Climate action co-benefits and integrated community planning: Uncovering the synergies and trade-offs

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.