Planning for a New Energy and Climate Future

Project Overview

The project aimed to help planners incorporate energy and climate considerations into their work and assist communities and regions to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, transition to renewable energy, and adapt to a changing climate.

Planners have an important role to play in helping communities meet energy needs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and adapt to a changing climate. While most planners recognize the significance of these issues, they are still working to translate these imperatives into on-the-ground plans, actions, and regulations.

Planning for a New Energy and Climate Future

PAS 558

This report presents fundamental information about energy and climate change, provides a framework for how to integrate energy and climate into the planning process, and offers strategies for communities to address energy and climate across a variety of issues, including development patterns, transportation, and economic development. Case studies illustrate communities that have already begun taking steps in these areas.


Listen to a roundtable discussion with the coauthors of Planning for a New Energy and Climate Future— Suzanne Rynne, AICP, manager of APA’s Green Communities Research Center; Jan Mueller, Senior Policy Associate with the Environmental and Energy Study Institute; and Scott Shuford, AICP, Planning and Development Director of Onslow County, North Carolina.

Energy and Climate Resources

APA Policy Guide on Climate Change

APA Policy Guide on Energy

PAS QuickNotes 13: Climate Change and Energy

Climate Change Report

The Relationship to Planning

Perhaps second only to An Inconvenient Truth in the urgency of its message, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) this spring has brought the point solidly home that global climate change is here, and if action is not taken soon, future generations will suffer irreversible consequences.

While the topic of global climate and atmospheric emissions may seem beyond the daily scope of U.S. planners, a review of the three IPCC summary reports for policy makers indicates the opposite: Planners are now at the forefront of actions that must be taken to reduce — and perhaps even reverse — the climate change problem.

The first report provides a summary of the science — what is causing climate change? The second report outlines the expected impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability to climate change. The third report addresses mitigation of climate change. The text below provides a brief summary of key points from each report that have relationships to planning.

Note that for many of the bullet items, the language is almost entirely verbatim, to ensure that the IPCC's scientific conclusions are accurately presented.

IPCC Working Group Report 1: The Physical Science Basis

The first report focuses on understanding the science behind climate change. It looks at the human and natural drivers of climate change, what level of climate change has been observed to date, and what is projected for climate change in the future. The full policy maker summary is available by clicking the blue report title above.

Among the outcomes of this report that are connected to planning are the following.

  • Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750.
  • Carbon dioxide is the most important human-made greenhouse gas because of the high level of scientific understanding of its relationship to global climate.
  • Global increases in carbon dioxide concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land use change (emphasis added).
  • Fossil fuel use is the primary source of the increased atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide since the pre-industrial period. Land-use change provides another significant but smaller contribution.
  • Eleven of the last 12 years (1995 to 2006) rank among the 12 warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature (since 1850).
  • Recent weather trends that have been assessed for human influence over them and for which the connection ranges from "likely" to "more likely than not" include:
    • Warmer and fewer cold days and nights over most land areas
    • Warmer and more frequent hot days and nights over most land areas
    • Warm spells/heat waves and increase in frequency over most land areas.
    • Heavy precipitation events and increase in frequency (or proportion of total rainfall from heavy falls) over most areas
    • Increase in areas affected by droughts
    • Increase in intense tropical cyclone activity
    • Increased incidence of extreme high sea level (excludes tsunamis)
  • Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in human-made greenhouse gas concentrations.
  • Human influence is now found to also be affecting ocean warming, continental average temperature, temperature extremes, and wind patterns.
  • Continued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century.
  • Anthropogenic warming and sea level rise would continue for centuries ... even if greenhouse gas concentrations were to be stabilized.

IPCC Working Group Report 2: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability

The second IPCC report summarizes impacts of climate change in certain sectors (fresh water resources, ecosystems, food and forests, coastal systems, settlements, and health, generally) and by regions of the world. The full policy maker summary is available by clicking the blue report title above.

For North America, the following impacts are projected.

  • Water: Warming in western mountains is projected to cause decreased snowpack, more winter flooding, and reduced summer flows, exacerbating competition for over-allocated water resources.
  • Wildfires: Disturbances from pests, diseases, and fire are projected to have increasing impacts on forests, with an extended period of high fire risk and large increases in area burned.
  • Agriculture: Moderate climate change in the early decades of the century is projected to increase aggregate yields of rain-fed agriculture by 5 to 20%, but with important variability among regions. Major challenges are projected for crops that are near the warm end of their suitable range or depend on highly used water resources.
  • Heat Events: Cities that currently experience heat waves are expected to be further challenged by an increased number, intensity, and duration of heat waves during the course of the century, with potential for adverse health impacts. Elderly populations are most at risk.
  • Coastal areas: Coastal communities and habitats will be increasingly stressed by climate change impacts interacting with development and pollution. Population growth and the rising value of infrastructure in coastal areas increase vulnerability to climate variability and future climate change, with losses projected to increase if the intensity of tropical storms increases. Current adaptation is uneven and readiness for increased exposure is low.

For the weather trends listed in the Working Group Report 1, the major impacts for the sector defined as industry, settlement, and society are anticipated as follows.

1. Over most land areas, warmer and fewer cold days and nights, and warmer and more frequent hot days and nights.

Major impacts:

  • Reduced energy demand for heating;
  • increased demand for cooling;
  • declining air quality in cities;
  • reduced disruption to transport due to snow, ice;
  • effects on winter tourism

2. Warm spells/heat waves. Frequency increases over most land areas.

Major impacts:

  • Reduction in quality of life for people in warm areas without appropriate housing;
  • impacts on elderly, very young and poor.

3. Heavy precipitation events. Frequency increases over most areas.

Major impacts:

  • Disruption of settlements, commerce, transport and societies due to flooding;
  • pressures on urban and rural infrastructures;
  • loss of property

4. Area affected by drought increases

Major impacts:

  • Water shortages for settlements, industry and societies;
  • reduced hydropower generation potentials;
  • potential for population migration

5. Intense tropical cyclone activity increases.

Major impacts:

  • Disruption by flood and high winds;
  • withdrawal of risk coverage in vulnerable areas by private insurers,
  • potential for population migrations,
  • loss of property

6. Increased incidence of extreme high sea level (excludes tsunamis)

Major impacts:

  • Costs of coastal protection versus costs of land-use relocation;
  • potential for movement of populations and infrastructure;
  • also see tropical cyclones above

Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation

Regarding the current knowledge about how to respond to climate change, the report provides the following general information on mitigation (reducing impacts from actions) and adaptation (changing behavior and activity in response to observed and anticipated climate change impacts).

  • Many impacts of climate change can be avoided, reduce, or delayed by mitigation.
  • However, adaptation will be necessary to address impacts resulting from unavoidable warming, due to past emissions.
  • Adaptation is occurring now, but on a limited basis.
  • Examples of adaptation include infrastructure projects to defend against coastal flooding and water management policies.
  • While a wide array of adaptation options is available, more extensive adaptation is required to reduce vulnerability to future climate change.
  • With increasing climate change, the options for successful adaptation diminish and associated costs increase.
  • One way to increasing adaptive capacity is by introducing the consideration of climate change impacts in development planning, including adaptation measures in land-use planning and infrastructure design (emphasis added), and measures to reduce vulnerability in existing disaster risk reduction strategies.
  • A portfolio of measures that includes mitigation, adaptation, technology development, and research can diminish the risks associated with climate change.

Relationship to Sustainable Development

  • Future vulnerability to climate change depends on the development pathway taken. The full report looks at different development scenarios (income levels, technological development) to understand vulnerability variations.
  • Sustainable development (as defined by The Brundtland Commission) can reduce vulnerability to climate change by enhancing adaptive capacity and increasing resilience.
  • However, few plans that promote sustainability have explicitly included either adapting to climate change impacts to promoting adaptive capacity.
  • The UN's eight Millennium Development Goals are one measure of progress towards sustainable development. Climate change could impede achievement of these goals.

IPCC Working Group III Report: Mitigation of Climate Change

This report discusses mitigation of climate change, focusing on the scientific, technological, environmental, economic, and social aspects. After a section on greenhouse gas emission trends, the report is organized into four sections on mitigation:

  • Short and long-term mitigation across different economic sectors (until 2030)
  • Mitigation beyond 2030
  • Policies, measures, and instruments to mitigate climate change
  • Sustainable development and climate change mitigation

Of these four sections, all but "Mitigation beyond 2030" has information that is directly relevant to local planning and planners. Below are key points from these three sections.

The full policy maker summary is available by clicking the blue report title above.

Short and long-term mitigation across different economic sectors (until 2030)

The report looks at seven economic sectors and key mitigation technologies with the largest economic potential, shown in the table below.

Sector Key mitigation technologies and practices currently commercially available
Energy Supply
  • Improved supply and distribution efficiency;
  • fuel switching from coal to gas;
  • nuclear power;
  • renewable heat and power (hydropower, solar, wind, geothermal and bioenergy);
  • combined heat and power;
  • early applications of CO2 capture and storage (CCS) (e.g. storage of removed CO2 from natural gas)
  • More fuel efficient vehicles;
  • hybrid vehicles;
  • cleaner diesel vehicles;
  • biofuels;
  • modal shifts from road transport to rail and public transport systems;
  • non-motorized transport (cycling, walking); land-use and transportation planning
  • Efficient lighting and daylighting;
  • more efficient electrical appliances and heating and cooling devices;
  • improved cook stoves,
  • improved insulation;
  • passive and active solar design for heating and cooling;
  • alternative refrigeration fluids, recovery and recycle of fluorinated gases
  • More efficient end-use electrical equipment;
  • heat and power recovery;
  • material recycling and substitution;
  • control of non-CO2 gas emissions;
  • wide array of process-specific technologies
  • Improved crop and grazing land management to increase soil carbon storage;
  • restoration of cultivated peaty soils and degraded lands;
  • improved rice cultivation techniques and livestock and manure management to reduce CH4 emissions;
  • improved nitrogen fertilizer application techniques to reduce N2O emissions;
  • dedicated energy crops to replace fossil fuel use;
  • improved energy efficiency
  • Afforestation;
  • reforestation;
  • forest management;
  • reduced deforestation;
  • harvested wood product management;
  • use of forestry products for bioenergy to replace fossil fuel use
  • Landfill methane recovery;
  • waste incineration with energy recovery;
  • composting of organic waste;
  • controlled waste water treatment;
  • recycling and waste minimization
  • In addition to the technology-based mitigation strategies listed here, other strategies across all sectors that can contribute to climate change mitigation across all sectors include urban planning that reduces demand for travel and information and education that reduces car use and leads to more efficient driving patterns.
  • No one sector or technology alone can address the entire mitigation challenge.
  • Investing in end-use energy efficiency improvements is often more cost-effective than increasing energy supply to satisfy demand for energy services.
  • Efficiency improvement has a positive effect on energy security, local and regional air pollution abatement, and employment.
  • Renewable energy generally has a positive effect on energy security, employment, and air quality.
  • Given costs relative to other supply options, renewable electricity, which accounted for 18 percent of the electricity supply in 2005, can have a 30 to 35 percent share of the total electricity supply in 2030.

Policies, measures, and instruments to mitigate climate change

General findings about the performance of policies:

  • Integrate climate policies into broader development policies, which make implementation and overcoming barriers easier.
  • Regulations and standards generally provide some certainty about emission levels. However, they may not induce innovations and more advanced technologies.
  • Taxes and charges can set a price for carbon, but cannot guarantee a particular level of emissions. Literature identifies taxes as an efficient way of internalizing costs of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Tradable permits will establish a carbon price. The volume of allowed emissions determines their environmental effectiveness, while the allocation of permits has distributional consequences. Fluctuation in the price of carbon makes it difficult to estimate the total cost of complying with emission permits.
  • Financial incentives (subsidies and tax credits) are frequently used by governments to stimulate the development and diffusion of new technologies. While economic costs are generally higher than for the instruments listed above, they are often critical to overcome barriers.
  • Voluntary agreements between industry and governments are politically attractive, raise awareness among stakeholders, and have played a role in the evolution of many national policies. The majority of agreements have not achieved significant emissions reductions beyond business as usual. However, some recent agreements, in a few countries, have accelerated the application of best available technology and led to measurable emission reductions.
  • Information instruments (e.g. awareness campaigns) may positively affect environmental quality by promoting informed choices and possibly contributing to behavioral change, however, their impact on emissions has not been measured yet.
  • Research, Development, and Demonstration (RD&D) can stimulate technological advances, reduce costs, and enable progress toward stabilization.
  • See Table SPM.7 on pages 31-32 of the policy makers summary report for selected sectoral policies, measures, and instruments that have shown to be environmentally effective in the respective sector in a number of national cases.

Sustainable development and climate change mitigation

There is a growing understanding of the possibilities to choose and implement mitigation options in several sectors to realize synergies and avoid conflicts with other dimensions of sustainable development.

  • Addressing climate change can be considered an integral element of sustainable development policies. Changes in development paths emerge from the interactions of public and private decision processes involving government, business, and civil society, many of which are not traditionally considered as climate policy. This process is most effective when actors participate equitably and decentralized decision making processes are coordinated.
  • Climate change policies related to energy efficiency and renewable energy are often economically beneficial, improve energy security, and reduce local pollutant emissions.
  • Other energy supply mitigation options can be designed to also achieve sustainable development benefits such as avoided displacement of local populations, job creation, and health benefits.
  • Reducing both loss of natural habitat and deforestation can have significant biodiversity, soil and water conservation benefits, and can be implemented in a socially and economically sustainable manner.
  • There are also good possibilities for reinforcing sustainable development through mitigation actions in the waste management, transportation, and buildings sectors.
  • Making development more sustainable can enhance both mitigation and adaptation capacity, and reduce emissions and vulnerability to climate change.

By Megan S. Lewis, AICP

National Academies Study

A requirement of Section 1827 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-58), the National Academies has formed a committee to assess the implication that land development patterns in the U.S. have an adverse impact on energy use and efficiency, including the correlation between land development patterns and increases in vehicle miles traveled.

The specific scope of the study (as detailed in the act), sponsored by the Department of Energy, includes:

  1. the correlation, if any, between land development patterns and increases in vehicle miles traveled;
  2. whether petroleum use in the transportation sector can be reduced through changes in the design of development patterns;
  3. the potential benefits of:
    1. information and education programs for state and local officials (including planning officials) on the potential for energy savings through planning, design, development, and infrastructure decisions;
    2. incorporation of location efficiency models in transportation infrastructure planning and investments; and
    3. transportation policies and strategies to help transportation planners manage the demand for the number and length of vehicle trips, including trips that increase the viability of other means of travel; and
  4. such other considerations relating to the study topic as the National Academy of Sciences finds appropriate. Section 1827 (b).

Among the other considerations that the study will include are:

  • Considering development trends and projections as the context for understanding development patterns
  • Other factors that influence residential location decisions beyond transportation.
  • State, regional, and local level "mismatches" between agencies responsible for land use decisions and those responsible for transportation investments.
  • Estimates of the possible energy conservation benefits from vehicular energy efficiency changes and land use changes, and the time period over which these changes might happen.

The committee that has been proposed includes the following individuals (APA members noted in bold):

Jose A. Gomez-Ibanez (Chair), John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Marlon G. Boarnet, University of California, Irvine

Dianne R. Brake, The Regional Planning Partnership

Robert B. Cervero, University of California, Berkeley

Andrew Cotugno, Portland METRO

Anthony Downs, The Brookings Institution

Susan Hanson, Clark University

Kara M. Kockelman, The University of Texas at Austin

Patricia L. Mokhtarian, University of California, Davis

Rolf J. Pendall, AICP, Cornell University

Danilo J. Santini, Argonne National Laboratory

Frank Southworth, Georgia Institute of Technology

More information on the study may be found at

Energy Surveys

The APA/EESI partnership launched two national surveys in 2005 and 2007 to assess the current state of planners' capacity, knowledge, and educational needs concerning the integration of climate change and energy issues into community planning.

2007 Results

In August 2005, the partnership launched a national survey to assess the current state of planners' capacity, knowledge, and educational needs concerning the integration of energy issues and community planning. We received 377 responses, from public sector planners (62.9 percent), private sector planners (26.8 percent), planning academics (6.1 percent), planners working for nonprofits (2.4 percent), and planners working in other planning areas (1.9 percent). The survey obtained information on what planners feel are the most effective ways to deliver energy training and education. The survey results were published in the PAS Memo, the bimonthly electronic newsletter sent to the organizations that subscribe to APA's Planning Advisory Service (PAS).

Summary of Key Findings

Of the total population, nearly 65 percent (243) indicated that energy issues were "very connected" to planning and 30 percent (113) indicated they were "somewhat connected."

We next asked how connected they felt specific planning issues were to energy efficiency and renewable energy. For the entire population, they ranked specific planning issues as being "very connected" to energy efficiency and renewable energy as follows (multiple selections were allowed):

  • Sustainability: 83.6%
  • Transportation: 83.0%
  • Smart Growth: 79.0%
  • Environmental Protection: 76.7%
  • Economic Development: 59.9%
  • Quality of Life: 55.2%
  • Affordable Housing: 49.6%
  • Public Health: 39.3%

For the population who indicated that planning and energy are "very connected," they ranked specific planning issues as being "very connected" to energy efficiency and renewable energy as follows (multiple selections were allowed).

  • Transportation: 93.8%
  • Sustainability: 93.4%
  • Smart Growth: 89.7%
  • Environmental Protection: 88.5%
  • Economic Development: 75.7%
  • Quality of Life: 67.9%
  • Affordable Housing: 63.4%
  • Public Health: 51.0%

We also asked respondents about their familiarity with specific energy technologies. For the entire population, most were "very familiar" with passive solar (31.6%) and hydropower (31.3%), followed by wind and solar thermal/hot water (both at 21.5%). Those who indicated planning is "very connected" to energy issues also produced this same ranking.

For all the technologies listed, however, the respondents overwhelmingly indicated they were either "somewhat familiar" or "not familiar" with most of them. The technologies that the respondents were "not familiar" with were led by distributed generation (66.6%), followed by anaerobic digestion (50.4%), and biomass (48.5%).

Nearly all respondents (93.9%) felt that there is a role for planners in helping communities with energy conservation.

2005 Results

In August 2007 the APA/EESI partnership launched a second national survey, this time to assess the integration of climate change and energy issues into community planning.

We received 1,103 responses, from public sector planners (59 percent), private sector planners (28.3 percent), planning academics (2.8 percent), planners working for nonprofits (4.1 percent), and planners working in other planning areas (5.8 percent). This split is roughly similar to the 2005 survey, but the number of responses increased 293 percent from the 2005 survey (377 responses).

The 2007 survey included numerous questions that were asked in the 2005 survey, to see if there were any changes in the planning community over the last two years, and it also included new questions regarding climate change policies and plans, and general attitudes on the topic.

See the questions that were asked (pdf)

The following are 10 "big picture" points gleaned from comparing the 2005 to the 2007 survey results.

  • Awareness of energy issues is increasing among planners. A full 98 percent of planners surveyed believe that energy issues are connected to planning, up from 91 percent in 2005. Across the board, more planners now feel that energy issues are "very connected" to a number of planning issues, including transportation, quality of life, economic development, and public health. As planners continue to make connections between energy use and other planning issues, their ability to address energy issues expands accordingly.
  • Planners are more likely to have primary responsibility in their jurisdictions for developing energy plans and policies. In 2005, only 19 percent of planners surveyed said their department had jurisdiction over energy concerns; today 32 percent identify the planning department as having this responsibility. The opportunity for planners to impact energy issues in their community continues to grow.
  • The number of communities with energy policy statements or plans is poised to grow. While the percentage of planners surveyed reporting existing energy policies or plans stayed the same at about one-quarter, the number of communities with policies in development has grown by 10 percent since 2005. With public awareness of energy and climate change issues on the rise, this recent surge of communities beginning the process of addressing energy issues could represent the leading edge of a growing trend.
  • Climate change has become the top motivator for communities to address energy concerns, and citizen interest continues to be a major factor. Among planners surveyed, 63 percent cited climate change concerns as a community motivator for developing an energy policy, up from 25 percent in 2005. High utility bills were only cited by 28 percent of planners in 2007, down from 85 percent in 2005. Citizen interest remained the second most-cited motivating factor, at 58 percent in 2007. Planners should be aware that there could be considerable popular support for addressing energy issues in their community, and that people are making the connection between the global warming crisis and their day-to-day lives.
  • The biggest obstacles to moving forward on energy planning actions continue to be a lack of political interest and the complexity of the issue. Planners most often cited a lack of political interest (28 percent) and the complexity of energy issues (19 percent) when asked to describe their city's energy planning status. These numbers are practically unchanged from 2005 survey results. The importance of citizen interest as noted above, however, suggests that popular support for energy issues does exist, which provides an opportunity for planners to bring this issue to the table. By taking advantage of popular concern about energy issues and becoming better educated about energy planning concerns, planners can work to advance an energy agenda in their community.
  • Reducing demand through energy efficiency is the most common tool that communities plan to use in addressing energy issues. A full 86 percent of planners whose communities have energy policies indicated that reducing energy demand is a key component. Renewable energy purchasing was cited by 65 percent, and reducing peak demand was noted by 43 percent (up 19 percent from 2005). Increasing energy efficiency may be this popular for a number of reasons — it is an easy concept to understand, it is to some extent easier to affect though business practices and purchasing decisions than other policies, and there is a growing list of energy-efficient products and services available to help communities address this issue. And while turning off lights and buying energy-efficient appliances are popular way to save energy, larger issues such as land-use planning and transportation infrastructure can have a major impact on a community's energy demands. Planners should note that calling for improved energy efficiency is a common way for policy-makers to address energy issues, and should be prepared to show the impacts that good planning on all scales can have on energy use — from energy-efficiency standards to land use and transportation planning.
  • Planners know more about alternative energy topics and technologies than they did in 2005, but additional education is needed. Over a quarter of planners surveyed considered themselves "very familiar" with topics such as passive solar, biomass, cogeneration, fuel cells, anaerobic digestion, and distributed generation, but most are not as clear on other technologies such as photovoltaics, wind, transportation biofuels, and geothermal energy. In addition, only a quarter of planners surveyed were familiar with the APA's adopted policy guide on energy. This reveals a need to provide educational materials on these topics to planners. Planners will greatly benefit from an increased availability of educational materials and training opportunities on energy-related topics.
  • A growing number of communities are seeking out energy technology businesses as part of their economic development strategy. Over a quarter of planners surveyed in 2007 reported economic development plans that encourage energy technology businesses, up from 12 percent in 2005. As energy issues increasingly make their way onto national and local agendas, the market has responded with an increase in "green-collar" jobs and growth in the alternative energy technology industry. This represents an economic development opportunity for those communities that encourage such businesses. Planners should be aware of the growing economic development potential of the alternative energy industry, and work to support its growth both through developing local energy policies and standards and through economic development incentives.
  • Most communities have not yet integrated energy concerns into their zoning ordinances and development review procedures. While 40 percent of planners surveyed said their communities had or were working on energy policy statements, over 80 percent said their community's zoning ordinance did not address issues such as wind farms, green roofs, solar easements, or distributed generation energy systems. Few planners reported applying any sort of energy demand standard to site plan review regulations, and only 28 percent said their community had energy efficiency guidelines for housing developments. Planners should spearhead efforts to begin to address energy issues in their communities through local policies and regulations, beginning with energy policies and plans and following through with ordinance and code amendments.
  • Most communities do not yet offer incentives for energy efficient, green development, and most planners are not familiar with private market incentives for green building. Only 7 percent of planners surveyed reported density bonuses being used to encourage energy elements in new development, while 19 percent reported other incentives to encourage green building. Nearly three-quarters of planners surveyed did not know if other incentives, such as energy- or location-efficient mortgages, were available in their communities. These results are very similar to those of 2005. The use of various financial and regulatory incentives to encourage energy-efficient development is still very underutilized; planners should work to add such incentives to local codes and educate themselves about synergistic private-market approaches.