The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses offers an annual award for newly published research or thinking that has been recognized to be outstanding by members of the Climate Change: Impacts and Responses Research Network.
Engaging in climate action through integrated sustainability strategies can yield benefits for communities in more effective ways than through compartmentalized approaches. Such strategies can result in co-benefits, that is, community benefits that occur from acting on climate change that extend beyond mitigation and adaptation. For example, creating more walkable cities can be a strategy for reducing greenhouse gases, but can also lead to healthier communities. Climate strategies with co-benefits can result in “win-win” situations and thus improve practices for integrated community planning. However, this planning approach also presents challenges because it requires understanding complex relationships between community development practices and identifying synergies. In addition, some co-benefit strategies may also have associated challenges and trade-offs. This research examines climate action co-benefits and trade-offs in order to develop a comprehensive picture of the relationships and potential effects of implementing certain plans and strategies. The research consisted of collecting data on climate action efforts occurring in eleven BC (Canada) communities and coding it to identify climate strategies, co-benefits, challenges, and trade-offs. Relationships between codes were then identified through a coding matrix, and these were used to build a series of models that illustrate co-benefits, challenges, and trade-offs associated with local climate action. Each model centered on a particular area of climate action, including energy innovation, urban densification, mixed-use and downtown revitalization, building stock, ecological capital, trails and transportation, and waste and water. The models provide a holistic impression of the advantages and disadvantages associated with different plans and strategies, which in turn can guide both quantitative analyses and qualitative explorations that contribute toward integrated community planning and decision-making.
Although the need for climate change adaptation and mitigation has gained widespread acceptance, the speed of implementation in many communities is too slow and patchy, especially given the latest IPCC report. Being able to illuminate the multiple benefits that can result from integrated sustainability strategies and plans strengthens the business case for even greater innovation. This calls for better understanding of the co-benefits of climate action, that is, community benefits that go beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change. For example, creating a more walkable city can lead to reduced numbers of people driving (reducing emissions), but it can also lead to decreased obesity as more people walk or bike, as well as increased community connectivity and social capital. In this way, climate action strategies and their co-benefits are “win-win” situations; however, there are barriers, and some strategies may also have trade-offs. For instance, densifying a city leads to increased public transportation and building energy efficiencies, but it can also lead to taller buildings that impact views, the character of a community and people’s sense of place. It is therefore important to demonstrate the relationships between strategies, co-benefits, barriers and trade-offs, as this understanding can help communities deliberately optimize the benefits while also recognizing (and ideally addressing) the challenges.
Our study used interview data on community climate action efforts underway in eleven Canadian communities to create models that map these relationships. The co-benefits models illustrate the connections between various strategies and aspects of a community, and they demonstrate that a quantitative urban systems modelling effort that focuses on (for example) transportation can be expanded to look at other important considerations, such as numbers of people walking to work, air quality due to changes in vehicle traffic, land allocated for green space, etc. The models can also be used as community engagement tools. They can be brought into stakeholder workshops and used to facilitate discussion on the advantages and disadvantages associated with different climate action plans and strategies, enhancing civic literacy and deepening understanding about the interrelationships involved in larger sustainability strategies.
Ultimately, the co-benefits models provide a comprehensive ‘picture’ of the implications of different climate actions, which is invaluable for decision makers, community planners and civil society leaders. The models are available online, and we encourage people to explore and adapt them for their own research, education and/or community planning purposes at www.changingtheconversation.ca/co-benefits
—Robert Newell, Ann Dale, and Mark Roseland
Judith Burnside-Lawry, Morgan Wairiu, Elisabeth Holland, Sarika Chand, and Rosa Fraque, The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp.11–33
James Lee and Kisei Tanaka, The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp.29–44
S. Thomas Ng and Christopher To, The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp.1–9
Sandra Acosta, The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 6, Issue 3-4, pp.1–17
Reazul Ahsan, Jon Kellett, and Sadasivam Karuppannan, The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp.1–15
Abby Beck, Gale M. Sinatra, and Doug Lombardi, The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp.1–17
Tina Sikka, The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp.143–154
Zareen Shahid and Awais Piracha, The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp.119–130
Vivek Prasad, Monique Helfrich, and Susan A. Crate, The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp.149–162