Uncovering JAPA

7 Ways to Plan a Stronger Climate Change Response

Climate change is undeniably one of the greatest crises facing the world and as its impacts have increased, communities have been forced to respond. Many localities and public departments have addressed this complex challenge by creating mitigation and adaptation strategies in the form of climate action plans (CAPs) and resiliency plans.

Yet, there remains the question: Are current efforts enough?

In “Seven Principles of Strong Climate Change Planning” in Journal of the American Planning Association (Vol. 86, No. 1), authors Sara Meerow and Sierra C. Woodruff argue that current efforts by both communities and the field of planning are insufficient.

Drawing upon multiple studies of planning and preparation efforts in cities across the globe, they conclude that while plans are being made, there is room for improving plans by adopting stronger goals, considering the full breadth of climate impacts, proposing multiple types of strategies, including marginalized populations in planning processes, coordinating with other planning efforts, and including implementation details. 

Responding to these insufficiencies, Meerow and Woodruff propose guiding principles to foster critical and effective climate change planning, synthesized from the “broader plan quality literature.”

The principles are:

  1. Ambitious yet attainable goals
  2. A strong fact base
  3. Diverse strategies
  4. Meaningful public participation and justice
  5. Coordination across actors, sectors, and plans
  6. Specific processes for implementation and monitoring
  7. Strategies that address uncertainty

While these may seem to be common sense, and not unique to climate change planning, previous studies show there are opportunities to improve. 

The table below outlines lessons that can be learned by planners from each principle.

Seven principles of strong climate change planning. Source: Based on concepts from Stults and Woodruff (2017). From “Seven Principles of Strong Climate Change Planning” in Journal of the American Planning Association (Vol. 86, No. 1).

Seven principles of strong climate change planning. Source: Based on concepts from Stults and Woodruff (2017). From “Seven Principles of Strong Climate Change Planning” in Journal of the American Planning Association (Vol. 86, No. 1).

Meerow and Woodruff successfully demonstrate the need for these guiding principles to ensure “strong climate change planning” occurs. They simultaneously reveal the gaps in current planning practice and provide guidance and examples for how it could be improved.

Climate change is a challenge unlike any other. It requires unprecedented coordination, cooperation, and execution. However, the first step to adapting, mitigating, or improving resiliency in the face of climate change is to adequately plan for it. Meerow and Woodruff’s seven principles offer a clear and guiding framework.

Top image: Getty Images illustration.


About the Author
Charles Hatfield is a Master in Urban Planning candidate at Harvard University.

July 9, 2020

By Charles Hatfield