Climate Change Plans

A climate action plan is a framework document for measuring, tracking, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adopting climate adaptation measures. These documents are used as a framework to guide administrative bodies in addressing the impact of climate change in their communities. Climate action plans typically include targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and detailed steps for meeting and tracking those targets. Plans may also include elements such as resilience strategies and clean energy targets. The plans generally focus on implementing actions that will achieve emissions reductions in the most cost effective way possible.

Why do Climate Action Plans Matter?

Climate plans are a crucial tool for tracking and meeting global climate goals. They can be applied at a wide range of different institutional levels, from city governments to universities to federal programs. A climate plan’s emissions targets and goals are usually voted on and approved by the governing body that is adopting the plan, often in collaboration with non-governmental stakeholder groups and the public.

Mitigation - Climate Action Now poster

Only a select few climate action plans are legally enforceable, the vast majority hold no official legal authority. As such, the positive effects of a climate action plan will only be realized if the programs and goals within the document are implemented by government or community institutions.

The proactive strategy of using a climate action plan can help governments mitigate and adapt to rapid environmental changes, many of which are regionally and locally specific. The document can help businesses and the public become more aware of how their activities are connected to the collaborative effort to address climate change. Climate action plans usually include a timeline for the implementation of climate change economic and regulatory changes which can help businesses prepare to adapt to future rules and work with the government to meet climate goals.

What is in a Climate Action Plan?

The content of a climate action plan differs depending on the scale of the community it is addressing and the specific needs of the community it is representing. Several general sections are consistently applied across the types of climate actions plans which outline making, tracking and meeting climate targets:

  • Baseline survey of previous greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts of the climate action plan community or organization.
  • Models for planned emissions reductions and carbon offsets within each sector covered by the plan.
  • Financing details for actions and programs implemented under each section of the plan.
  • Goals and targets for reaching carbon neutrality and resilience targets.
  • Interim target check-in dates to track compliance with the plan.
  • Strategies for implementation such as proposed regulations, community and business partnerships, and community guidelines.

General city and government plans often address these key areas:

  • Transportation: Transition to electric and low-emission vehicles and reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled per person. Provide safe and equitable transportation options.
  • Energy Transition: Increase investment in renewable and resilient energy, carbon capture technology, and energy innovation.
  • Building Optimization: Reduction of building energy use through upgrades of existing structures and investment in new infrastructure.
  • Materials Management: Management of materials systems for waste, water, recycling, compost etc. with the goal of reduction and proper disposal.
  • Resiliency: Adaptation and mitigation of climate risks such as fire, flood, extreme heat, drought, and storms, especially for vulnerable populations and infrastructure.

ClimateCheck provides current and projected climate risk profiles to identify areas where resiliency plans are needed.

City and State Climate Action Plans

Hundreds of cities across the U.S., are using climate action plans to guide their climate change response. These documents focus on guiding government and community actions, especially on issues of energy and transportation which can be tackled at the city-wide level. Some great examples of city climate action plans are the cities of Houston, San Diego, and Cambridge.

Mitigation - Houston Climate Action Plan

As of 2021, 28 states have released a climate action plan and several more are in the process of writing or revising a plan. Working on climate change at this level allows the climate plans to be implemented to match the specific region’s geographical patterns and climate concerns. At the state level of implementation, some of the following programs are included within climate action plans as effective and direct means of limiting emissions:

  • Carbon pricing programs, cap-and-trade: 11 states participate in the regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) program and several other states, including California and Massachusetts, have independent programs.
  • Electricity and power sector policies: 29 states have adopted a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to require a certain percentage of renewable energy usage in utilities.
  • Transportation policies: 36 states have implemented some form of clean vehicle policy. Several states have taken the step to implement a low-carbon fuel standard to encourage a decrease of carbon in fuel use.

Federal Climate Adaptation Plans

Climate change ultimately requires an effective national and international response to climate change. Recent actions from the Biden administration have utilized climate action plans to guide the federal government towards implementing effective climate policies and strategic planning for the future.

In 2021, the Biden Administration released the details of climate adaptation plans developed by more than 20 federal agencies. The plans were released as a part of Biden’s effort to make the federal government more adaptive to the accelerating impacts of climate change. By introducing climate plans in many major federal agencies, the Biden administration hopes to develop a whole-government approach to climate change.

Risk - Biden executive order 14030 on addressing US financial risks due to climate change

Addressing climate risks on a federal level will help tackle large-scale problems such as infrastructure damage, extreme weather events, federal transportation and energy systems, conservation efforts, and the health and safety of federal employees. The following are key elements of the Biden Administration’s climate plan:

  • Safeguarding federal investments: Identify where climate change is causing risks to our infrastructure, transportation, and military installations.
  • Identifying leadership and accountability: Create new leadership structures to increase accountability for climate issues.
  • Developing a more resilient supply chain: Identify goods and services that are at risk of disruption from extreme weather and develop contingency plans for critical supplies such as the materials necessary for printing of currency and coinage.
  • Enhancing protections for workers and communities: Provide tools and funding to help people better adapt to extreme heat and other climate threats. Pay federal wildfire fighters a fair minimum wage of $15 an hour.
  • Building a more equitable future: Advance climate equity by promoting environmental justice objectives.


Climate actions plans are a tool that is being utilized by many different governing bodies to set specific, effective, and trackable targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions and mitigation actions. These plans give the public and businesses the ability to track and weigh in on present and future actions against climate change.