This post is part two in a three part series written by Emma Power, MEJC and CAT organizer, about Climate Action Plans

Part 2 – Top-down, Bottom-up, Inside-out and Backwards

In my previous blog Climate Action Plans Part 1 – Mitigation, Adaptation and Implementation, we learned a bit about what a ‘good’ climate action plan can (and arguably should) include from a more technical standpoint (I recommend you read that first, if you haven’t). Does how you get there matter? 

From my experience, the process of developing a typical action plan may be largely internal (e.g. a few staff people in the organization may create it in consultation with others across different departments), may involve an external consultant (e.g. a third party could be hired to lead or guide the process), and may include varying levels of stakeholder engagement (from none, to a few surveys, to a comprehensive series of participatory workshops). 

Who are the stakeholders? It depends on the type of organization we’re talking about. For a company, the stakeholders may include employees, customers, supply chain partners, the community they operate in, literal financial stakeholders in the corporation, etc. For a municipality, stakeholders may include the public, municipal staff, local businesses, institutions, community organizations, and perhaps neighboring municipalities or the province. 

The usual approach is fairly ‘top-down’. The plan is developed by mid- to upper-level employees of an organization (or a consultant), approved by the executive-level employees, and then adopted by the board or council. This process works fine technically, but the end result can be subpar if there is not early, consistent, and meaningful stakeholder engagement throughout the process. Slacking on engagement doesn’t only mean that important perspectives have been left out, it means that trust has not been built and a sense of ownership has not been created. When individuals feel like they have contributed to something, they will be more likely to support it long term. The inclusivity and accessibility of climate action plan development is therefore connected to its likelihood of successful implementation. 

Being inclusive and accessible is not as simple as sending a few emails or hosting a webinar. Often, the people who are most dependent on the success of the plan are harder to reach. For example, community improvements to public transportation, home energy efficiency, and access to locally grown food would have significantly greater impacts on individuals in poverty compared to those that are more economically and socially advantaged (though those actions are still good for everyone). But individuals in poverty may not have the resources to attend a meeting or interact with an online platform. How then, do we ensure that our plans truly consider what they need? It is an unfortunate reality that no organization can consult with absolutely everyone, but by making strategic partnerships with other organizations that serve diverse populations, we can try our best.

Given the spectrum of engagement that can occur, identifying when an action planning process becomes ‘bottom-up’ may actually be kind of tricky. Take a municipality, for example. Even if a municipality technically manages and ultimately approves a climate action plan document, if community engagement and input is significant, it could very well be considered a community-led plan by the standards of some. Others may believe that a truly ‘grassroots’ plan should be entirely developed by community members. This would work if the focus is only on what individual households and community groups can do, but as soon as municipal services, operations, or infrastructure gets involved, the municipality’s cooperation becomes crucial. Without it, any proposed actions related to matters that are municipally-controlled are simply suggestions, not plans (which, as I mentioned in Part 1 of this blog, is largely the case for the Road to Resilience, but on a provincial level). But suggestions are still valuable and can become plans in the right hands — hands that may not have been considering certain ideas if it wasn’t for you. 

Moral of the story? There may not be a perfect way to develop a climate action plan, but whatever way it’s done, it has to be collaborative and rooted in building relationships. That’s how we move forward. We don’t have to have it all figured out to get started, but we have to get started – every community, every company, every organization. All our voices matter and every action matters. 

Manitoba’s Climate Action Team is focused on these principles in our latest work with Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, Swan Lake First Nation, the City of Brandon, and the Town of Altona. As part of our Environment and Climate Change Canada-funded Community for Climate Project, we plan to facilitate the development of community climate action plans by collaborating with community champions and hosting several public workshops in each location.

Click here to read Climate Action Plans: Part 3