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How To Develop a Climate Action Plan for Your Organization in 7 Steps


A large white iceberg floats in the Artic, reflected in water in the foreground.

When it comes to climate change, it’s no secret that humanity is at a juncture. The science has been established, predictions have been made, and there’s general global consensus on what the science-based climate targets need to be. 

But the clock is ticking. It was nearly ten years ago when 196 parties to the United Nations (UN) adopted the legally-binding Paris Agreement, with the overarching goal of holding “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and pursuing efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” Yet, we’re still far off from achieving this goal.

The trouble is, it’s all well and good to commit to targets. But things become tricky when people and organizations need to take action. And unless action is committed and plans are documented, it’s hard to expect anyone to change. 

Enter the Climate Action Plan. For communities, organizations and corporations, a Climate Action Plan is a foundational way to ensure action happens.

In this article, we look at what Climate Action Plans are, why they’re important, and how organizations can go about making their own Climate Action Plan today.

What Is Climate Action?

Before we get to the heart of the matter, it’s important to back up and understand what climate action means. 

The UN formalized the definition of Climate Action when they released The Global Goals. These goals were agreed to by global leaders in 2015 and they aim to achieve a “greener, fairer, better world by 2030.” The UN named Climate Action as Goal #13.

According to the UN, Climate Action means taking “urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.”

The five targets listed under this goal call on people, governments, and organizations to:

  1. Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries.
  2. Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies, and planning.
  3. Improve education, awareness-raising, and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction, and early warning.
  4. Implement the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
  5. Promote mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate change-related planning and management in least developed countries and small island developing states, including focusing on women, youth, and local and marginalized communities.

Of course, the UN isn’t the only organization to call for climate action, nor do they provide the only definition for it. Climate action is widely recognized as what’s needed now in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb climate change.

What Are the Goals of Climate Action?

When we speak about climate action, typically the outcome we’re looking for is a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), sulphur dioxide (SO2), hydrofluorocarbons and more. Because it’s impossible to eliminate GHG emissions altogether, the goal is to try to create an overall – or net – reduction. 

Different terms (and related methods of calculations) have been established to help quantify this, and although people sometimes use these terms interchangeably, it’s important to understand their differences.

The goals of climate action include the following:

Achieving “Net Zero”

Net Zero is one of the most widely used and understood terms when it comes to climate action goals.

Put simply, Net Zero means a state where the amount of GHGs being removed from the atmosphere are equal to the amount being contributed through human activities. The idea is to achieve a net effect whereby any emissions added are offset by sequestration, so the resulting amount of emissions equals zero. Net Zero is also aligned with a specific trajectory, such as limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C.

A definition of Net Zero in action is provided by the Science Based Targets initiatives (SBTi). The SBTi says: “Setting corporate net-zero targets aligned with meeting societal climate goals means: (a) reducing scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions to zero or a residual level consistent with reaching net-zero emissions at the global or sector level in eligible 1.5°C scenarios or sector pathways and (b) neutralizing any residual emissions at the net-zero target date – and any GHG emissions released into the atmosphere thereafter.”

Net Zero is at the heart of the SBTi’s Corporate Net Zero Standard. This standard is the global framework that provides advice and tools to help companies set and reach science-based net zero targets aligned with a commitment to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C.

Achieving Carbon Neutrality

Carbon neutrality is similar to Net Zero, but there are some specific differences. First of all, while Net Zero includes all GHGs, carbon neutral relates to just carbon dioxide. It excludes from its calculation other emissions like methane, sulphur dioxide, hydrofluorocarbons, and so on. 

Second, carbon neutrality isn’t aligned with a specific temperature reduction trajectory like Net Zero. As a result, its calculations often include actions like emissions avoidance activities. It’s also less strict around reporting scope 3 emissions. 

When businesses speak of being carbon neutral, it typically means they’ve taken actions to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions and for anything they couldn’t reduce, they’ve invested in “carbon sinks” to offset their emissions. Carbon sinks are things like forests and oceans that absorb and store more carbon from the atmosphere than they emit.

Although carbon neutrality is an important measure, Net Zero carries more weight since it includes a broader scope of emissions, is aligned with the 1.5°C commitment, and has stricter reporting requirements.

Being Carbon Positive 

Carbon positive is a lesser used term related to climate actions goals. But it still has its place in the mix.

If carbon neutral is defined as reaching neutrality whereby net carbon dioxide emissions are equal to zero, carbon positive goes beyond that to make additional positive impacts to atmospheric levels. In other words, carbon positive means reducing and offsetting carbon emissions at a level higher than what’s being released.

Again, carbon positive takes into account carbon dioxide only, and doesn’t measure other GHGs. It also has less strict reporting standards than Net Zero.

What Is a Climate Action Plan?

Now that we’re reviewed important definitions and terminology, let’s switch gears to discuss the nuts and bolts of a Climate Action Plan.

For many years now, organizations have been asked to inventory, count, and quantify their emissions. For many, this has involved climate accounting exercises to quantify scopes 1, 2, and 3 emissions. 

While these are important exercises – and oftentimes required by regulators – it’s important that organizations not stop there. With climate change momentum well underway, organizations are being called upon to move beyond climate accounting exercises and create Climate Action Plans. After all, without real and meaningful action, there can be no change.

Put simply, then, a Climate Action Plan is a document that details how organizations will take action to mitigate their climate risks, leverage climate opportunities, and achieve their GHG emissions targets to support a global 1.5°C temperature reduction.

A Climate Action Plan is essentially a roadmap that takes organizations from commitment to results. They’re focused on achieving emissions reductions, while also bolstering climate resiliency and implementing climate adaptation strategies, and they outline specific actions organizations will take to get there. Sometimes a Climate Action Plan will include several different climate action campaigns. 

What Makes for a Strong Climate Action Plan?

We’ve already mentioned that Climate Actions Plans are important for putting commitments into motion. This benefits organizations and communities in many ways. Action against climate change can result in cleaner air, water, and soil. That means healthier people and communities. 

But what makes for a strong Climate Action Plan? After all, the results are only so good as the plans they emerge from.

Here are five tenants that make for a strong Climate Action Plan:

1) Strong Climate Action Plans are rooted in science

It’s easy – and sometimes tempting – for companies to greenwash their actions and claims. But greenwashing only deepens the climate crisis and places more value on PR over real change. That’s why a strong Climate Action Plan must be rooted in science. Luckily, organizations like the SBTi provide science-based guidance on how to set and achieve net-zero climate targets, making it easier for organizations to do so.

2) Strong Climate Action Plans have clearly defined targets

There’s an old adage that says “what gets measured gets done”. While this might not be entirely true, having well defined, science-based targets puts organizations on the right track. This is especially important when deep cuts are needed to achieve emissions reduction. The SBTi reports that most companies must reduce emissions by a whopping 90%+ in order to reach net zero by 2050. It argues that this must be done through a series of near-term and long-term targets. Ideally, targets are based on achieving Net Zero, rather than carbon neutrality or positivity.

3) Strong Climate Action Plans identify who is accountable

When it comes to deep and rapid change, having climate champions at the helm is a must. A strong and effective Climate Action Plan will outline exactly who is responsible for ensuring each action occurs. If this can be linked to the leader’s remuneration plan, even better.

4) Strong Climate Action Plans get specific about implementation 

Since a Climate Action Plan is essentially a roadmap that details how to get from point A to point B, it must be detailed enough to be effective. Every step should be laid out with specific actions to take along the way. Consideration for data collection and reporting is also important. This can get complicated, but there are software solutions like FigBytes that can help manage the data and details of your Climate Action Plan.

5) Strong Climate Action Plans incorporate equity at every level

When it comes to the impact of climate change, those that face the greatest threat are also those who are least responsible for it. That includes people who are vulnerable to, or already experiencing, socio-economic challenges. A Climate Action Plan should be developed using an equity lens to identify how risks, opportunities and change will impact people differently.

Now that we’ve looked at the elements of an effective Climate Action Plan, let’s turn our focus and examine the process to create one.

How To Develop a Climate Action Plan

There are different ways to approach the creation of a Climate Action Plan. The form it takes and the content it includes depends on what type of corporation, organization or community (country, city, region, etc.) it’s being developed for. In some cases, certain aspects of a Climate Action Plan may also be prescribed by legislation or policy, and it should also ideally be Paris-Agreement compatible.

While there isn’t one standard path for creating a Climate Action Plan, there are general steps that are common to most processes. If you’re looking for a starting point, here are seven steps to consider:

1) Start with a leadership-backed commitment

The first step to developing a Climate Action Plan is to secure a commitment from senior leadership. Unless the organization is truly committed to change, the planning process will be an uphill battle. Find a champion and have them make a public commitment. Ideally, this will come from the highest ranking person in the organization, and will be backed by a remuneration strategy or other accountability metrics.

2) Create a planning team

After you’ve secured commitment, the next step is to enlist the right people. This could look like a steering committee and might include directors, middle managers and technical experts from different parts of the organization. This team should ideally be supported by program specialists, project managers, and support staff so that committee decisions get executed.

3) Understand where you’re at and where you’re going

Typically, the next step would be to conduct a review of your existing policies, operational procedures, and targets to see which ones already support climate action, and which need to be adjusted. It’s also important to review data to understand your current emissions footprint, including scopes 1, 2, and 3 emissions. You may wish to conduct a climate scenario analysis at this stage as well, to understand your climate risks, opportunities, and your options to navigate both. Armed with this knowledge, you can set targets that define where you need to get to. 

4) Create specific goals and targets

It’s important that goals and targets be science-based. This ensures rigor and helps avoid greenwashing. The SBTi can be helpful during this stage. They provide extensive information and resources to assist with target setting, using a step-by-step approach. Some documents to look at include their SBTi Criteria and Recommendations for Near-Term Targets and Net-Zero Standard Criteria. They also offer sector-specific guidance for the following sectors: Aluminum, Apparel and footwear, Aviation, Buildings, Chemicals, Cement, Financial institutions, Forest, Land and Agriculture (FLAG), Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Maritime, Oil and Gas, Power, Steel, and Transport. Well-defined goals and metrics can make or break your plan, so take your time on this step.

5) Determine the steps needed to reach those goals and targets

Next is the task of creating your plan. This should look like a detailed plan for how your organization will meet your established goals and targets. It will often include near-term and long-term targets, and should confirm financial resources to ensure the activities are doable. A communications plan is also advisable. The more detailed you get during this stage, while still building in some flexibility for unexpected events, the more likely your plan is to be successful.

6) Choose the right tools to help

Keeping track of your Climate Action Plan can be a job in itself. Employing the help of a climate action software solution, like FigBytes, can make a world of difference. The right software will help you reach your climate action targets with the assistance of machine learning. It does this by simplifying and streamlining your climate data collection, forecasting scenarios and visualizing outcomes, and managing actions and results. Rather than relying on a slew of different documents and spreadsheets, a software solution brings everything together in one place.

7) Implement the plan

Once your plan has been approved (and submitted, if you’re legally required to do so), it’s time to begin implementing it. This is where the rubber meets the road. During the implementation phase, it’s important to communicate often and with all stakeholders. It’s also important to track progress using a climate action tracker, and evolve the plan as you go. A Climate Action Plan is an evergreen document, rather than a one-and-done plan.


Getting to Net Zero by 2030 is a goal worth pursuing. Actions that help limit our global average temperature increases to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels are needed urgently. Creating a robust and science-based Climate Action Plan is a foundational step every organization should take to support this collective goal. The clock is ticking, and the time to act is now.

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