How planners can play a key role in addressing the climate crisis

Reading time: 4 minutes

Editor’s note: This post is part of the permanent call for blog posts to mark the European Climate Pact and Green Deal. Send your contributions about how spatial planning can help leverage climate transition to: blog@aesop-youngacademics.net.

Guest author: Rebecca Windemer (Cardiff University)

Climate change is the biggest issue facing our planet and reacting to this challenge must be a priority. However, action must not disadvantage the most vulnerable members of society. Accordingly, the European Green Deal aims to achieve 2050 carbon neutrality in a way that is inclusive, ensuring that no one gets left behind. The Green deal action plan has two key aims; ‘to boost the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean, circular economy’ and to ‘restore biodiversity and cut pollution’. As planners we can play a crucial role in helping to achieve these aims.

Planners have a key influence in shaping the built environment, but planning roles differ and so do the ways that we can best have influence. Many of us are already doing a lot to help facilitate the transition to carbon neutrality, but perhaps there is more that we can do. In this blog I share my thoughts on the important roles and opportunities of influence for planners in policymaking, private and public practice and academia. My hope is that it motivates planners to do what they can to help contribute to this goal, and also raises awareness of the important role of planning in combatting the climate crisis.

Climate change as the overarching priority for planning

To achieve the scale and pace of change needed to meet the aims of the EU Green Deal, climate change and carbon reduction need to become the overarching priority of planning policy, influencing all spatial plans and development decisions. Changes to policy need to occur at every level from national to community level and thus all planners working in policymaking have an important role to play.

This is no simple task; we need to move away from short-term reactive planning policies to develop long-term approaches to land use planning that facilitate carbon reductions in an inclusive way. This will involve rethinking the design of places, reducing car dependence through locating homes close to schools, shops, healthcare and other essential facilities as well as prioritising greater levels of green infrastructure and biodiversity. Policy needs to be ambitious, enabling clean growth in all sectors of the economy. There are a host of policies that can be developed to facilitate positive changes including promoting developments that help to reduce emissions such as renewable energy, active travel and low carbon heating. From a design perspective, policies could include prioritising designs that lead to more environmentally positive behavioural changes and that re-use existing buildings and materials.

There is a need for collaboration here, sharing ideas across regions and countries, looking at policies that have worked well elsewhere and how they can be adapted to suit a particular area or scale. Communities can also play an important role here through being able to provide evidence and ideas on what would work locally. Policy would thus benefit through facilitating opportunities for local level participation as well as enabling bottom-up action such as community owned energy production.

Picture of what seems to be a street demonstration with sign that reads 'There is No Planet B'
There is only one planet: spatial planning cannot afford any ‘plan B’. Picture credit: free stock image.

Ensuring that policy leads to meaningful action

Public sector and private sector planners have the critical task of ensuring that policy leads to meaningful and ambitious action. They are at the forefront of what is happening on the ground and can act as key advocates of positive change. They are also able to share their knowledge and experience of what is working in practice, any difficulties that are being faced, and any parts of the community that are being disadvantaged as a result of policy change.

Both private and public sector planners will need to bring climate change to the forefront of discussions, considering the long term impact of proposed projects and actively encouraging developments to reduce emissions in an inclusive way. This includes working with developers to improve the performance and designs of all built developments, encouraging the efficient use of resources and the provision of green infrastructure and biodiversity improvements. Until climate change becomes a priority in planning policy, opportunities for influence may be limited, however sharing examples of best practice can generate a significant impact in terms of demonstrating what can be possible and inspiring others.

Sharing the latest academic knowledge

Academic research can provide vital evidence on how existing policies and potential solutions are working in practice and provide recommendations for policy changes. There is thus a need for planning academics to continue to develop research that investigates how planning can contribute to addressing climate change in an inclusive way. Due to the complex nature of this challenge, interdisciplinary research and discussions will be necessary. Knowledge sharing with industry and policymakers is a vital aspect of this. While academic papers have their merits, speed of publication and access create barriers to knowledge sharing. Academics should thus try to use opportunities to share key findings with industry in a timely way. Blog posts, policy suggestions, or video outputs provide ways to quickly share academic research and practical recommendations.

Climate change must also be at the core of educating future generations of planners. The importance of climate change and the potential impact of different policies must be integrated throughout the syllabus rather than forming optional modules. All planning students should be able to go into the workplace with the knowledge, skills and ambition to make a difference to addressing climate change.

Working together as a global community of planners

The climate crisis is huge and we need collective action to address it in a way that is inclusive. Together, as a global community of planners, sharing our knowledge and experience we can make a difference.

Biography

Rebecca is a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Planning and Geography at Cardiff University. Her research explores the use of time-limited planning consents for onshore wind and solar including how decisions are made regarding repowering, life-extension and decommissioning. You can contact her at windemerr@cardiff.ac.uk.

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