December 7, 2020

Can GovTech decrease the costs of Climate Action Planning?

Why aren’t we further down the line when it comes to climate action planning? The answer is simple: cost is still a major inhibitor. We saw it again just last week: the UK government committed even more firmly to climate action with a 10-point plan, while many decried that its plans are unrealistic due to an inadequate allocation of funds.

Questions of finance and funding are on the minds of many city officials and residents because Climate Action Planning is bound to be expensive. Yet the situation we are in today leaves us with few options. Just like the pandemic, climate change needs to be regarded as the crisis that it is and must be addressed and funded accordingly. When shifted in the right direction, finance for climate action will be transformational.

So what can be done to take the sting out of climate action planning? How can we decrease its cost without compromising on the quality of the Climate Action Plan (CAP)?

In this article, we explore how GovTech, digitalization, and software can be allies to City Governments in search of solutions for reducing the costs of climate action planning.

Creating a Climate Action Plan

The creation of a Climate Action Plan is a long and demanding process for city staff and climate strategists. It is rendered trickier by the fact that cooperation is at the heart of the process, since the creation of a CAP necessarily involves multiple city government departments and agencies, a cross sectoral approach, and the involvement of the public and other key stakeholders.

The current paradigm

A Climate Action Plan is developed with two main goals in mind: mitigation and adaptation. A GHG mitigation plan starts with the development of citywide greenhouse gas inventories and the identification of key emissions sources and reduction opportunities, which is followed by scenario analyses and an assessment of the local capacity to reduce emissions and the setting of GHG reduction goals. The adaptation piece begins with a climate change vulnerability assessment and follows the same steps, after which actions are prioritized and implementation can begin.

But Climate Action Planning doesn’t end with implementation. Because there are so many moving pieces involved in a CAP (and because a city is not static), monitoring, reporting, evaluating, updating and improving the plan is vital. In fact, tracking a plan’s performance can make all the difference between succeeding and failing to meet one’s climate goals.

What costs need to be factored in?

Costs to implement the Action Plan can generally be divided between costs for implementing CAP measures, such as developing and implementing programs or building and updating infrastructure, and costs for CAP coordination, monitoring, reporting, etc. These costs can further be subdivided into non-staffing costs, like capital (such as building bike lanes) and staffing costs, such as salary for staff, consultants, and other materials and supplies that come into a staff’s day-to-day work needs.

Why should we embrace GovTech and digitalization in Climate Action Planning?

Technology can play a powerful role in automating climate action planning, in increasing its efficiency, and in highlighting the best and most relevant strategies for cities based on their own characteristics and circumstances—all while decreasing costs.

  1. Producing and developing a CAP is made easier… and less costly with the right technology

Making use of software and technology can be beneficial and drive down costs at different stages of a CAP’s formulation. Here are several stages that can greatly benefit from GovTech:

·    Creation: Through advanced calculations based on cities’ current ways of addressing their populations’ needs, as well as the power of cities’ networks, digitalization can automate the creation of CAPs by making the right diagnosis and recommending and balancing the transitions and implementations that make most sense for the city based on its profile. This data-based identification of pathways to carbon neutrality can render the process of climate action planning less costly and a lot more efficient, reducing the need for consultancy reports and relying less on a municipal staff’s iterative process (and gathering of large amounts of data and best practices) and more on precise, evidence-based calculations.

·    Reporting, updating, and monitoring: Where it would usually take hours and numerous resources to report and update the plan, technology can keep the CAP constantly refreshed with the latest data, in real time, and with minimal human input. This enables the city to shift its attention from backwards-looking, lagging indicators (which display emissions that have already been released and cannot be altered) to leading indicators known as drivers (which represent current measurements on which there is still time to act).

·    Coordination and communication: Finally, CAPs are often based on multiple disconnected spreadsheets, graphs, and policy recommendations, which makes it hard to see a real overview of the interactions and synergies needed for the plan to function. By enabling a better visualization of all elements involved in the plan, digitalization can make cooperation and reaching an understanding between the government, stakeholders and citizens easier, faster, and less costly.

  1. The substance of the plan and its implementation are optimized and ensure cost-efficiency

Building new infrastructure and implementing programs for carbon abatement will be costly, but technology can help ensure that the right projects are prioritized and give municipalities and residents the “best bang for their buck.”

With calculations that are directly based on a city’s context, software can suggest the right transitions and implementations cities need to sustain their current economic output while aggressively abating carbon. It can show them the different facets involved in the implementation of certain endeavors (like cost and cost of inaction and through different lenses) and point out how other co-benefits (such as how health or equity indicators behave relative to carbon emissions). Digitalization, calculations, software and smart methodologies can ensure cities find the optimal pathway to reach their goals that maximizes carbon abatement and co-benefits while minimizing the cost to reach the desired future state of carbon neutrality.  

Setting the record straight on the cost of Climate Action Planning

Multiple data sources reveal that it would be nonsensical not to invest in implementing a CAP, particularly given that the cost of inaction (business-as-usual) will far exceed the cost of abatement in the long term. While it will be undeniably costly in the short-term and a drain on certain governmental budgets, it appears that we have overestimated the cost of creating a solid Climate Action Plan and underestimated its numerous co-benefits.

If we add GovTech to the equation, we have also grossly overestimated the financial cost of creating, monitoring, and updating a CAP because such digitalization holds the keys for a smoother, more efficient, and less costly process for municipalities. We have also grossly overestimated the toll to our human habits and comforts, because GovTech and digital platforms—backed by advanced calculations and subject matter experts—can balance the transitions we need to make without compromising our fundamental economic needs.

Are you interested in an all-in-one, tailored solution for your city?  Explore the ClimateBoard.

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