Learn about climate action plans

Carbon Neutral Condo

To be truly effective, a climate plan must be rooted in science and based on a solid understanding of how to bring down carbon pollution. Pictured here: a carbon-neutral condo development in Guelph, ON. (Photo: David Dodge via Green Energy Futures)

What’s a climate action plan?

A climate action plan is a road map that guides a municipality (or province, country or community) to achieving its emission-reduction goals while making it more resilient to climate change. A climate plan holds a government accountable for making real progress on reducing emissions, improving air quality and making the community a healthier place to live.

A strong climate plan can result in more than just reduced emissions. Municipalities with climate plans can benefit from more efficient and accessible transit, resulting in less traffic congestion, better air quality and greater equity and mobility for all. They can also have more efficient buildings, which means healthier housing and more affordable energy bills for residents. And they could benefit from diversified economies that are less vulnerable to changes in global oil and gas prices, as well as the creation of good local jobs.

In short, climate plans make for healthier and happier residents.

Focusing on equity in climate plans

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Climate change poses the greatest threat to those least responsible for it — people who are already vulnerable to deep-rooted socio-economic challenges such as poverty.

That’s why governments must adopt an equity lens when creating climate action plans. Climate equity ensures all people benefit equally from climate solutions and that vulnerable people do not shoulder the burden of climate change.

An equity lens to climate planning takes existing disparities into account and makes sure climate policies work to reduce, not exacerbate, them. To be truly effective, an equity lens must inform a climate plan from the outset.

To address equity, climate action plans must consider the availability and affordability of energy, transport services, affordable housing and amenities, as well as impacts on business and employment opportunities and the workforce.

Group of people marching

More resources on equity and climate plans

Delve deeper into the important issue of equity in climate planning with these resources:

What makes an effective climate action plan?

To be truly effective, a climate plan must be rooted in science and based on a solid understanding of how to bring down carbon pollution. This means cutting carbon pollution to keep warming below 1.5 C.

A climate plan needs to include clear, defined targets. In general, by 2030, Canadian municipalities should aim to cut their climate pollution by 50 per cent and completely eliminate carbon emissions by 2050. (Check out our climate plan assessment tool for more information on setting the right target.)

Governments can also set objectives to help achieve these overarching targets. For example, to reach its goal of being carbon neutral by 2050, the City of Vancouver determined that 55 per cent of energy needs for residents and businesses must be met by renewable energy by 2030. This objective sets the city on track to achieving its ultimate goal.

But targets and objectives are meaningless if they aren’t accompanied by detailed strategies for action and implementation. Crucially, the strategies your local government chooses for reducing emissions must add up to its chosen target.

A climate plan must also demonstrate accountability, detailing who is responsible for implementing the plan and keeping it on track, as well as a clear budget for implementation. Your local government must report regularly on its progress and revise the plan if it isn’t proving effective. Progress reports should be public so that residents can hold the government accountable for achieving its goals.

Wind farm behind person

Ten guiding principles for climate action plans

Zeroing in on Emissions: Charting Canada’s Clean Power Pathways offers 10 guiding principles that can help governments achieve a zero-carbon future for their communities.

Assess your local government’s climate plan


This resource is part of Your voice at the table: A guide to mobilizing local government climate action. Learn to work with your local government so you can build a healthy, sustainable, resilient future together.