The devastation that followed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is a reminder of the serious consequences of climate change. To help mitigate such events, climate action plans are necessary. Following the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, the American Planning Association (APA) has worked to promote climate action plans within a comprehensive planning framework. In our experience, communities that develop and apply an overall framework for how these elements relate to each other are best prepared to respond to natural disaster risks.
Four key elements of climate action plans
The APA recently edited and endorsed the United Nations’ Habitats Climate Action Plan Benchmark Guidelines, which includes four key elements.
Firstly, climate change planning must be integrated into a comprehensive framework.
Secondly, we must recognise the importance of settlement patterns in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Compact, mixed-use, densely populated places that are adequately served by transit are the most energy efficient.
Third, transparent and accessible government is essential. New Orleans spent much time and effort to engage its citizens in the post-Katrina planning process. Without governance structures that provide citizens with information on policies, budget and plans, as well as access to the planning process, we will not have sustainable places.
Finally, we must adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) indicators. These recently adopted goals, and especially the proposed indicators, tie the metrics needed for climate action plans to both the New Urban Agenda and SDGs. The goals advocate critical choices – SDG 13 for example recommends we ‘Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’. In addition, Goal 9 relates to resilient infrastructure for total energy use and Goal 11 encourages planning for higher-density mixed-use developments near public transit as part of a city’s strategy for progress on climate change.
The importance of green infrastructure for climate resilience
Climate change requires action from all levels of government. Planning for compactness, transit-oriented development and mixed land use will help places become more resilient and at the same time, more liveable and energy efficient. The APA is urging countries to take urgent initiatives to combat climate change and its impacts.
Countries still need to pursue the Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 11, and set specific targets such as the metrics suggested for reducing carbon emissions. Cities have been at the forefront in taking action. Both San Francisco and New York in the US have adopted action plans that can be found and reviewed as examples. Green infrastructure and adaptive reuse are both key elements of sustainable development. Continued cooperation across sectors and among governments is essential along with comprehensive planning to achieve our climate objectives after 2030.