plan we helped LA Metro develop outlines specific greenhouse gas reduction and adaptation actions across all of the agency’s operations. Many of these actions could be applied directly to other agencies and locations.

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

Some organizations make the mistake of 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, such as infrastructure hardening, electrification, and bigger energy-efficient upgrades, with thoughtful, holistic, long-term plans to address climate mitigation and improve resilience. Early wins can go a long way toward 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 future. By taking advantage of energy efficiency measures and facilitating the adoption of electric vehicles, organizations can realize greenhouse gas benefits, cost benefits, and air quality and health benefits. And these benefits are quantifiable: a recent American Lung Association report supported by ICF estimates that 6,300 premature deaths and $72 billion in health costs could potentially be avoided through the nationwide adoption of electric vehicles.

But with so many options and actions available, organizations sometimes struggle to define the best path forward. Our fast-track adaptation approach can help—it streamlines climate vulnerability assessment and describes concrete approaches you can take to quickly address your climate risks.

Seek funding from new sources

While the benefits of mitigation and adaptation can be significant, 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 local and state governments can use 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 after achieving the contractually agreed-upon outcomes (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, offsetting capital project costs.
  • FEMA BRIC. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program supports states, local communities, tribes, and territories as they implement hazard mitigation projects. BRIC replaces the existing Pre-Disaster Mitigation program.

Forge relationships with like-minded actors.

Many organizations are willing to lend a hand or share examples of successes and failures. Just to name a few:

  • USDN aims to create a healthier environment, economic prosperity, and increased social equity to share best practices and accelerate the application of good ideas.
  • U.S. Climate Alliance is a coalition of states 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.
  • TCFD develops recommendations for effective climate-related disclosures that could promote more informed investment, credit, and insurance underwriting decisions.

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

To help facilitate adaptive management, start by understanding what organizational maturation and success should look like. Organizations can adopt a Capability Maturity Model that recognizes the typical barriers and defines requirements for creating a highly-refined response to climate change. We have worked with clients to develop flexible adaptation pathways that allow them to make early progress while maintaining malleability and strategic decision-making over time.

The business case for action

Peter Schultz, our vice president for climate action and resilience, recommends establishing the business case for action.

Until recently, the justification for climate action was a “trust me” statement: an assertion, without clear justification, that addressing climate risks is good for the community. However, new approaches, such as those we recently deployed in Miami Beach, are identifying and articulating a clear, compelling, and quantitative case for the value of investments in resiliency.

Local governments can use a business case analysis for resilience to justify their use of scarce resources. They can also use their business cases as a presentation for ratings agencies (e.g., S&P, Moody’s) to justify continued strong credit ratings when making resilience investments. In addition, local governments can present their business case analysis to insurers to demonstrate risk reduction and promote continued insurability.

What Are You Doing to Take Action?

We should applaud everyone who takes climate action, whether in the private sector or in local, state, or national governments. This is, after all, a solvable problem. We know the challenges, we know the pitfalls, and we know how to drive success.

The only thing left to do: design and implement actions, and be ready to adapt.

Meet the authors
  1. Peter Schultz, Ph.D., Vice President, Climate Adaptation and Resilience + ICF Climate Center Senior Fellow

    Peter helps companies and governments understand and address climate risks through science-based solutions with over 25 years of experience. View bio

  2. Deb Harris, Senior Director, Climate Planning + ICF Climate Center Senior Fellow

    Deb is an expert in climate action, decarbonization planning, and stakeholder engagement for states, cities, counties, and utilities. View bio

  3. Cassandra Bhat, Director, Climate Resilience

    Cassie helps clients become more resilient to changing climate and weather risks with more than 10 years of experience. View bio

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