Co-benefits of climate action

Climate Action Consultancy 5 min read , October 12, 2020

Ensuring a prosperous and safe future for everyone is the main reason to take climate action. Doesn’t sound like a good reason? Climate action allows us to re-think our cities and make them more liveable. Co-benefits of city climate action could mean better air quality, more comfortable homes, and more local jobs. These reasons are likely to sound appealing to both politicians and citizens.

Biking is an example of a co benefits climate action.
It’s time to make our cities more liveable.

Climate action is confused as a burden 🌍

For those that think short-term, climate action is an expensive burden. It’s regarded as an unnecessary budget expense to invest in a city’s massive transformation that is needed to ensure a prosperous future.

Even when cities are convinced of the need for climate action, reaching to certain sectors of the population is hard. How can a citizen who struggles to pay their monthly bills be moved for the climate?

But climate action is not only about a prosperous future.

In many ways, climate action is already cheaper when compared to inaction. For many countries in the world, renewable energy is the cheapest source of a new baseload. Affordable renewable energy is appealing to economically vulnerable people in our cities. For them, climate action can mean more comfortable and inexpensive housing.

Co-benefits can help to sell climate action 🙌

Climate action comes with many win-win opportunities. For example, renewable energy reduces emissions but also reduces mortality rates from air pollution. It also boosts energy independence. We call these win-win situations or co-benefits.

In a recent study, cities that cited the co-benefits of their climate ambitions were found to have 2.5 times more actions than cities that don’t disclose the co-benefits.

Showing co-benefits can pay off.

How can your city use co-benefits to engage citizens and ‘sell’ more climate actions?

You can use co-benefits in two ways: 1) a multisolving approach or 2) a mainstream co-benefits approach. When evaluating the best approach, it will depend on your city’s starting point and your local set of challenges.

Two bicycles near a house

A multisolving approach 💪

How can a COVID-19 response reduce inequity and protect the climate? A quick response: multisolving. Multisolving is tackling different problems with one solution. It builds upon the connections existing between climate, social, and economic systems.

“How does solving my problem help solve yours?” - Beth Sawins, Climate Interactive

Multisolving works great when your municipality has a limited budget and multiple pressing issues. When your city is embarking on a new plan, this approach makes a difference. It helps you become efficient with your resources and successfully engages your city’s department in the new plan.

Example of multisolving: more room for people, less room for COVID-19.

COVID-19 hit hard in densely populated areas such as capital cities. Multiple local restaurants were forced to halt their activities as a result of lock downs. Many people were temporally unemployed. Also, social distancing increased the need for room in public spaces.

A solution of Vilnius city: completely pedestrian streets. The city of Vilnius announces vehicle restrictions in 18 public spaces to allow restaurants and cafes to expand their outdoor seating. Vilnius authorities have also given the city’s public health workers €400,000-worth of restaurant vouchers intended both as a gesture of thanks for their work and as a stimulus to the city’s cafes.

Fewer cars in the city center mean fewer emissions. It also encourages the economic recovery of local businesses, brings back jobs, and ensures that people can see each other again in safe conditions. It’s a great example of climate action co-benefits coming together through a multisolving approach.

To go deeper on the topic of multisolving and to find more examples, we have a dedicated article about it.

European town with outdoor cafes
Less traffic and healthier cities is a co-benefit of climate action.

A mainstream co-benefits approach: greener and healthier cities 🏙️

The mainstream approach aims to demonstrate the multiple benefits of an already existing climate plan or measure. For example, a popular climate measure is planting trees and building urban ecological corridors. It helps to cool down the city and capture CO2 also. But there are many more benefits.

Let’s take a look at some co-benefits of green landscapes in our cities:

  • Quality of housing. Property value increased by 10% when large and mature trees were on the property in the US.
  • Health and well-being. 1.18 fewer antidepressants per 1,000 people were prescribed by doctors in neighborhoods with more trees (source).
  • Clean water and sanitation. Urban vegetation can intercept 4 L/m2 of rainwater, making it available for infiltration (source).
  • Life on land. Native urban trees can support up to 400 species (source).
  • Less air pollution. A hectare of tree canopy can save USD 120 when only accounting for air pollution reduction (source).
  • Attractiveness and competitiveness. In a study conducted in Poland, more than 80% of residents in big cities find trees attractive (source).
Beautiful city lanscape at sunset
Less air pollution is a co-benefit of climate action.

Rallying colleagues to your climate action plan 🌱

How can you convince colleagues from your city’s departments to support your city climate policies?

If your city already has a climate plan, but struggles to ‘sell’ it to colleagues, this approach will be useful. It’s a challenge to get everybody on board with the climate plan. By showing ‘what’s in it for them’ you can help ensure that they remain engaged in your climate plan.

The traditional co-benefits approach focuses on acknowledging and showing the additional benefits that come with climate action. For example, solar panels in households save more than 1k €/year in the energy bill. Houses with solar panels are sold 20% faster and buyers are willing to pay a 4% premium. For example, these might be interesting figures for the spatial planning and economic departments of your city.

Moving ahead 🏃‍♀️

Climate action provides many co-benefits. Even if we didn’t have an ongoing climate crisis, taking action brings benefits every today. By using co-benefits, either through the multi-solving or the mainstream approach, can help to ‘sell’ our climate action plan. To fully take advantage of the co-benefits, you need to communicate those benefits so that they’re understood and well communicated to colleagues and citizens. It’s a crucial step for many cities as it requires a true systems-thinking approach. But the reward is big—the more climate actions implemented will lead to more liveable cities.

☀️ FutureproofedCities provides you with co-benefit examples and sources to list climate measures within the digital platform. It also helps you to easily communicate these co-benefits with colleagues and citizens. Curious to learn more about co-benefits in practice? You can re-watch our webinar, “How the co-benefits can help municipalities taking more climate actions” in French or Dutch.

Antonio is the Climate Action Specialist at Futureproofed. His specialties include mitigation and adaptation measures research, urban climate adaptation, local climate data, and more. When he's not hard at work helping cities become more sustainable, he can be found cycling across Flemish fields.

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