[See link at bottom to download the full report]
Developing a comprehensive climate action plan helps municipalities to mitigate climate change and adapt to the coming changes in ways that address people’s needs. Climate change is a daunting issue: humanity’s actions have caused the Earth’s greenhouse gases to reach levels not seen for over 120,000 years. This unnatural increase has caused our planet to warm and climates to shift. There are so many interdependent factors and components that it is difficult for scientists to predict how quickly changes will occur and just how severe they will be. With that said, it is essential for local governments and leaders to understand what is happening and to make the changes necessary to protect their people, one of every municipal government’s primary responsibilities.
The report provides a guide for municipalities to develop strong plans to mitigate and adapt to climate change. It covers climate action planning, mitigation and adaptation strategies, and examples of cities, such as Bethlehem and Easton, that have taken steps in the right direction. It includes a general overview of climate change in the Lehigh Valley, ways to calculate greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories, and strategies for mitigation and adaptation. We also point out the need for greater attention to ‘upstream emissions’ connected with goods and services consumed in the community, with natural gas as the most significant example. The report does not outline specific plans for individual municipalities, but instead aims to help them create their own climate action plans, suited to their needs and resources. We do urge municipalities, institutions, and business to act promptly and make strong climate emergency declarations to help raise awareness and mobilize needed actions.
Municipalities need to consider not just changes in temperature and rainfall, but demographics, income levels, topography, and climate justice in order to produce a holistic climate action plan that will serve the needs of the entire community. Climate change does not affect every neighborhood equally. A climate justice approach recognizes the needs of particularly vulnerable communities, such as lower-income areas which disproportionately experience the negative effects of climate change and pollution, and typically have a lower capacity to make changes. Municipalities need to ensure that all policies and initiatives are feasible for all community members.
Realistic and effective change is possible when planning addresses the entire community’s needs. The climate action plan is an opportunity to strengthen communities through local government, a chance to address complex social justice issues. In addition, municipalities should push for a Valley-wide climate action planning process that could benefit municipalities by pooling resources while helping communities develop individual plans tailored and detailed to their unique needs.
What’s new in this version? Updates, Fall 2019
Scientists continue to publish new findings and communities are continually developing new mitigation and adaptation strategies, so we have updated this document to ensure that you have the best information available. This update includes more attention to community engagement, a more-detailed explanation of global warming potentials and the role of powerful GHG that have a short life span, and new understandings of the extensive impacts of ‘upstream emissions’, especially from natural gas and from plastic on the climate. See below for more detail on these changes and where to find them.
Community Engagement: The importance of working closely with the community throughout the planning process have been expanded in this update, including an overview of how different segments of the public can be engaged. (page 8)
Global Warming Potential & Timeframes: The various greenhouse gas compounds [GHG] persist in the atmosphere for different lengths of time. The 100-year timeframe used for GHG inventories strikes a balance, but there are times when a shorter timeframe is more useful, especially when considering GHG with high global warming potential and a short life span. (page 10)
Upstream Emissions: Discuss the need to review all ‘business as usual’ practices and eliminate those that are making the climate crisis worse — requires concerted action by businesses, government, and institutions; it requires systemic change. Natural gas is especially problematic in this regard.
Plastic & Climate: The excessive use of plastic poses many threats to the environment, but is also a major factor driving global warming and climate change, due mainly to the large amounts of fossil-fuel energy required to produce plastics and the lack of an efficient and carbon-neutral system for recycling. (page 11)
Climate Emergency Declarations: Across the country and globally, local governments have begun to recognize the urgency of the climate situation and declaring a state of climate emergency. (See Attachment A: Climate Emergency Declarations)
This report was prepared by Kaelyn Gormley (Lafayette College ’22), who updated the report by Courtney Giardina (Lehigh University ’20), Elizabeth Harmon (Lafayette College ’21), and Katherine Volpe (Lehigh University ’21). They researched practices in other communities and developed guidelines that municipalities in the Lehigh Valley could follow to create more environmentally sustainable communities.
This project started in response to uneven progress in climate action planning in the Lehigh Valley, and provided an opportunity for students at Lafayette College and Lehigh University to bring their research and analytical skills to bear on developing a framework to help those who have to create the actual CAP.
Table of Contents
- Executive Summary (above)
- What is Climate Change?
- Climate Change in the Lehigh Valley
- Overview of Climate Action Planning
- Greenhouse Gas Inventories
- Lehigh Valley Climate Action Plan
- Climate Change Mitigation Strategies
- Climate Change Adaptation Strategies
- Additional Resources
Part Two – Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies
[see PDF for these strategies]