Examples of Climate Action Plan Structures

Overview of Planning Themes

Signatory institutions agree to develop a climate action plan for becoming climate neutral and by which defined thresholds of resilience will be met. This climate action plan is to be developed within three years of the implementation start date, and should include a target date as well as interim milestones for achieving targets as soon as possible.

The Plan, (also reflecting joint community-campus components), will include:

  • A target date for achieving carbon neutrality as soon as possible
  • A target date by which defined thresholds of resilience will be met
  • Interim target dates for meeting milestones that will lead to carbon neutrality and increasing resilience
  • Mechanisms and indicators for tracking progress (including those that cut across campus-community boundaries)
  • Actions to make carbon neutrality and resilience a part of the curriculum and other educational experiences for all student
  • Actions to expand research in carbon neutrality and resilience

The plan should explain how the institution intends to achieve climate neutrality by its target date. It should also describe planned actions to make climate neutrality, resilience, and sustainability a part of the curriculum and/or other educational experience for all students as well as actions to expand research, community outreach and/or other efforts toward the achievement of GHG reductions for the institution and/or the community and society. Finally, the plan should describe mechanisms for tracking progress on goals and actions.

The plans are to be aspirational statements of intent rather than binding commitments. It is expected that signatories will adjust their plans over time in response to new information and changing circumstances. The Commitments require that the plan be reviewed not less frequently than every five years.

General Themes to Address

The plan should be in the form of a brief summary report that is comprehensible by and accessible to the general public. Signatories are encouraged to address the following themes in their plan:

  1. Strategic Framework – describes why the institution is taking this initiative and other background information. See Assessment & Prioritizing Action for more information about setting goals and establishing the plan’s connection to the institutional mission.
  2. Campus Emissions – describes the institution’s current emissions trajectory and sets a target date for climate neutrality. This section could include visual representations of the institution’s emissions trajectory under business as usual and under the mitigation plan, as well as a graph illustrating the contribution to the institution’s total emissions from each emission source. See Measuring Progress for more guidance on creating a GHG inventory.
  3. Mitigation Strategies – shows how the institution intends to achieve climate neutrality. This section should include sub-sections describing how the institution will neutralize emissions from each source. Carbon Management & Greenhouse Gas Mitigation contains many definitions and examples of potential mitigation strategies.
  4. Resilience Strategy – describes plans to make the campus and community more resilient, including the indicators developed by the planning team to track progress over time. See Resilience for more guidance.
  5. Educational, Research, Community Outreach Efforts – describes plans to make climate neutrality and sustainability a part of the curriculum and/or other educational experience for all students as well as actions to expand research, community outreach and/or other efforts toward the achievement of climate neutrality; this section should include subsections on education, research (if appropriate), and community outreach. See Academics for more guidance.
  6. Financing – explains how the institution will finance the mitigation strategies and other efforts described in the rest of the plan. See Financing for a detailed guide to financial planning for sustainability.
  7. Implementation & Tracking Progress – describes how the institution will assign responsibility for implementing the plan and how it will track its progress in achieving the goals set out in the rest of the plan. See Measuring Progress for more guidance on indicators.

Example Plans from the Leadership Network

Beginning in 2006, one of Second Nature’s objectives in developing a leadership commitment around climate action was to draw on the innovation and creativity of the entire higher education sector in developing robust response to climate change. At that time, as now, we understand that no two climate action plans should ever be the same, the conditions, resources, strengths, vulnerabilities, culture, and many other factors are too variable from one institution to the next to make a “standard template” valuable. However, within the network as a whole institutions can learn from one another to magnify the successes, and avoid the pitfalls of fellow signatories. It was this understanding that lead to the public nature of implementing Second Nature’s commitments; sharing outcomes across the network magnifies the impact of any one signatory across the entire network.

At this time, there has been 10 years worth of experiences in implementing climate action across the network. Those ideas, plans, records, and reports, are available to the public and signatories seeking to benefit from that leaning in creating their own climate action plans.

Highlighted here are just a few of the many climate action plans created by the signatories of the Commitments. This list will change and expand over time as new ideas come to the network and areas of focus shift with new developments in the fields of climate response.

Arizona State University

ASU’s Climate Action Plan provides a useful structure for organizing a CAP. There are high level strategic objectives that align with the overall campus mission. Each of these is then given measurable indicators and target goals to be meet within specific time frames. Finally, the plan contains a list of (non-exclusive) projects which could be enacted to meet each target.

University of New Hampshire

UNH’s Climate Action Plan displays a good mechanism for evaluating all the various potential actions that could help the campus achieve carbon neutrality. The plan focuses on choosing actions to maximize the emissions reduction impact within the context of limited campus resources for investment.

College of Menominee Nation

CMN’s climate action plan is an important example of a strategy that aligns climate action string with the overall mission, values, culture, and tradition of the institution. It was developed through an inclusive process that brought together the campus and it’s broader community in visioning the future sustainable outcomes that would define the plan.