The Co-Benefits of Climate Action

November 22, 2018
Rob Newell

The Meeting the Climate Change Challenge (MC3) project recently held a Peer-to-Peer Learning Exchange, where one of the topics of conversation was climate action co-benefits. These are benefits experienced from climate action strategies that go beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change. For example, creating more walkable cities can be a strategy for reducing emissions by decreasing numbers of people driving, but it can also lead to healthier communities by encouraging walking and biking, as well as reducing air pollutants from exhaust. In this way, climate action co-benefits seem to give us “win-win” strategies; however, it isn’t that simple because some of these strategies also have challenges and trade-offs. For instance, densifying a city can contribute to local walkability, but it can also lead to taller buildings that impact views, the character of a community and people’s sense of place. The MC3 project involved research that looked at the relationships between climate action strategies, benefits and trade-offs in order to gain a comprehensive ‘picture’ of the advantages and disadvantages associated with certain strategies and plans. Understanding these relationships is invaluable to decision makers, community planners and civil society leaders, who are engaging in integrated planning and aiming to make progress toward sustainable development goals.

We recently published a paper on our research, Climate action co-benefits and integrated community planning: Uncovering the synergies and trade-offs , and we are proud to announce that this work has been recognized by The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses for an International Award for Excellence. We encourage you to read this paper, and also visit our Co-benefits of Climate Action website. On the website, you will be able to download and explore models that map the relationships between different strategies, benefits, challenges and trade-offs. Our hope is that people will adapt and use these models for their own research, education and/or community planning purposes.

When teaching climate action co-benefits to my students, I often show a cartoon written by Joel Pett. It features someone presenting on the multiple benefits associated with climate action (e.g., energy independence, preserving rainforest, green jobs, etc.), and a person in the crowd grumbles, “what if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?” It’s a humorous cartoon, but Pett is also making a powerful statement about engaging in climate action. By understanding the co-benefits and taking an integrated approach to planning and policy, we can make progress toward sustainability and a better world.